The Rochester City School District plans to partially restart in-person classes, beginning instruction in school buildings four days a week. The program, slated to begin Jan. 4, is open only to disabled students.
Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small announced the program Thursday.
When she first stepped into the superintendency in May, Myers-Small had hoped to begin hybrid instruction for all students. She had to shelve that plan in favor of remote instruction after teachers objected and it became clear that the district could not meet the state’s conditions for in-person instruction.
The partial reopening follows concerns raised by the state Department of Education and parents of disabled students over the adequacy of the RCSD’s special education programs during the pandemic.
Parents of disabled students who prefer to continue remote online instruction for their children will be allowed to so. The district plans to contact parents no later than Nov. 6 to discuss their preferences.
The plan to reopen schools for special education classes was made “in close collaboration with school leaders, input from the entire community, support of the Monroe County Health Department and learning from the experiences of other districts,” Myers-Small said in a statement.
“While we would love to bring all our students back into school buildings, this is the smartest decision to ensure the health and safety of students, their families and their staff,” she added.
RCSD’s special education program has been under scrutiny for decades. A scathing report on the district’s special education shortfalls was jointly issued by the New York attorney general and the Education Department last year following the death of a special education student who wandered away from school undetected and drowned. Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino also criticized RCSD’s special education programs in a 2018 report.
An agreement between RCSD and the Empire Justice Center last year described 20 areas in which the district needed to address special education deficiencies and called for remedies to be laid out in a consent decree that would see the district resolve issues within three years. That pact was negotiated after the Empire Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit accusing the district of not meeting special education requirements. Like much else, progress on carrying out that agreement has been upended by the pandemic.
The district previously inked two special education consent decrees, but ultimately failed to meet their terms. The first was signed in 1981.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.