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Update July 15: Guidance and timeline for possible fall reopening

Filed in Archive, District, District News by on July 15, 2020

The following is an important message for families from Superintendent Jody Monroe: 

Dear BC family:

We have begun to receive guidance and a clearer timeline regarding a possible reopening of school for the 2020-21 school year. On Monday, July 13, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the threshold criteria for reopening schools. The Governor will use these criteria to make a final decision on the reopening of schools for the Capital Region and the rest of New York State. This decision is expected to be made between August 1 and August 7.

New York State’s school reopening decisions will be made using these criteria:

  • Open: Schools can open in a region in Phase 4 where there is an infection rate at or below 5 percent (14-day average)
  • Close: Schools will close if the regional infection rate rises above 9 percent (7-day average)

What does this mean for BC schools? If conditions remain the same as they are today for the next 2-3 weeks, with a COVID infection rate below 5%, it is likely that Capital Region schools would be allowed to re-open for the 2020-21 school year in September. This decision, as noted above, will be made by the Governor. 

The district’s staff-led reopening committee — which includes all district and building leaders, department heads, academic supervisors and BCTA members — has been working for several months to be ready for whatever reopening decisions are made and for any adjustments to these plans that could be needed throughout the school year.

These various scenarios include: 

  • Full return to school with all students attending, with social distancing.
  • A hybrid model where some grades/students return to school with enhanced social distancing while others learn from home in a virtual environment. Hybrid alternatives could include rotating at-home/at-school instruction, staggered schedules or calendars.
  • Full virtual model, with all students participating from home.

To a large extent, how our programs will be delivered and what our classrooms and schools might look like in the fall will also be determined by the Governor and by the guidance the district receives from the New York State Education Department (SED) and from the New York State Department of Health (DOH). 

We have begun to receive some of this statewide guidance and are using it to refine our plans. On Monday, SED announced a framework for a return to school and DOH released extensive health and safety guidance. More detailed guidance from SED is expected this week, however, with what we are planning, for now, these are some of the things you can expect to see if a return to our buildings is allowed: 

  • Daily health screenings: All students, staff and visitors will be required to perform an at-home health screening and temperature check before being allowed to enter any district buildings. An online reporting tool will be made available for daily screenings. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or above should not come to school.
  • Face coverings for all: Face coverings are recommended to be worn at all times by students and staff, except in certain circumstances, while eating and during short breaks. Face coverings will be required for all students and staff when social distancing of six feet or more is not possible, in common areas such as hallways and on school buses.
  • Social distancing: Social distancing of six feet of space in all directions between individuals or use of approved physical barriers that do not adversely affect airflow will be required. 
  • Smaller cohorts of students: To maintain social distancing and reduce opportunities for transmission, students will be assigned to smaller cohorts. With a reasonable group size determined by classroom capacity, these self-contained groups or pods will spend most of their time together, in both classroom and common areas.
  • Ventilation: Schools will increase ventilation with outdoor air to the greatest extent possible while maintaining health and safety protocols.
  • Transportation: Face coverings for all students and staff on district buses will be required unless a student’s medical condition prevents it. There will be reduced capacity on all buses to maximize space between students and assigned seating. Families will be encouraged to transport their children when possible. Members of the same family who use the bus will be required to sit together. 
  • Athletics & extracurricular activities: As of July 15, no return to sports has been approved. If and when athletics are cleared to begin by state officials, these activities will be allowed considering social distancing, PPE usage, and cleaning and disinfection, as well as risk of COVID-19 transmission. Extracurricular decisions will be made at the district level with the same considerations in mind.
  • Hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting: The district will adhere to and promote hygiene, cleaning, and disinfection guidance set forth by DOH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and provide training to students, faculty, and staff on proper hand and respiratory hygiene. 
  • Social-emotional support: Available resources and referrals to address mental health, behavioral, and emotional needs of students, faculty, and staff must be in place when school reopens for in-person instruction. There will be training staff on how to support students during this transition.
  • Testing, monitoring & containment: District procedures will be in place to monitor the health of our school community daily. The district will work closely with Albany County Department of Health to promptly identify and respond to concerning trends. Protocols will be implemented to identify, isolate, and refer individuals with symptoms of illness or with risk of exposure to illness. The district will also work in coordination with ACDOH to support individuals returning to school following any quarantines related to recovery from illness, exposure to close contacts with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, or due to recent international travel or travel within a state with widespread transmission. Partnering with ACDOH will guide us in taking essential actions to protect the health of our school community, including possible school closure.

     

      This is only a partial list of the guidelines that must be in place as part of a return to in-person instruction. More details are expected from SED in the coming days and those requirements and recommendations will be reviewed by our reopening committee and included in a draft set of plans specific to the Bethlehem Central School District. This draft plan must be submitted to the state Education Department on or before July 31.

      The district has established a Reopening Task Force, representing the school community including parents, teachers, support staff, administrators and other stakeholders. The Task Force will meet regularly beginning next week to help finalize our plan and guide decision making leading up to and throughout the 2020-21 school year. Please keep in mind that this plan will need to be fluid and flexible and that the final decision regarding reopening schools will ultimately be made by the Governor.

      We will continue to keep you informed of all developments regarding our plans for a safe return to school. 

      Sincerely,

      Jody Monroe

      Superintendent