HUDSON—Issues with the internet, virtual instruction, bus companies and thermometers were among the matters facing the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education at the October 20 and November 3 meetings.
Internet interruptions continue, reported Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier at both meetings. She said that the interruptions have become more intermittent and often occurred at the same time of the day.
“Especially this year, when we have so many students learning remotely, when our internet is down, we lose the ability to teach and learn remotely,” Dr. Suttmeier said by email between the meetings.
Some of the problems are weather related, some equipment related, Dr. Suttmeier said in October. She announced that the district had moved its internet provider from Mid-Hudson Cable to FirstLight. In November, she added, “we’re working with other districts that are experiencing disruptions.”
Dr. Suttmeier reported last month that “the re-opening plan is on track. The students are great. They’re wearing masks.”
Right now all 11th and 12th graders have their classes online. Most 6th through 10th graders have classes on a hybrid model—two days a week in person, other days online. Most pre-kindergarteners through 5th graders have in-person classes four days a week. But many parents of students from kindergarten to 10th graders have opted for 100% of classes to be online.
At the October meeting, a man in the audience reported that his 11-year-old son in 6th grade used to love school until his classes went online. Now, even on a hybrid model, he said his son feels he cannot do his assignments and the guidance office has called about his performance.
“Virtual just doesn’t make it,” said the father. His son “feels he is not learning on the internet.” The man quoted his son as saying: “I’m not being taught. I’m just getting assignments, and I don’t understand them.”
‘When our internet is down, we lose the ability to teach and learn remotely.’
Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier, supt.
Hudson City School District
“It seems to be overwhelming,” the man said.
Sometimes there is trouble getting on the internet, the father continued. Even when they get on it, there are distracting noises, and the son cannot ask questions when he wants to. “Is there any way to bring the kids back in school?” the father asked.
“Not at this time,” answered Dr. Suttmeier. In the junior and senior high schools, “we don’t have the space. If there was a way to bring in students, we’d do it. I know you aren’t the only one who’s frustrated. We considered using the gym as a classroom, but we need the space to hold students when they come into school before class begins.”
Nevertheless, surveys are being prepared for the parents of 100%-online students, to gauge their interest in in-person classes.
“We’re looking at bringing in the 11th and 12th graders,” said Dr. Suttmeier, “but we can’t bring them in on a usual hybrid model. We don’t have the staff, and the students have such a variety of courses.”
At the November meeting, Dr. Suttmeier reported sending out a survey—in English, Bengali, Spanish, and Arabic—to the the parents of 11th and 12th graders asking if their students want to come to the school building on some days for an educational experience and if so whether they would need transportation.
The survey for kindergarten through 10th graders asks whether they want to come to school in person starting February 1, Dr. Suttmeier reported. But if “too many” elementary students return a “yes,” the elementary grades may have to change from four days a week to a hybrid model.
Dr. Suttmeier said at both meetings that the elementary school has room for all students to attend in-person classes four days a week only because about 400 of the about 900 children who could be in the school have been registered to have their instruction 100% online.
A lot depends on the spacing rules enacted by the state government, observed Board member Sage Carter.
For extra room, reopening the vacant John L. Edwards School on State Street is not an option, Dr. Suttmeier said later. It no longer meets state standards and upgrading it would require “an enormous amount” of money. The building, which was closed in 2018, is now for sale and is used by the district for storage.
On another topic, “One of the major bus companies we deal with just emailed me that in the event of a future shutdown, they will be required to take all Hudson buses off the road,” reported district Business Administrator Jesse Boehme at the November 3 meeting. In that case, the company might need 30 days notice to restart serving the district. The company has determined that it lost too much money on Hudson during the spring shutdown.
Mr. Boehme asked the board what the district should do about this.
He said he contacted other school districts and one said in a shutdown it would pay its bus company 60% of the regular fee in order to keep the buses ready to resume service on a day’s notice.
Dr. Suttmeier noted that the schools could alternate intermittently” between open and closed, without anyone knowing how long each phase would last. Her initial reaction was, “We have to keep the buses on call. The best place for students is in school. I want my students here.” In addition, when school is closed, “there’s pressure for me to get the students back in school,” she said, in part to to allow more parents to go back to work.
But board member Charles Parmentier said, “We wouldn’t have to re-open at a moment’s notice. Sixty percent seems like a large amount.”
And board member Justin Elliott said, didn’t like the 60% plan. “It opens the door to other companies demanding their 60%,” while their service is suspended. “We shouldn’t have to keep private companies afloat.”
“We’re being held hostage. We have a contract with the bus company,” he said, adding that the contract with the company should force the company to resume serving Hudson, as soon as it is needed.
In yet another pandemic matter, “We’re going to have issues with handheld thermometers,” Dr. Suttmeier said. The weather, hot cars, and hats can distort readings, especially during cold weather. The superintendent said that officials she has spoken to from other school districts also face the same prospect and also said they had no solution to suggest.
A related issue, Dr. Suttmeier said, is what happens when a child is found to have a fever just after the person delivering the child to the school has driven off.
The next meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education will take place Tuesday, November 27 at 6 p.m in the Hudson High School auditorium. It will start with a Junior High curriculum workshop and continue into a regular meeting.