The Board of Education has raised a number of concerns about the Public School System’s plan to reopen campuses in September, given that there is still no COVID-19 vaccine and the coronavirus pandemic still poses a health threat.
During a special board meeting last week, BOE member Marylou Ada told PSS that they would first need to address the sanitation and disinfection of classrooms before the opening of public schools.
On top of that, Ada also brought up concerns about testing students and school staff and whether this would be mandatory going into the next school year.
Ada added that PSS would need to provide schools with hand sanitizers and ensure that social-distancing rules are observed.
“How are we going to prevent infection on our public school campuses? This is the first and foremost concern that we have to address before we start talking about learning,” Ada said.
PSS associate commissioner for Instructional Services Jackie Quitugua said protecting students and teachers is one of the major considerations in the hybrid plan, which combines classroom and online learning methods.
“Temperature check is something that we have been looking at, as well as promoting washing of hands and social distancing. I believe these are already accounted for as part of the requirements or the critical components before we even begin instruction,” she said.
BOE member Philip Mendiola-Long advised the PSS management to work with acting Finance director Kimo Rosario and Federal Programs manager Tim Thornburgh regarding the funding for COVID-19 preparedness.
“I did not see any line item for COVID-19 preparedness and I would assume that it’s going to be a very large sum of next year’s budget, especially if we are talking about daily sanitation of buses and classrooms. Somebody has to get the finance side and let them know what expectations there are for that budget because that can turn the budget upside down overnight. …You have to let Kimo and Tim know so that they can budget this and let you know right away if they have enough money to cover this,” he said.
Currently, PSS has a couple of plans regarding the reopening of public schools in September, according to Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada. Dr. Ada said that the PSS management team is evaluating each of these options.
“Every day, different information comes to us in relation to COVID-19, so we have to shift to plan B or plan C. We are looking at all the plans for the long term, especially when we have a second wave of COVID-19 and if there is a lockdown directive again,” Dr. Ada said.
Dr. Bobby Cruz, PSS Instruction Technology director, said that one option involved the full reopening of schools. The other option, is partial reopening of schools and reducing the number of students that will go to campus each school day to ensure that social distancing rules are in place.
PSS is also talking about conducting remote learning for students who will be provided various platforms for online learning, according to Cruz.
PSS is relying on the federal Education Stabilization Funds to procure laptops and WiFi devices for disadvantaged students.