“Reopening School Choice Guide for Parents”

A Guide to Help in Your Decision Making

(Updated August 3, 2020) This webpage will be updated regularly as new questions are submitted. Please refer back to it often. If you have a question that is not answered here, please reach out to your child’s principal.

On Friday, July 31, BH-BL submitted its Reopening School Plan to the state . The information outlined in the plan identifies the measures schools need to take in order to open buildings for students and staff in the fall. School leaders continue to map out the instructional plan details to ensure they are providing high-quality, comprehensive instruction in both the In-person/Hybrid and Fully Virtual School models that are being offered to students for at least the beginning of the upcoming school year.

District leaders recognize that both models have challenges and benefits, depending on your children’s and family’s needs. Developing the two different instructional plans has proven to be a complex balancing act that involves incorporating many different parts including, but not limited to, the guidelines from the state, the CDC, and the Department of Health; parent, student and staff concerns; protocols for mask and health screenings; physical space limitations; and the logistics of modifying existing Board of Education policies and regulations to accommodate the Reopening Plan.

We know that this most unusual situation we are living in weighs heavily on parents’ minds as they are being asked to decide how to send their children to school in the fall. To help guide you in this decision, we’ve taken community-submitted questions and separated them within the two offered instruction models, as well as other categories. Please take a moment to review these questions and responses as they may provide some clarity and guidance in helping you make your decision.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Reopening Plan will continue to be developed/modified on a regular basis as new information becomes available and state decisions are made. We urge you to check this webpage often for updates. We will date stamp the information that was updated.

A school registration e-form was emailed to all BH-BL parents by Monday, Aug. 3 with a return date of Monday, Aug. 10. On the registration form, parents will be asked to select an instructional model for their children this coming fall. The Board of Education has asked the superintendent to develop a set of administrative regulations to guide the registration process. Accordingly, we ask that parents commit to the choice selected for one trimester for elementary students (until Nov. 30) or one semester for middle and high school (until Jan. 29, 2021). Requests to change from one mode of learning to the other before the end of the specified time period will only be considered under extenuating circumstances.

In-person/Hybrid Instruction Model Questions to Consider

Q: What will a hybrid classroom look like for both elementary and secondary students?

This option would involve in-person instruction in strict adherence to the Governor’s and NYS Department of Health Guidelines and NYSED Guidelines for Reopening, which would include screening prior to entry, masks required for all students when in non-social distant situations, and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

At the elementary schools, the district is making plans to hold in-person instruction every weekday for students in grades 1-5. To do this, two small groups or “pods” of students will be created within each grade level classroom. The classrooms will hold no more than 10 to 14 students at a given time. This is being done because the physical size of the classrooms will not be able to accommodate all of the students and still adhere to the 6 foot of social distancing protocols. These two spaces will be the only two locations inside the building that this section of students will occupy. Students will eat lunch with their small group in one of the two designated spaces. At this time, plans are being developed to bring specials into the two classroom spaces simultaneously via live broadcast.

At the middle and high schools, students will likely attend school on a rotating schedule in order to stay compliant with the current Department of Health guidelines. Details have not been finalized, but students may alternate between in-person and virtual school on an every other day rotation. Every effort will be made to ensure that students in the same family/household will attend school on the same days. Every effort will also be made to ensure that students stay on pace whether they are attending school in-person or virtually on any given day.

Q: Will the hallways be crowded when classes switch?

Because we will adhere to DOH and SED social distance guidelines, we are considering staggering times for when students switch classes. These details still need to be defined based on the number of students who chose the in-person school option. We are also looking at possibly eliminating locker visits to cut down on hallway congestion.

Q: Do students and staff have to maintain a 6 foot distance from others at all times?

