A lot has happened since school let out in June.
The state’s top educator resigned.
A backlash grew with talk of more public oversight over private schools.
High school graduation requirements are getting a second look.
And before you drive past that stopped school bus – think again.
You may have missed it all while you were on the beach, carting kids back and forth to camp or relaxing by the pool.
So to get you ready for the start of school this week, here’s a recap of what you might have missed while on summer vacation:
July surprise: The search is on for a new state education commissioner after MaryEllen Elia, the former Sweet Home teacher who took over as the state’s top educator four years ago, surprised everyone on July 15 when she announced she was stepping down Aug. 31.
Elia stepped in as commissioner during a turbulent time and helped quiet the controversies over the Common Core learning standards, the boycotting of state standardized tests and teacher evaluations being tied to student test results.
Her departure – along with that of some of her key staff – has left a lot of uncertainty in Albany and could have a ripple effect on school districts.
Beth Berlin, Elia’s executive deputy commissioner, took over as the acting state education commissioner Sept. 1.
Rethinking the Regents: The state is reconsidering requirements for high school graduation and the use of Regents exams, long considered the benchmark for whether kids in New York have received a good education before exiting high school.
The discussion is no surprise given the pressure to improve graduation rates and the difficulty many students have passing the required five Regents exams.
Should the Regents tests be scrapped?
Are there better indicators for high school completion?
Do the Regents exams really improve college readiness?
The State Education Department and the Board of Regents, its governing body, plan to appoint a review commission this fall with recommendations due as early as the fall of 2020.
Child Victims Act: August brought the start of the one-year window under the recently passed Child Victims Act that allows victims of child sex abuse, regardless of their age now, to sue their abusers and the institutions that employed them.
While more than 90% of the cases filed in Western New York thus far have been filed by plaintiffs who allege abuse by a Catholic priest, lawsuits could also include old allegations of sexual abuse by a teacher or school employee.
Schools – both public and private – will be watching closely, as they face potential legal costs and financial payouts.
Braking for buses: There’s a new weapon to deter menacing motorists who refuse to brake for school buses.
Cameras can now be installed on the stop arm of school buses to catch drivers who fail to stop when students are boarding or getting off of school buses.
Legislation authorizing the cameras was signed this summer by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Districts would have to opt in to the program, and cameras would be mounted on the arm that swings out on a bus when stopped. Images of drivers failing to stop when a school bus has its red lights on would be sent to local municipalities and law enforcement for prosecution.
A first-time offense will carry a $250 fine.
Substantially equivalent: Opposition mounted this summer as word spread of a state proposal to give public school districts greater oversight of what private institutions teach.
The Education Department is recommending that local districts conduct a more thorough review of the curricula at independent schools to ensure that their academic instruction is “substantially equivalent” to that at public schools.
Private schools see it as a direct threat to their independence.
The public comment period ran through Sept. 2, so watch for the issue to come up later this fall.
Bridging the digital divide: Providing free internet access to the homes of some 5,500 students and their families is the aim of a new pilot project this fall in the Buffalo Public Schools.
While the district has spent millions of dollars in recent years to upgrade its wireless network and equip students with laptops and tablets for use during the school day, many kids still don’t have the same advantages at home because families can’t afford the internet connection they need to do research, homework or other assignments.
Now, the wireless signal from eight schools will be extended for student use in homes in two of the city’s neediest neighborhoods – one on the East Side, another on the West Side.
Work is expected to be completed between December and early next year to situate wireless antennas atop the schools and nearby buildings to extend the district's Wi-Fi signal so that it reaches students' homes.