MAHOPAC, N.Y. - School Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo said last week that it is still too early to open schools fulltime to all students and that even if he wanted to, his hands are tied by county Health Department directives.
DiCarlo made the remarks on the school district’s online program, “Spotlight on Mahopac Schools,” in response to pressure from some parents to begin fulltime in-class learning.
The district currently employs a hybrid model in which half the students attend classes in person one day while the other half stays home for remote online learning and then they alternate.
However, earlier this month DiCarlo and other school administrators said that not enough of the hybrid students are showing up at school on their designated days and many are struggling and falling behind. He encouraged parents to make sure their kids come in for their designated in-person lessons.
DiCarlo said that while he would like to get back to fulltime in-person instruction for all, it is not the right move at this time.
“The Department of Health says within six to eight weeks we will begin to see those variants [of COVID-19]. Now is not the time to bring everyone back,” he said. “What will enable us to bring everyone back is the vaccine. That’s the reality and the rollout [has been] slow to happen.
“To bring everyone back, we would have to double the space in our buildings,” he added. “We don’t have the operational capacity to do that.”
DiCarlo was speaking before the CDC issued updated guidelines Feb. 12. “I know the CDC is coming out with some updated guidelines,” he said earlier in the week, “and the Department of Health will look at that, and then we will work with the Department of Health and then we will see what can be done in the coming months.”
But DiCarlo made it clear that “I am not going to ignore Putnam County and the guidelines and bring kids back. I would be negligent. And God forbid we had an outbreak. It’s something we have to take seriously. I can’t arbitrarily, on my own, decide to ignore what those guidance practices are.”
DiCarlo said the district is looking into the possibility of moving classes outdoors once the weather improves, which would allow for more in-person learning.
“We have reached out to military capabilities and we are looking into tents and other things we can do,” he said. “There is a lot of red tape that goes with that. You have to get permits. But if we can get some of those tents and put them on our campuses in the spring, it will help us over the summer and even into next fall. We are looking at every possible way that we can.
“We are going to offer—we are working on it now—summer programs for all our learners so we can get kids additional support over the summertime,” he added. “We hope to come up with a cadre of programs. It’s not [mandated]. It will be up to each family.”
The superintendent also said the district will make a concerted effort to get students who are engaged in fulltime remote learning to return to the classroom via the hybrid model.
“We are looking at the number of students who still continue to be out on full remote [learning],” he said. “We were going to look to see if we can bring some of them back and still meet [DoH] guidance. Right now, we are exploring every option that may be available.
“We are not just ignoring it and putting our heads in the sand,” he continued. “Where we can, we are also bringing kids back into extracurricular activities (bands, theater), just like [we are doing with] sports.”
DiCarlo said it is important for parents to understand that when they see an official or politician make a remark during a press conference, it can take a while for those remarks to come to fruition.
“Something gets said and then there are weeks to go before you meet specific benchmarks,” he said.