Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Aug. 7 that schools in New York are permitted to reopen next month, local Catholic schools are beginning to share their reopening plans. All plans must be approved by the State’s Department of Education and adhere to the safety guidelines and framework provided by the State’s Department of Health.
“This is a great first step in the right direction to helping our children safely return to the classroom,” said Brooklyn Diocese Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko. “We are prepared and excited for a full reopening in September. This may be slightly different school by school given the building footprint and student population.”
Some principals have already begun to discuss their submitted plans with families through Zoom meetings and school website updates — with more to come in the next few weeks. A majority have announced they will physically reopen at 100 percent capacity, whereas some schools have stated they will have blended learning.
“We are also preparing to serve those who need to stay at home with a distance learning Catholic Academy. More information on this exciting enhancement to Catholic education will be shared very soon,” Chadzutko added.
Regina Salve Catholic Academy in East New York, for example, intends to reopen with five-day, in-person instruction. Each grade will practice social distancing in two classrooms — except for the 8th grade, which will be split into four classrooms given its large number of students.
“If our [enrollment] numbers continue going up, we still have the capacity to register students and we will still be able to socially distance them within our two buildings,” said Michelle Donato, principal of SRCA.
Should the academy be forced to close for coronavirus-related reasons, Donato said the academy will again use Google Classroom.
“Students will still have real-time instructional experiences, such as mini-lessons, small group instruction, and scheduled office hours,” Donato continued. “One thing we will change this year is students will receive a schedule where live instruction takes place from 8 am to 3 pm.”
St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy in Greenpoint expects students to return for full, in-person learning next month. Iwona Giernicki Hartley, a mother of a third-grader there, ideally would prefer remote learning for her daughter because the flu season, in conjunction with COVID-19, is a mystery.
“I’m not so much worried about my daughter, but more so for my 14-year-old son because he has respiratory issues,” she said. “If she brings home the flu while she’s in school, that might get my son sick.”
Michele Lodespoto, a mother of two students at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Astoria, hopes her children in the second and fourth grades will be in school, full-time. The academy announced its plan to implement a five-day schedule of in-school learning given its spacious classrooms and small class sizes.
“It’s very important for my husband and me, as parents, that our kids receive the full on-school experience in their young lives,” Lodespoto explained. “The teachers handled the crisis with grace, but live instruction will never replace the organic nature of in-person instruction and the social interactions that are so crucial to a child’s development and mental state.”
Lodespoto’s main concerns are the same ones being echoed by most parents — how little is known about the virus and how it’s spread. “But I trust the administration, staff, and families of ICCA to ensure that our children are protected,” she said. “I have always found ICCA to be a safe and nurturing environment for my two children and I know that will continue to hold true.”
Other parents have also expressed concern over how schools will ventilate air, maintain proper social distancing, ensure and enforce face coverings, and include gym class and/or recess time for exercise.
Despite some anxiety that’s still being felt by all about returning, Donato emphasized that she — like other principals and educators — will continue to be there for their families.
“We need to take the right precautions and make sure that the students’ health and safety are put first,” she said. “We want to make sure that when school reopens in the fall — through whichever platform we are using — we’re doing it to the best that we can.”