Hartford assessing new COVID school rules

Hartford assessing new COVID school rules
Photo courtesy of Hartford Central School District. Hartford Superintendent Andrew Cook.

The Hartford Board of Education met on April 12 and addressed the updated rules and regulations regarding school instruction during COVID-19 by the New York State Education Department (NYSED).

The board also approved a new school budget of $13,450,000 for the coming year and the public will vote on it on May 18.

Regarding the updated rules and regulations, school superintendent Andrew Cook said:

“Late last Friday (April 9), New York State released updated guidelines for the daily operation of school districts during the COVID pandemic.

“The district is currently working through the guidance and is scheduled to meet with the Washington County Department of Health, as well as our Risk Management and Safety Specialists, in order to receive a comprehensive assessment.

“There is a lot of ambiguity in the document, and the document raises additional questions that we do not have answers for yet.  “Any potential change in our daily operation must be approved by the local DOH and although the initial interpretation of the document potentially allows for reduced spacing between students, there are potentially new requirements that must be enacted, regardless of distancing protocols.”

Despite NYSED’s announcement, Cook and the board decided to hold off on taking sudden action, in part because of the process that would then take place to have changes approved.

“At this point, we are maintaining our current operational procedure until we receive further clarification,” Cook said. “If we look to change our process there are numerous steps that a district must take, including public notices and the opportunity for feedback, before any change to the reopening plan can be completed. However, there may be items that we have to implement immediately following the meeting with DOH.”

During Granville’s Board of Education meeting, school superintendent Tom McGurl said Granville’s approach will be to comply with the state and Centers for Disease Control’s guidance, despite his personal views on specifics of the announcement.

“I agree with Mr. McGurl,” Cook said. “As we begin to really digest the new guidance, it is more a compliance issue vs a change in practice. While the initial reports indicated that the new guidelines provide more flexibility to schools, based on the reopening plans currently in place in Washington County, this statement is not necessarily accurate.”

The board approved a proposed 2021-2022 budget of $13,450,000 to be brought to a public vote on May 18. Beneficial to the district was the rejection of amendments proposed to the state budget by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“NYS has an adopted budget for the 2021 fiscal year,” Cook said. “The adopted budget rejects many of the Governor’s proposals of a flat foundation aid allotment and combining all the expense-based aids into a single Service Aid. The enacted budget does increase the district’s Foundation Aid and prepares to pay our full BOCES aid allotment. This is great news for the district.”

Cook added:

“With the adopted budget, the district can finalize our proposed spending plan for 2021-2022 and I would like to thank all the board members for their work during the budget development process…budget to budget we are proposing a $50,000 increase, but reducing our Fund Balance contribution.”

With many surrounding areas announcing their plans for graduation procedure and protocols, Hartford is going to assess their situation with leadership and students after the state health department reveals more information towards large gatherings like commencement ceremonies.

“Just prior to the board meeting, NYSDOH released guidance for ‘End of Year Academic Celebrations’,” Cook said via email. “Mrs. Dupuis (high school principal), Mrs. Harrington (high school guidance counselor), and myself will be reviewing the document and meeting with the members of the senior class to plan an in-person graduation ceremony.”

The next board meeting can be viewed via livestream on May 10 at 7 p.m.