Pursuant to NYSDOH Guidance, schools must ensure that appropriate social distancing (i.e. 6 feet/barriers) is maintained between individuals while in school facilities and on school grounds (inclusive of students, faculty, and staff), unless safety or the core activity requires a shorter distance. Schools must maintain protocols and procedures for students, faculty, and staff to ensure appropriate social distancing to protect against the transmission of the COVID-19 virus when on school grounds and in school facilities, including the responsibility to configure spaces so individuals can maintain social distancing. As a baseline, face coverings are required to be worn any time or place that individuals cannot maintain appropriate social distancing. Further, face coverings are “strongly recommended” by the New York Department of Health at all times, except for meals and instruction with appropriate social distancing. However, schools can require face coverings at all times, even during instruction; and it is strongly recommended in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 community infection.

Q: What is an acceptable barrier?

NYSDOH July 13, 2020 guidance provides: use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals that do not adversely affect air flow, heating, cooling, or ventilation, or otherwise present a health or safety risk. If used, physical barriers must be put in place in accordance with United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, and may include strip curtains, cubicle walls, polycarbonate, or similar materials, or other impermeable divider or partition.

Q: How will 6 ft social distancing be maintained in school?

Classroom desks will be appropriately spaced out based on DOH guidelines and use of barriers may help separate portions of a room (see below). It’s likely we will include markers on the floors and walls to visually demonstrate the spacing of six feet of distance between individuals. When six feet of distance can’t be maintained, students and staff will be required to wear a nose & mouth covering. Below is a picture of a middle school classroom with desks positioned  six feet apart.

socially distanced classroom

Q: Are cloth face masks acceptable face coverings?

Per the NYSDOH Guidance, “Acceptable face coverings include but are not limited to cloth-based face coverings (e.g. homemade sewn, quick cut, bandana) and surgical masks that cover both the mouth and nose.”

Q: Will the school provide students and staff with masks? What if my child forgets his mask or loses it during the day?

Yes, while students bringing their own reusable cloth masks to school is encouraged, the district will provide every student and staff member with a mask if they do not have a mask when they arrive at the bus stop or at school. The district currently has 20,000 disposable surgical masks on site and will order more if necessary. Each school bus and school building will have extra masks available should they get lost, soiled, forgotten, etc.

Q: What happens if social distancing and mask wearing rules are not followed?

Staff and students will be reminded upon entry into buildings that masks are required. CDC posters and other signage will be highly visible throughout the school. Adhering to the district’s Code of Conduct is a student’s and staff responsibility. Wearing a face mask would be categorized under safety protocols. Purposeful disregard of any school safety and security guidelines results in consequences outlined in the Code of Conduct.

Q: Is there a protocol for when a child without a mask on during instruction in the classroom sneezes or coughs?

Students and staff will be trained on proper hygiene practices, including the proper removal and disposal of soiled masks. Posters from the CDC will be placed visibly through the classrooms, bathrooms, and hallways.

Q: Will children be asked to wash their hands after entering the school every morning?

The district will abide by the DOH and CDC guidelines and train students and staff on proper hand and respiratory hygiene. There will be soap and water in the bathrooms, along with signs demonstrating proper hand washing practices. Additionally, where soap and water are not available there will be hand sanitizer for student and staff use.

Q: Are parents required to ensure that their children are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 or a fever before boarding a bus each day?

Parents are asked to take their children’s temperature before boarding the bus or entering school. Additionally, parents will be asked to complete a health screening daily that assesses if their child has a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit among other symptoms.

Q: How are the classrooms going to be disinfected when students change classes?

At the elementary level, students will not be changing classes. At the secondary level, we will have procedures in place that will allow for time to clean desks in between classes.

Q: How will kids be monitored in locker rooms?

For the time being, the locker rooms will not be open.

Q: Will the district be shutting down buildings to outside visitors and volunteers?

Outside visitors and volunteers will be limited as much as possible this school year. Any individual who does enter BH-BL buildings will undergo the same health screening as students and staff.

Q: Will the district be asking families & staff who travel outside of NYS to report that travel to the district?

There are state guidelines in place that require New York residents to self report their out-of-state travel. The screening tool staff and students complete before entering a building asks this question.

