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BOE assesses end-of-the-year school activities, reviews remote learning

PINE PLAINS — Now that the Pine Plains Central School District has learned schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, the Pine Plains Board of Education (BOE) assessed ideas for end-of-the-year activities and reviewed updates from administrators during its BOE meeting on Wednesday, May 6, held via video conference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To bring the BOE up-to-date on the latest news from the county, Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler said the district had a phone call with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro that afternoon to discuss the county’s endeavors in moving forward and restarting the economy.

As two major news pieces from the state, Handler reported that Governor Andrew Cuomo would like to have summer camps open this year, which Handler said he found surprising given the current regulations for social distancing. Also, Handler reported that Cuomo’s economic personnel were asked by Molinaro’s office about commencement and the possibility of school districts holding their 2020 graduation ceremonies at their local drive-in movie theaters or even on a football field. In response, he said Molinaro’s office was “told flat no,” though, he added, Molinaro pointed out that could change by next week. 

As for the district’s plans for graduation, Handler said it is still waiting to find out what it’s allowed to do. So far, the plan is to do something on graduation day, he said, even if it’s a drive-by event or an event held outside “with the understanding that when we’re allowed to do an actual formal graduation that we’re going to do that.

“It may be August, it may be September, who knows,” Handler said, “but we think the kids really deserve that.”

In celebration of the Pine Plains Class of 2020, Handler announced that the lawn signs recognizing seniors at Stissing Mountain High School arrived earlier that day and have been placed on the lawns outside the students’ residences. The electronic sign at the entrance to the high school driveway has also been programmed to scroll through the graduates’ names and future plans. 

As for the annual senior awards ceremony, Handler said the district is contacting all of the award presenters and asking them if they’d like to do a short video vignette to congratulate the  recipients. The videos will then be put together to create a virtual awards ceremony that would be made available to everyone. At this point in time, the district is working on having district parents come in to retrieve their children’s belongings left behind when schools were closed in March; this has already been scheduled at the junior/senior high school and Handler said he believed Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center Principal Julie Roberts is in the process of making that happen at the intermediate school and the Cold Spring Early Learning Center  buildings. 

Handler said the district will need to work on yearbook distribution and getting all of the school laptops back to the district since the license on each laptop has to be renewed after 180 days. After getting the laptops back, the district’s information technology personnel will clean them, make sure they are working, update the software and then reissue them. However, this can’t be done until the end of June since the students are still using the laptops.

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Janine Babcock shared the guidance the school district received from the state about providing special education services. She said the state has requested that districts “make every effort possible now to provide special ed programs and services in the most effective way to mitigate the need to provide compensatory services in the future.” On top of that, Babcock said the state recommended that schools and parents work together “collaboratively and creatively” and provide services consistent with Individualized Education Program recommendations and continue to monitor student progress.

“That’s really what we’ve been doing since the school closure,” Babcock said before giving an update on special education, Academic Intervention Services, special classes and English Language Arts teachers’ efforts to connect to students during the closure.

Also included in her report, Babcock noted that she is waiting for guidance about whether the school district will be able to offer its Extended School Year program this year and how that program will function, adding that there are currently 19 students who qualify for the program.

Cold Spring Principal Gian Starr reported on the success of Virtual Family Literacy Week that took place the previous week before moving on to discussing laptop distribution at the elementary school. Coming up, kindergarten screening is expected to take place during the first week of August. At this time, Starr said he’s making arrangements for students to pick up materials they left behind.

Roberts also talked about laptop distribution at the intermediate school and shared how teachers are continuing to make connections with students, highlighting the ways they are thinking outside the box. 

Handler observed later that evening that distance learning opportunities will continue to grow throughout the remaining weeks of the 2019-20 school year.

Under his report, Handler commended the district’s technology department for doing a phenomenal job in keeping the laptops going during the school closure. He also praised its food service staff for their work in the food delivery service program, adding that the district is currently delivering up to 125 meals daily through this program.

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