Michael Deegan assembled a Health and Safety Task Force of the Office of the Superintendent March 4 with an assignment to plan for the unexpected.
The task force’s assignment continued in full May 1 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced schools in New York state will remain closed through the end of June due to the coronavirus pandemic, and students will be taught by their teachers remotely through the end of June.
“I wasn’t surprised the governor extended the pause. One thing we’ve tried to do is be proactive and anticipate what may be decided,” Deegan, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, told CNY.
“Planning makes everything we’ve done and will do effective. Even though we are not physically together, we are certainly together as a community of faith. Our buildings are closed. Our hearts are open. Teachers are teaching and students are learning.”
Deegan’s task force is already planning for the unexpected beyond the end of the school year.
“In the short term, we’re planning our summer program,” Deegan said. “Thousands of students are involved in our extended year program. We don’t know if it will be in person or virtual. We’re planning for both.
“We’ve already begun planning for the reopening of school in September. We have to plan for every one of the scenarios. We’re planning to open with all the plans having been put in place.”
Deegan credited the principals, teachers and parents of students for the success of virtual learning so far.
“Principals and teachers are a gift to the Church,” he said. “Catholic school teachers and principals are the first responders of the Church. They are my heroes because of everything they do. They put the needs of the students ahead of their own needs and needs of their family because they’re devoted to the children.
“Our parents are working from home, helping their children with assignments and managing the household.”
Deegan sent a letter to the Catholic school community May 1 and explained what’s next. He also listed the services available to students and their families, if needed, such as those offered by Catholic Charities and the counseling programs offered by the Archdiocese of New York Drug Abuse Prevention Program (ADAPP).
Deegan and his staff are working to ensure students have access to meals and an electronic device of their own to do their schoolwork. Deegan told CNY that parents had received a letter asking if their children each had their own device for schoolwork and were not sharing one with their parents or siblings. If needed, Deegan said families would be assisted in obtaining a Chromebook for each Catholic elementary student in their home.
Deegan added in the letter principals and teachers will recognize the accomplishments of their students.
“We along with our principals and teachers will ensure for those celebrating stepping up milestones, graduations and other achievements are honored and recognized,” Deegan said in the letter.
Deegan sent a letter May 4 at the start of Teacher Appreciation Week to teachers to highlight their work during the pandemic.
“In seemingly a matter of hours, how you do your job was completely redefined at the exact time your personal lives were turned upside down,” he wrote. “And just like doctors, nurses and first responders, you had to show up. There was no time to gather yourself, no personal time to ‘get a grip’ on the situation. You were told what the new normal needed to be, you took the next indicated steps and you showed up for your students with a smile.”
The summer and fall may bring more unexpected news for principals, teachers, students and parents, in and out of school, with many families taking a financial hit due to a parent losing a job, being furloughed or taking a salary cut during the pandemic.
“We are certainly concerned with what September will bring to our Catholic schools,” Deegan said. “We are planning what are some opportunities and programs that will recommit families financially to our Catholic education.”
One thing is certain, Deegan is confident his task force will have everyone prepared for what comes next.
“We can always do better. We’re pleased but not satisfied,” Deegan said.