Q: Have maintenance employees attended covid-19 cleaning/disinfecting training?

Yes, they’ve learned how to properly clean during COVID-19. All staff will also undergo training on proper cleaning, hygiene and hand washing protocols.

Q: What is the plan for children in self-contained special education classes at the middle school level?

The Director of Special Education will be working with parents of students receiving special services to ensure they receive the services they need.

Q: Are students required to wear masks and social distance on a school bus? Will bus drivers deny a student who doesn’t have a mask?

All students are required to wear a mask for the entire bus ride and should maintain appropriate social distancing to the greatest extent possible. The only exception to the mask requirement is that students whose physical or mental health would be impaired by wearing a mask are not required to do so. There will be extra masks on the bus for any student who doesn’t have one on or forgets one, but if a student refuses to wear a mask we would not be able to allow them on the bus.

Q: Will there be any changes to transportation policies (i.e., riding the bus to different locations on different days, riding to a friends house, etc.) if my child rides the bus this school year?

In order to adhere to guidelines set forth by the Department of Health, the district had to modify its transportation policies. Therefore, transportation will now only be provided to one location whether it’s a child’s primary residence or daycare location for eligible students in grades K-8. Transportation will be provided to the primary residence for students in grades 9-12. Transportation will not be provided outside of the school’s attendance zone for primary students unless it is to the primary residence or childcare center licensed pursuant to Section 390 of NYS Social Services Law. Such childcare locations must have filed, by August 1 of any given year, a copy of their license with the Supervisor of Transportation, and agreed to make an adult available to meet school buses picking up or dropping off students at district designated bus stops.

Please know that day-variant requests for transportation will be prohibited. A student’s bus stop must be at the same location daily and week to week. Additionally, bus passes will not be authorized or allowed. There also will be no bus runs for the Academic Assistance Period.

In addition, the following rules and procedures will apply for students who ride the bus:

  • Students will be required to sit in the assigned seat daily.
  • Where possible and practical, students will be required to sit in the same seat as their siblings/household members
  • Students must wear masks at all times when on the school bus
  • Only necessary items will be allowed on the school bus and must remain in their bags at all times. Students may not share any items while on the school bus

Q: Will students be dismissed simultaneously or will there be somewhat of a staggered dismissal both at the end of the day and while passing between classes?

The parent survey suggests that nearly 50 percent of families will be transporting their children to school. Because of this, the district will need to develop different drop off and pick up practices for the schools. Those details will be shared once they are finalized. The district will have a better sense of how many students will be dropped off and pick up from school after parents submit the Reopening Schools Registration Form.

Q: If we choose the option to drive our children to/from school, will our kids be able to ride the bus to/from school on days where we aren’t available to drive them?

In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines and properly prepare our bus routes, we would need to know if your child will require transportation services. We are strongly encouraging parents to drive their children to school, if possible. If you know your child will need transportation home, the district will need to know in order to be prepared.

Q: Are parents allowed to carpool their children to school?

If parents and children are adhering to the DOH and the Governor’s directives to wear a facemask when six feet of distance can’t be maintained, then carpools may be acceptable. The district is encouraging as many people as possible to drive their children to school.

Q: Will elementary students still get recess? Can they use the playground?

To the extent possible and weather permitting, elementary students will still participate in recess. However, for the time being the use of playground equipment will not be permissible. Elementary principals are currently working with staff to develop alternative recess activities that abide by social distancing guidelines.

Q: If students are signed up for in-person/hybrid classes, but are out for the 10+ days, what do they do for school?

The details for addressing this concern are still being worked on, but the district is committed to providing continuous education. Staff will work with individual students/families should this situation occur.

Q: Are students required to be socially distant while consuming meals in the cafeteria or classroom?

Students must be 6 feet apart or be separated by a barrier while consuming meals. At the elementary schools, students will eat lunch within their small group/pod of students in their classroom or alternate space while practicing social distancing. At the secondary level, the tables/desks in the cafeteria will be arranged in a socially distanced manner.

