A Westchester school district is working around the clock to get students back in the classroom after being forced by the state to transition to its remote learning model due to certain safety concerns amid a massive renovation project.
The Blind Brook School District in Rye Brook was forced to temporarily close the Ridge Street Elementary School by the state Department of Education, much to the disappointment of parents, students, and staff.
Students were welcomed back into the building earlier this month as the building was under a massive renovation project, but it was promptly shut down by the state, which said the district was “using space for instruction without appropriate inspections and other approvals.”
In response, during a heated Board of Education meeting, officials said that the district has applied for a temporary application to the state to bring students back to the school as soon as next week.
The district also submitted a proposal to temporarily move fifth-grade students to the middle/high school building to continue in-person learning.
Students are scheduled to continue remote learning through at least the rest of the week.
No specific timeline was provided by school officials during the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21. It could still be several weeks until safety concerns are alleviated.
According to the state, the school had numerous fire safety violations and lacked a certificate of occupancy because of ongoing and extensive construction in the building.
An inspector from the state was to be at the elementary school on Wednesday, Sept. 22 to evaluate how much progress the district is making in repairs and construction. Another Board meeting was scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 23 to discuss the matter.
In a statement, New York Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblyman Steve Otis said that they had an “extensive” call with New York State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa and her team regarding the reopening of the school.
“The Commissioner has already made available the expertise and guidance of State Education Department staff to assist the district in returning to safe, in-person learning at the earliest opportunity,” they said. “She reiterated that commitment on the call and wants to assist the district in resolving construction issues and in expediting a full opening of the school.
“To that end, we urge the district to work with their construction contractors to provide a detailed and specific plan describing the steps and timetable for remaining projects that need to be completed, the schedule for full compliance with the code and applicable state law, and the timetable for the opening of the school for in-person learning for each grade”
School officials said that they’ve met “at length” with the district’s architectural and construction management firms to advance the "phase-in plan" to reopen the school.
That plan entails the safe opening of classroom space to return to in-person learning and safely opening the rest of the newly-constructed classroom spaces while the conclusion of the project is ongoing.
“We expect that many of you want to express your frustration, your disappointment, and yes, your justifiable anger,” district officials said in a message to the community. “We respect your fundamental right to do so, and we will listen with empathy. All we ask in return is that, in exercising your rights of expression, you would refrain from making personal attacks, or seeking to inflame or even stoke violence.
“Please remember that we remain your neighbors and fellow residents, and you can express your disappointment in this district and Board without doing lasting damage to the Village and Schools that we all love.”
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