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Panama Not Changing Its Instruction Schedule

PANAMA — Changes in state guidance on social distancing in classrooms won’t change Panama Central School’s plan for the final 10 weeks of the school year.

Bert Lictus, district superintendent, told board members the state’s recent adoption of Centers for Disease Control guidance cutting social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet doesn’t mean much for Western New York schools because the region is still considered a high COVID-19 transmission area. While other schools are bringing more students back into the classroom, many Panama students have already been in the classroom all year.

“In terms of a reopening plan I’m going to recommend we continue doing what we’ve done,” Lictus said. “We’re one of a few schools in the county that have not had to go remote, and I think our staff has done a good job. We’ll tweak, but there’s no change.”

According to the CDC’s website, social distancing requirements in schools are indeed cut in half if a county is in its blue zone, which means fewer than 10 total new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days and a 5% percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over the past seven days. Schools in a yellow zone, which have between 10 and 49 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days and a positive test percentage between 5% and 7.9%. Those schools can have 3 feet social distancing in elementary, middle and high schools.

Schools in orange (50-99 cases per 100,000 people over seven days and a positive test percentage of 8 to 9.9%) and red zones (more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days and a positive test percentage more than 10%) can use 3 feet of social distancing but are recommended to group students to limit the number of students in school. Schools that do not use cohorting must still have 6 feet of social distancing in classrooms.

Most New York counties, including Chautauqua, are classified by the CDC as a red zone.

The state’s change in guidance is factoring into planning of several spring events, including a junior-senior prom, baccaleurate at Panama United Methodist Church, senior trips and the district’s annual senior recognition dinner. Prom, for example, is typically held in May but has to be held in June to meet the state’s guidance on gatherings. Prom will be held June 12 at the school. Students will wear masks throughout the event, with dancing in designated areas for those in the same group.

“It’s a go,” said Danielle Cook, seventh- through 12th-grade principal. “We’re working on making that happen. The kids are excited. Even though it’s not going to be traditional or what we are all used to seeing, I’m excited that the kids are able to get together.”

Senior recognition will be held June 3, a band concert is planned for June 17, a virtual chorus concert is being planned with no date yet and baccalaureate is scheduled for June 22. Graduation is to be held June 25.

“I’d like to go out and thank Mrs. Cook for all her efforts getting this done,” Lictus said.

“This is really difficult and I’m going to ask the community to bear with us a little bit. Our guidelines that came out last week were the first ones we’ve really seen and when I sent a question to the email that they had, I had a response back today saying I should send it to some other email addresses even though I sent it to the one that was presenting the reopening guidance. So it’s been very hard to get answers. But we’re moving forward. Mrs. Cook has put a lot of time and effort. I’m just asking folks to bear with us. It’s very tricky. It’s complicated. I’m confident we’ll have a nice end of the year but some details may not be known a month or two ahead. It’s small. It will be impacting specific groups, but I think there will be enough notice for the families to still have a nice time.”

In other business:

¯ a solar farm in North Harmony could end up helping the district financially, according to Don Butler, board president. An agricultural tax exemption for the property will no longer be used, so the district will see additional tax revenue.

“All said and done, I believe the school actually gets an increase on the property,” Butler said. “I think they’re getting other financial benefits, but as far as property and school tax they’re not exempt.”

¯ district officials are also planning a summer school for first- through fifth-graders. Emily Harvey, district director of instruction, said the district has budgeted for additional federal money for teachers and staff. Plans are for a program featuring program-based learning that is fun for students who participate. Lauren Harper, elementary school principal, also said such programs tend to see less participation once children reach sixth grade.

“I personally don’t like the term learning loss,” Harvey said. “I think it’s a negative connotation. Kids have been working really hard in a year no one has really been through (before). They’re really working hard. So I want it to be where they’re continuing to learn but having fun and not really feeling that pressure of ‘I’m behind, I’m behind.’ We also want it to be open to any of the students entering grade 1-5 versus in the past, where it’s been focused more on remediation and intervention.”

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