Q: What is the process for children buying lunch?

For students onsite, school meals will be provided/can be purchased while maintaining appropriate social distancing between students.  The sharing of food and beverages (e.g., buffet style meals, snacks) is prohibited, unless individuals are members of the same household. Elementary students (Grades K-5) will eat lunch in their assigned classroom location, they will not be utilizing the school cafeteria. It is likely an adult will deliver the lunches from the school cafeteria to their respective classrooms. Students who bring their lunch will retrieve their lunch from its storage location and return to their desk. As all student desks will already be arranged in a manner that is in accordance with social distancing protocols for their regular class instruction, there will be no need to reconfigure these spaces for social distancing during their lunch period. Secondary students (Grades 6-12) will continue to eat lunch in the school cafeteria but will have seating arranged in a socially distant manner. The district is planning to replace the current cafeteria tables with individual student desks that are spaced in a socially distant manner to allow for students to eat their lunch in accordance with all applicable guidelines. The exact process for how students will buy lunch at the secondary level while adhering to health and safety practices is still being worked on. Cafeteria spaces will be cleaned and disinfected by custodial staff after each group of students has utilized the space.

Q: Are water fountains going to be operational?

Traditional drinking fountains will be taped off and prohibited from being used. Water fountains that are equipped with a bottle fill feature will be operational. Additionally, the district has purchased additional water bottle filling equipment to be installed through the buildings.

Fully Virtual School Model Questions to Consider

Q: What will a Fully Virtual School look like?

At the elementary level, students will enroll in a fully virtual school staffed by a faculty of BH-BL elementary teachers for the period of remote learning. Students from each school will mix together.  When the crisis is over and students return to regular in-person attendance, they will return to their home schools. We have analyzed the Parent Responses by building and grade level. We feel it is reasonable to create a virtual elementary school that has roughly 13-15 total sections (based upon actual registrations). It may be necessary to have some multi-grade level section assignments. Creation of virtual classes for grade 1-5 may require additional elementary sections.

Secondary: The exact structure of the middle and high schools virtual option is still under consideration. Some elective options at the secondary level may not be available in the virtual model, although the district will work hard to accommodate important elective

Q: Will students need to provide their own computers for FVS?

No, the district will provide students with Chromebooks to use for logging into virtual courses, complete their schoolwork, etc. They’ll also be able to connect with the technology department should they encounter technical difficulties.

Q: Will high school electives still be offered to FVS students?

Depending on the enrollment numbers, some electives may not be able to be offered virtually. The district will work with students and their guidance counselors to guarantee a program that meets all graduation requirements.

Q: How will FVS students take exams? Will they be online?

Teachers and school administrators are working out the specific details, but students would likely take exams when their in-person peers are taking the exam during class time.

Q: How will testing accommodations be handled in the FVS?

The Special Education Department will work with a child’s family to find an appropriate solution for specific needs.

Q: Will there be clubs meeting after school?  Could a student participate remotely if they are?

Whether or not clubs will be held this coming school year is yet to be determined. For now, the district has postponed all in-person club meetings. Details about virtual club meetings will be shared with students once decisions are made.

Q: If activities such as band, chorus, physical education/sports, etc. still occur, will VFS be able to participate?

We are seeking guidance on how to handle such activities while adhering to social distancing and health and safety protocols. The district is committed, however, to developing alternative plans for music, PE, and art that provide students with related educational experiences. In mid-July, schools were informed that the start of fall athletics has been delayed until Sept. 21. There will likely be certain limitations for FVR student participation in certain activities.

Other Questions

Q: What will happen if a large number of students want to change instructional mode at the end of the specified period.

The plan would be re-evaluated at the end of the specified time period, at which time, students would have the option to transfer back to switch instructional models. It should be noted that depending on the numbers of students transferring and the requirements of the Department of Health at that time, transfers could affect the scheduling of in-person instruction.

