By Michael J. Billoni
Brian Graham, Ed.D., superintendent of Grand Island Schools, said administrators, principals, teachers and school staff are extremely disappointed they will not have the opportunity to see students participate in the annual high school graduation ceremony with everyone gathered at the Kleinhans Music Hall.
Graham fully understands the safety factor behind Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision this week to keep schools closed and continue with distance learning for all students.
“As a school district, we had been preparing for an extended closure of schools as well as the potential for reopening. Throughout the district, we will now continue to follow our continuity of learning plan during the closure for all students,” Graham said.
“Unfortunately, we will not see the students again until we reopen. Our Class of 2020 has faced a tremendous amount of adversity this year. This class will miss out on many signature events, but they will also experience the great love and admiration we have for all of them. I am incredibly impressed with our teachers, faculty, staff and administrators who are constantly working to make sure this Class of 2020 is recognized and applauded for all that they have accomplished the past 13 years,” he added.
“With respect to this unprecedented closure, I would like to thank all of our education professionals who are keenly aware that this extended distance learning could result in a mental health crisis for many students and adults. I strongly encourage parents to please contact any of our social workers, counselors, psychologists or administrators if your child is in need of assistance,” Graham continued.
In regard to testing, all New York State Regents Exams, as well as all state assessments in grades 3-8 have been cancelled this year. Grand Island has also cancelled end-of-year exams for its students.
Graham said students who, during the June examination period, would take one or more Regents examinations, are exempted from the requirements pertaining to passing such examinations in order to be issued a diploma.
In order to qualify for the exemption, students must meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
•The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and will have earned credit in such course of study by the end of the 2019-20 school year.
•The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and has failed to earn credit by the end of the school year. Such a student returns for summer instruction to make up the failed course credit and is subsequently granted diploma credit in August.
During the weeks ahead, Graham said a date will be set for the final day of school for each building, and principals will create a plan for students to collect personal items from their lockers. The district will continue to provide meals for all families during this extended closure. Parents and guardians should continue to fill out the RSVP forms as it allows them to keep track of the needed meals.
Grand Island is planning for summer school to be delivered in the traditional manner, or virtually, but it is waiting for an announcement soon from the governor to help the district with its plans.
In addition to the academic lessons students are receiving from their teachers each day, the district’s physical education teachers are using Google Classroom to provide instruction as well as post physical education challenges to students on a regular basis.
Sadly, Graham reported there is no plan for virtual proms and, “Unfortunately, both proms are canceled.”
He said plans continue to be discussed on the best way to honor seniors with a graduation during these unprecedented times.
The superintendent also said it is too early for the governor to share his guidance on lifting the "PAUSE” in New York as it relates to the reopening of schools in September.
“We hope the governor will convene a group of educational leaders from across the state to help develop that plan,” Graham said.
He shared disappointment that the closing means no spring interscholastic sporting events for Grand Island’s student/athletes.
“All of our athletes from middle school through high school are greatly saddened to miss out on our spring sports program,” he said. “We were looking forward to using our new grass diamonds behind the high school for softball and baseball, as well. I would like to recognize our spring coaches for staying connected with their players during the closure. Many of our coaches continue to send workouts and specific training options for their athletes to follow so they are ready when we are able to resume.”
Concerns About State Funding
A concern for Graham and other superintendents through the state is the potential of financial gaps within their budgets because of this COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are mindful the state has a significant gap within its own budget as it relates to the response to this pandemic. We are strongly advocating our federal representatives to assist NYS with this gap and, in turn, assist public schools,” Graham said. “A freeze in state funding will fall hardest upon Western New York school districts, which lag well behind the rest of the state in overall school funding. WNY schools possess the least capacity to raise local revenue through property taxes. Furthering our budgetary concerns is the fact that our overall state budget will only be balanced with a federal infusion of aid ($10-15 billion) to deal with the pandemic.”
“Cuts to public school aid of the magnitude required, absent substantial federal relief, especially once our school budgets are finalized, threaten to leave Western New York’s school districts instructionally insolvent in the near term, if not fiscally insolvent in the long term,” Graham added. “In my view, such an appropriation should minimally include $17 billion for New York state and $1 billion directly to New York state’s public schools to compensate for lost aid from the state. The school aid portion should be targeted directly for public schools to be appropriated via an act of the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo.”
“Now that we know that this emergency closure of schools will stay in effect until the end of this academic year, I would like to thank our parents for helping our students remain engaged with remote learning. I also appreciate our teachers and students for their willingness to adapt. Furthermore, I want to offer special thanks to our graduating seniors for their patience as we work through some of the difficult decisions,” the superintendent concluded.