District Shares Reopening Considerations

During the district’s first Reopening Schools virtual forum on July 15, school administrators shared with parents the process that the BH-BL Reopening Committee and district work groups are undertaking as they plan for reopening schools. They shared some of the guidelines set forth by the NYS Department of Health (DOH) that districts must adhere to in order to open schools, and they outlined potential reopening considerations (in-person instruction and a fully virtual school) for the fall.

Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGrath explained that while the district is still in the middle of the process of developing the plans, he felt it was important to share the progress that has been made.

“There is still plenty of work that needs to be done and feedback that must be gathered before we finalize our reopening plans for submission to the state. However, we want to keep our community informed and let parents know the big picture options we are considering and what it all means for families,” explains McGrath.

Parent Survey

Some of the planning work that still needs to be done includes gathering input from parents. The district needs to gauge whether parents feel comfortable sending their children to school for in-person instruction or if a fully virtual school is preferred. They also need to know if families will rely on the district’s school buses for transportation to and from school in the fall. These questions and others will be included in a parent survey that will be emailed to all parents. Feedback from the survey is due Tuesday, July 21. [PARENT SURVEY]

“Parental feedback is critical at this juncture,” adds McGrath. “It will help us as we create schedules, determine how social distancing guidelines can be met in the space we have, schedule busing routes, and gather other information we need to develop reopening plans.”

How Do We Reopen School in the Fall Amidst the Pandemic?

In determining how the district can and should reopen schools, the district is keeping the following guiding principle at the forefront of their discussions at all times. We need a plan that provides a high-quality education consistent with the guidelines provided to us by the NYSDOH that maximizes academic benefit and promotes the social-emotional and physical well being of all of our students and staff.

“We know that all parents have unique circumstances and strong feelings about what is best for their child,” says McGrath. “We are trying to develop a plan that is responsive to each family’s needs. As we develop this plan, it is essential that we understand how our parents are thinking about the fall semester and what they would like to see for their children.”

While the reopening plan is still in the development stage, the district is considering two parallel choices for the first part of the school year. Under this plan, parents would have a choice:

Option 1: Fully Virtual School. This option is for parents who choose to keep their children out of school buildings. Students enrolled in the virtual school would receive full instruction in all core/required classes covering the same material that will be covered in person. The virtual school will be full time with live classes on a schedule that students must adhere to. Some elective options may not be available in the virtual model. Students attending virtual school will be held to the same academic requirements as in-person school. Parents would commit to the first trimester (elementary) or the first semester (middle and high school, through January 29, 2021) of virtual school. This option would be re-evaluated at the end of the specified time period. Instruction would be paced in such a way that students in the virtual school would be ready to transition back into in-person school in the future.

Option 2: In-Person Instruction. The other option would be in-person instruction. This option would be in strict adherence to the Governor’s and NYS Department of Health Guidelines for Reopening (see below). The plan would commit to groups of no larger than 12 to 14 students in most classroom settings which would allow students and teachers the option to remove masks for instruction. Because of the need to create these small groups, in-person instruction may be every day or may involve a hybrid model whereby students are physically in school on one day and learning virtually on another. The hope is to provide a fully in-person option for elementary. Middle and High School students would most likely be shifted into a hybrid in-person model (on a rotating schedule) in order to stay compliant with the Department of Health guidelines. Much of the detail of this model is dependent upon how many students opt for the Fully Virtual School.

Additionally the district is considering delaying the start of kindergarten to January 2021 instead of the fall. Parents of incoming kindergarten students will have the opportunity to share feedback about this in the Parent Survey.

Reopening Process & Timeline

In June, the Reopening Committee, which is made up of parents, faculty, healthcare professionals, administrators, staff, parents, and students met virtually to review multiple reopening options and consider a wide variety of perspectives. The early meetings were largely a brainstorming process to help guide the district leaders into researching different reopening scenarios.

In early July, district administrators, the Teachers’ Association and Building Leadership Teams held discussions about the reopening scenarios discussed in the Reopening Committee meetings and further brainstormed. On July 13, the NYSDOH released school reopening guidelines which are still being reviewed and incorporated into the district’s reopening plan draft.

The week of July 20, building councils and administration will review the feedback collected from the parents survey and use the information to help fine tune the draft of the reopening plans. In the last week of July, the nearly complete draft of the reopening plan will be shared with the Building Councils and the Board of Education for their review and approval. It will also be shared with parents and the BH-BL community on Wednesday, July 29 at the district’s Reopening Schools Virtual Forum #2. The forum will begin at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live. On July 31, the Superintendent will submit the final plan to the state for review and approval.

The week of August 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that he would determine, region by region, if schools can reopen in the fall. He said the state developed a formula that will allow schools to reopen this fall in regions that are in phase four and have a COVID-19 infection rate of five percent or less on a rolling 14-day average. He said that if the infection rate goes above nine percent using a seven-day average, then he’d “hit the emergency stop button,” which likely means he’d close schools for in-person instruction.

NYS Department of Health Guidance Required for Schools to Reopen

The Department of Health released a lengthy document outlining steps schools must implement in order to reopen in the fall. [NYSDOH Guidance Document] Here are some of the main guidelines:

Face Coverings

  • To be worn at all times by all individuals when six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained (except when eating/drinking, during instruction with social distancing, and during short breaks), and must be worn on the bus.
  • Face coverings will be provided to students and staff, but individuals may wear their own as long as the masks cover both the nose & mouth.
  • Extra face coverings will be available in each building.

Appropriate Social Distancing 

  • Six-feet of space between individuals is needed in classrooms (12-13 students)
  • Looking into adding physical barriers in classrooms where needed to provide for 12-13 seats
  • Space out seating in cafeteria, place tables/seating outside
  • PE classes outside
  • Investigate outdoor tents for extra space

Hygiene, Cleaning & Disinfecting Practices

  • Follow DOH hygiene/cleaning practices; Rigorous and ongoing cleaning and disinfecting
  • Display CDC-provided signage; teach proper hand washing & appropriate face covering placement (nose & mouth)
  • Soap, paper towels & hand sanitizer readily available
  • Daily disinfecting using both DOH-approved cleaners & misting equipment & solutions
  • Daily cleaning of restrooms & fixtures
  • Regular cleaning/disinfecting of frequently touched areas (i.e., desks, cafeteria tables, main office counters, door handles, etc.)
  • Consider closing drinking fountains

Daily Health Screenings 

  • Temperature reading of each individual prior to entering building; 100 degrees or greater go to nurse/designated area; staff to return home
  • Remote/electronic screening questionnaire for staff, daily
  • Rely on at-home checks, too. If a child has a fever, please do not send him/her to school. We will communicate this regularly.

Contact Tracing 

  • The district must notify the state and local health departments when they’ve been informed of any staff member or student who tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Must adhere to the NYS Contact Tracing Program protocols & health department isolation/quarantine efforts.
  • Confidentiality to be maintained, per federal and state regulations

Increase ventilation as much as possible 

  • Open windows & doors (without compromising safety) to increase airflow in buildings and rooms.
  • Guidance has not been received that the district needs to change its current ventilation system.

Transportation

  • Face coverings MUST be worn on the bus at all times by all individuals.
  • Household members share the same seat on the bus.
  • Social distance as much as possible; use every other seat but contingent upon bus population density.
  • Students must ride the same bus every day, and there will be limited options for drop off and pick up locations.
  • Strongly encourage parents to provide their own transportation to and from school if possible.
  • Parent survey to include questions about who will rely on bus transportation next year.