Sunday, July 19, 2020

RCSD Reopening Schools Update...



I hope that this message finds everyone well and enjoying their summer. The past several months have been anything but normal for all of us and as we head into August, the stress and anxiety of a potential return to school will no doubt leave students, parents, and staff a little on edge. If you are not aware, this past week the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) both released their guidance documents for return to school plans. Both plans provide a lot of useful information as we attempt to build a plan that focuses on health/safety while educating our students, but also maintains high regard for our families' individual desires regarding in-person education while recognizing that for a lot of families, public education provides parents the opportunity to work while kids are in school. While in some regard the guidance documents can leave you with more questions than when you started, the information will help us all to have a better picture of what to expect come September. One thing that is very clear is that education in a school building WILL NOT look and/or feel the same anytime in the near future. While this is disappointing for all of us who make a living out of working with children and helping them grow, it is also an OPPORTUNITY for all of us to rebuild a system that has not seen major reform for nearly 100 years. This is our chance to form the future of public education and if the adults in our community (staff, parents, and leaders) maintain a positive outlook on this entire process, our children will succeed. We may have to make lemonade out of peaches, but it can be done if we stick together and keep our frustrations out of the sight/ears of our children.

Below, please find some key highlights from the documents along with some quick pointers that are specifically related to the Rome City School District. Also, there are links to useful resources for students, families and staff. Please note that school district plans are not completed and submitted until July 31, 2020. As soon as our plan is approved by the DOH and NYSED, we will release the full scope and details to the community.

WHERE TO FIND INFORMATION/ASK QUESTIONS: As we develop our plan, one of the key elements for our students, staff, and families will be the need for people to obtain information. In the coming week, we are developing a new webpage that will be solely dedicated to information regarding a return to school in September. In conjunction with this, we have created an email address dedicated specifically for questions related to the reopening of schools. Please submit questions that you may have to rcsdreopening@romecsd.org.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR REOPENING OUR SCHOOLS: The Rome City School District has identified five (5) principles to guide our planning for the reopening of our schools in 2020-2021.
  1. Ensure the safe and healthy learning and working environments for our students and staff.
  2. Maximize family choice in student learning format by offering two (2) options for instruction, while reducing the burden of child care needs for our community.
  3. Ensure that all students receive instruction that meets state and federal standards, while providing the necessary supports to achieve maximum growth.
  4. Provide training, time, support, and flexibility necessary for staff to prepare for reopening and continued success throughout 2020-2021.
  5. Provide proactive, clear communication (with translations) to all families and staff, through multiple communication mediums.
MAIN REQUIREMENTS OF NOTE IN THE GUIDANCE DOCUMENTS:
  • All students and staff must have their temperature taken prior to entering a school facility. This should be done at home by the individual staff member and by the parent/guardian of a student prior to arriving at school.
  • All students and staff must wash their hands upon entering a school facility and will be required to wash their hands throughout the day.
  • All staff must submit a daily health screening assessment related to contact with COVID-19, students must periodically (weekly) submit the same.
  • Schools are strongly encouraged to 'cohort' students meaning that once students enter a classroom with a group, movement throughout the building will be restrictive. Lunch may be eaten in the classroom. Students must be socially distanced in the hallways and in classrooms. This most likely means between 10-12 students per class. 
  • Share of supplies will be strictly discouraged. If supplies are shared, then they must be cleaned between use. 
  • Staff will be provided with cloth masks and a face shield, students will be provided a cloth mask. We will have a stock of paper masks available for both students and staff. 
  • Masks must be worn by staff at all times while working with students. Students are required to wear masks while moving throughout the building or when social distancing is not possible.
  • Hand sanitizing stations will be available in all classrooms. 
  • Transportation will be provided, however, students must wear a mask at all times and be social distanced on a bus. Hand sanitizer is not permitted on school buses due to the flammability.
  • Meals will be served to all students regardless of if they are in-person or virtual learning students. However, as of now, meals will no longer continue to be free of charge for students. Families must submit the traditional Free and Reduced Lunch Application to re-qualify for this benefit. A copy of this application is available from our Food Services Department and on our website at: https://www.romecsd.org/district/food_services
  • For a more comprehensive list, please review the guidance documents linked below.

LEARNING EXPERIENCES: As of now, we have had just over 3,300 families respond to our inquiry regarding their desires and needs for the upcoming school year. Thank you to our community for your tremendous collaboration as this number is 6 times the normal participation rate that we may have. At this point in time, our intent for learning options is to provide virtual learning to any student/family that desires it, and in-person learning to all students preK-6 whose families are comfortable with them coming to school. Knowing that childcare is a huge barrier for a lot of families, we intend to offer full in-person learning opportunities for our elementary students, 5 days a week. As we develop those schedules and review our options for space throughout the district, we will then address the secondary students. One of the main concerns related to our secondary students is the lack of socialization that online learning provides. For this reason, if we have the space to allow for secondary students to attend in-person, we will most likely use this time for clubs, activities, socialization, and tutoring for those students who desire it. Regardless of whether your student learns in-person or virtually, all grade levels will have a synchronous schedule of activities to follow. Again, these are all preliminary thoughts as we first need to evaluate how many students our buildings can physically support.

ATHLETICS AND OTHER EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES: The NYSPHAA announced this week that the fall sports season will begin no earlier than September 21, 2020. At this time, we are taking the same approach to all of our extra curricular activities for the sake of consistency and reducing additional activity in our buildings. It is likely that all Rome City School District buildings will be closed for cleaning at a certain time in the late afternoon with no allowance of outside groups or school groups in our buildings during the evening hours.

VISITORS AND BUILDING USE: Visitors will be drastically reduced throughout the coming school year. Any parent/guardian that needs to pick a child up from school will be required to wait in their vehicle while the student is escorted out to the car, unless of a severe emergency, in which case the goal would be to connect the parent/guardian with the child as soon as possible. All parent meetings will be held virtually and we will continue to encourage our staff to do as much of the normal operating procedure virtually as possible. This will help reduce the possibility of exposure and minimize cleaning requirements for our staff. Any individual that is permitted into a building will be required to wear a mask and to have a temperature screening and complete the health assessment survey. After hours facility use is going to be strictly prohibited at this time. We will re-evaluate the situation later in the year depending on the recommendations of the DOH and NYSED.

HELPFUL LINKS/INFORMATION:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/business/stay-home-when-sick.htm - CDC's Stay Home When You Are Sick Information