Q: If we choose in-school but after some time it is not a good fit can we choose virtual?

We ask that parents commit to the choice selected for one trimester for elementary students (until Nov. 30) or one semester for middle and high school (until Jan. 29, 2021). Requests to change from one mode of learning to the other before the end of the specified time period will only be considered under extenuating circumstances.

Q: How will attendance be handled for either mode of instruction?

There will be an expectation for daily attendance of all students. All attendance procedures will be in full effect whether students are in the in-person group or remote. The attendance clerk at each school building will take attendance and compile it in the student management system. Students who are chronically absent will receive the same follow-up (i.e. guidance, administration, child study team, child protective services) whether they are in the in-person school or in the virtual school.

Q: Will there be kindergarten this school year?

In the early planning stages, the district was considering postponing the start of kindergarten until January. However, based on parental feedback the kindergarten program is now included in the Reopening Plan. The district’s square footage limitations, however, do make it impossible to hold kindergarten everyday without shifting students in other grades to other district buildings or reducing the number of in-person instructional days for other grade levels. There would be a great deal of complexity and disruption caused by this shift. For these reasons, the district has committed to developing an alternating day kindergarten schedule to begin the year. This would likely be a cohort of kindergarten students attending in-person school on Mondays and Wednesdays and every other Friday, while the other cohort attends in-person school on Tuesday and Thursdays and every other Friday.

“We realize the scheduling and financial challenges this option could place on families,” says McGrath. “At this point, however, there is no way to have daily full day kindergarten and maintain a daily routine for students in grades 1-5. Although we will be starting the kindergarten school year on an alternating schedule, we will be looking for every opportunity to move our youngest and newest students back to full time as soon as possible.”

To assist families of kindergarteners, the district is currently reaching out to community daycare centers and licensed childcare providers to see if they’ll be able to offer a kindergarten program that supplements the district’s program on alternating days. Additionally, the district is looking into possible financial resources and grants to help with the financial burden this could place on families.

Q: What as parents can we do to help the school district? I see management, teachers, bus drivers, custodians, etc. are going to have to do extra. Is there any way parents can help? Can we come in and clean at night, or take temps on the way in the door, etc.?

We greatly appreciate this offer and are always in need of substitutes. If you are interested in being added to the district’s substitute list, please complete the “Substitute Interest Form” and we’ll reach out to you. The form can be found on our website under “employment.” Here’s a direct link to the form.

Q: Were any re-opening costs included in this year’s budget? If so, how much and will it be enough? If not, then where will those funds come from (especially if Governor Cuomo follows through on his threat to cut school aid by 20 percent if the next federal stimulus program does not provide any funds to NYS)?

The district has already committed nearly $200k in COVID-19 related expenses to make sure school buildings are ready for students and staff, and this number is expected to grow significantly. In every school budget, the district attempts to budget a small provision for risk to account for expenses that might not be completely known at the time of budget creation (i.e. costs associated with students moving into the district mid-year that require additional expenditures to program, unexpected failures of mechanical systems, unexpected costs where staff must be added to meet an urgent student need, etc.).  The district is currently using that provision for risk to fund COVID-19 related expenses, but that will not last much longer and will leave little funding to address any additional unexpected occurrences during the school year. Absent additional State aid or Federal assistance, these mounting COVID-19 related costs will force the district to reduce other programs and services in order to remain on budget for the 2020-21 school year.

Q: My son is scheduled to attend Votec in the fall. Will Vo-tec still be offered?

Capital Region BOCES has informed districts that they will be offering vo-tec courses. They, too, will be practicing social distancing practices in the classrooms.

Q: Will IEP or 504 plans and student services be met?

The district will provide, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability, the special education and related services, identified in the student’s IEP. Due to the health and safety requirements that must be in place, the district may not be able to provide all services in the same mode and/or manner they are typically provided.  Methods of delivery of services will be determined based on whether the student is in an in-person, hybrid or fully remote setting. Students’ service provider(s), including their special education case manager and CSE Chairperson, if appropriate, will consult with parents regarding the specific methods of service delivery for their child.

