PORTVILLE, NY — On Wednesday, Portville Central School will open its doors to students once again.
Starting at 7:40 a.m., in-person classes will begin five days a week amid a pandemic that has sent many school districts to online or hybrid forums for education.
Portville Superintendent Thomas Simon said the decision to return to classrooms was based on feedback from the community that the school received in March.
“We have had an overwhelmingly positive response from the community,” Simon said. “Certainly, we have some folks who wanted their child to stay home, but we made the determination that with the resources we have to be able to do virtual learning… it would split our resources, and as long as we can go to school, we will do our best to try to keep kids here.”
The Portville Central School website, in its Frequently Asked Questions document, cites recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for schools in low-infection areas to have students physically present in class.
The school is providing online options for students determined by a physician to be part of a vulnerable population, according to Simon.
“We have had a few families that have taken the virtual option, and we're happy to help them get through this remotely. … Many of them wanted to come back, but their medical providers were telling them it wasn't a good idea,” Simon said.
So far, according to Simon, no faculty members and less than 10 students have provided documentation to participate in the online option.
Simon also said that the school will reevaluate plans every day based upon local infection rates and communications with the Cattaraugus County Health Department and the school physician, Karen Kent.
The reopening plan posted by the school lists regular health screenings, temperature checks, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, hand sanitizer stations, mandatory face coverings and social distancing of at least 6 feet as measures taken to protect the students and faculty from COVID-19.
Simon said the school has not received any concerns from parents or students over many of the requirements, such as the policy on mandatory face coverings.
According to the reopening plan, students and faculty will be given staggered schedules in order to lower the number of individuals present at the school at any one time.
A letter from Portville Central High School Principal Lawrence Welty to parents stated that the school is prioritizing smaller class sizes and that schedule changes are not allowed due to measures to prevent overcrowding.
If the temperature checks mandated by the school find any high temperatures amongst the students, the students will be sent to the Board of Education conference room to await pickup, according to the reopening plan.
In the elementary school, the response to a single positive coronavirus test will be to close down the classroom that the teacher or student is in, according to the FAQ document. For middle and high school, this policy changes to closing down the grade level pertaining to the teacher or student.
The FAQ document states that if multiple cases are found in either the elementary or middle and high school buildings, the building with those cases will be closed down entirely.
Simon said that there have been measures taken to ensure that things will run smoothly if students have to move to online education.
“In March, we provided families with hotspots, and we paid for those that didn't have internet,” Simon said. “We do have some families that both don't have access to internet and don't have access to cellular data, and we have worked with them to make sure that they have access in the school parking lot.”
Simon also stated that circumstances have created an enormous undertaking for school districts, but he feels comfortable in having the support of the community and students.
“Going virtual isn't easy but I think we proved in the spring that it's something that we could do,” he said. “So, I think that we have a little bit more comfort with where we're at now obviously than we did in March, when this whole thing started.”
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