Q: What about the possibility of trailers/out-buildings/pre-fab buildings to make extra class space?

The district did look into these possibilities. However the additional expense of the module classrooms (which must be State Education Department approved) are cost prohibitive. This is not a path the district will be taking given the considerable cost associated with it. However, the district is currently exploring the possibility of renting space from a nearby religious institution to assist with classroom space for one or more elementary grades.  If/when it is determined that this additional space is needed, we will work with our architects/engineers to submit such plans to the SED’s Facilities Planning division for their approval. It is unlikely that such space will be ready for the beginning of the school year, but may possibly be put into use at a later time.

Q: Has there been any information as to whether or not the SAT exam will be held in the fall?

We have not yet received any guidance just yet. Once we know, we will inform students and parents.

Q: Will the YMCA still provide before and after care in each elementary?

The district is working with the Capital Region branch of the YMCA to set up before school and after school care at all three of our elementary gymnasiums. This program will run from 6:30 to 8:20 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. on school days. (All school buildings will close at 6 p.m. to allow for daily cleaning and disinfecting by the district’s custodial staff.)

Health & Safety Related Questions

Q: What type of screening will the district be using? What questions will be asked on the screening form/app?

The district is currently working with Qualtrics to create an app specifically for BH-BL. It will be both a mobile and website based platform. Anyone entering the building will be asked to complete the questionnaire on the app. In addition to asking for the person’s name and email (school email for staff and students), the screening questionnaire will determine whether the individual has:

  • Knowingly been in close or proximate contact in the past 14 days with anyone who has tested positive through a diagnostic test for COVID-19 or who has or had symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Testing positive through a diagnostic test for COVID-19 in the past 14 days;
  • Has experienced and symptoms of COVID-19, including a temperature of greater than 100 F in the past 14 days; and/or
  • Has traveled internationally or from a state with widespread community transmission of COVID-19 per the NYS Travel Advisory in the past 14 days.

Per NYSDOH, schools are prohibited from keeping such records of student, faculty, staff, and visitor health data (e.g., the specific temperature data of an individual), but are permitted to maintain records that confirm individuals were screened and the results of such screenings (e.g., pass/fail/cleared/not cleared).

Q: What type of thermometer will the district purchase?

BBLOVE Non-Contact Infrared Thermometer from Hill & Markes

Q: Do the ventilation systems in the buildings need to be upgraded? Will ventilation always be on for air circulation?

The district has worked with its engineers and architects to confirm that all classrooms in the district have the ability to meet or exceed code mandated ventilation rates in all classrooms. In addition to meeting these code requirements, the district intends to follow all of the additional recommendations made by the engineers to increase air circulations and the introduction of outside air into the classrooms.

Q: What provisions are being made for mental health?

The district’s social work and counseling departments will continue to be staffed this school year and will be making increased outreach efforts to students.

Q: Will parents be notified if there is a POSITIVE coronavirus test in the school?

The district will abide by all Department of Health protocols. If there is a positive case of the virus within our buildings, we must report it to the DOH. Health officials will provide us with specific guidance and our responsibilities regarding notification.

Q: If a child has a fever for non-covid how long will they have to be home before allowed to come back?

School must follow CDC guidelines for allowing a student or staff member to return to school after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. If a person is NOT diagnosed by a healthcare provider (physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant) with COVID-19 they can return to school:

  • Once there is no fever, without the use of fever reducing medication, and they have felt well for 24 hours;
  • If they have been diagnosed with another condition and has a healthcare provider written note stating that they are clear to return to school.

Q: What social distancing practices will be in place on school buses?

The district’s intention at this time is to have no more than one student per each seat on the school bus with the exception of siblings/household members who will be required to sit together. If the numbers that were indicated in the parent survey do not hold, and fewer parents elect to transport their children than previously indicated, the district may not be able to implement this practice.