On Thursday, the New York State Education Department released guidance to help schools and school districts as they plan to reopen, whether that occurs in person, remotely, or in a combination of the two. The guidance builds on the Framework of Guidance that the Department presented to the Board of Regents on Monday, July 13th.
“On Monday, the Department presented a comprehensive framework of guidance for safely educating students this Fall,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “The guidance disseminated to schools today accounts for the health and safety of our children, teachers and school personnel while encouraging equitable access to the services and resources necessary for a high-quality education.”
“Working with students, parents, educators and stakeholders, the Board of Regents and the Department have developed a guidance document that will help schools as they prepare their respective reopening plans, “ said Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe. “The guidance encourages community involvement and allows for flexibility so that districts and schools in every corner of the state can assess their unique situation and develop a plan that best meets the needs of their students.”
The guidance was informed by four virtual Regional School Reopening Task Force meetings as well as a student forum hosted by the Board of Regents and Department last month to gather input. Each regional meeting included more than 350 experts and stakeholders from health and education fields. In all, more than 1,650 parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members and stakeholders, representing New York’s diversity, attended and provided valuable feedback.
The Department’s guidance document is student-centered, with equity and local flexibility at its core. Additionally, the guidance stresses the need for regular and frequent communication between districts and parents and the critical importance of parental involvement and family engagement. Finally, the document reminds schools and districts that they must always work to create and foster culturally responsive, student-centered learning environments that affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepare students for rigor and independent learning; develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and empower students as agents of social change.
Summary of the Guidance Document’s Provisions
Health and Safety
Focused on preventive actions, schools and districts will be required to perform health checks and screenings, per DOH guidance, and recognize signs and symptoms of illness in students and staff; develop plans to maximize social distancing; develop plans to manage and isolate ill persons until they can be sent home; instruct students and staff in proper hand and respiratory hygiene; require wearing appropriate face coverings; and develop cleaning and disinfection procedures for the school in accordance with CDC and DOH guidance.
Schools and school districts should promote social distancing while maintaining existing safety requirements designed to protect students. To accomplish this, schools may expand their physical footprint or change the way they utilize space. Schools should also continue to meet or exceed ventilation requirements and may wish to consult with design professionals to increase ventilation and filtration.
Schools must continue to conduct mandatory fire and lockdown drills according to the existing statutory schedule. School leaders will need to plan for these drills to be conducted in a manner that maintains social distancing at exits and gathering points outside the building, while still preparing students to respond in emergencies.
Schools and school districts should include food service directors in reopening plan discussions so they are able to meet their requirements to provide all enrolled students with access to school meals each school day whether school is in-person or remote; address all applicable health and safety guidelines; ensure compliance with Child Nutrition Program requirements; and communicate with families through multiple means, in the languages spoken by those families.
The school bus is an extension of the classroom and services should be provided to all students with consistency and equity. Each district will be required to: perform regular school bus disinfection measures; train students and school bus staff regarding social distancing on the bus, at stops, and at unloading times; and train students and staff regarding the wearing of masks. Both students and drivers will wear masks and social distance on the bus. Districts will continue to provide transportation to homeless students, students in foster care, those who attend religious, independent or charter schools – and those with disabilities – just as they always have.
As school and district personnel adapt to environments that result in substantially less time spent interacting in-person, ensuring intentional and meaningful inclusion of social emotional learning (SEL) across all aspects of operating strategies is critical to support the well-being and success of students, staff, and families. Along with physical health and well-being, schools and districts must also prioritize social emotional well-being – not at the expense of academics, but in order to create the mental, social, and emotional space for academic learning to occur.
Schools must create a comprehensive plan for a schedule that includes in-person instruction, remote instruction or a hybrid of both in-person and remote. All plans should be clearly communicated, with as much advance notice as practicable, to students, families and staff.
To adhere to state and local health and safety guidelines and ensure social distancing practices, schools may consider various reopening plans and schedules that stagger or alternate their students’ return to campus. Schools should collaborate with district stakeholders when considering alternate schedules.
Budget and Fiscal
All schools and school districts must continue to meet existing state aid reporting requirements. Additionally, the content of data submissions, such as attendance data, will remain consistent with past practice, except where modified by law, regulation or executive order.
Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism
Schools must develop a mechanism to collect and report daily teacher student engagement or attendance. While this requirement is straightforward in an in-person setting, a procedure should be developed to make daily contact with students in remote or hybrid settings. Schools may consider for instance, assigning the homeroom teacher or advisory teacher to be the point of contact to touch base with a specific group of students daily. Attendance data must be reported in the student information reporting system or SIRS. School policies and procedures must focus on the academic consequences of lost instructional time and address absences before students fall behind in school. It is critical for schools to use a variety of creative methods to reach out to students and their families who have not engaged in distance learning.
Technology and Connectivity
Adequate access to a computing device and high-speed broadband is essential for educational equity. Schools and districts must determine the level of access all students and teachers have in their places of residence; to the extent practicable, address the need to provide devices and internet access to students and teachers who currently do not have sufficient access; and provide multiple ways for students to participate in learning and demonstrate their mastery of the learning standards in remote and hybrid instructional models.
Schools and districts should provide instruction on using technology and IT support for students, teachers and families and provide professional development for teachers and leaders on designing effective online/remote learning experiences.
Teaching and Learning
Mandatory teaching and learning requirements include providing clear opportunities for equitable instruction for all students; ensuring continuity of learning regardless of the instructional model used; providing standards-based instruction; ensuring substantive daily interaction between teachers and students; and clearly communicating information about instructional plans with parents and guardians.
To allow for schools and districts to adapt to complications caused by the pandemic, certain flexibilities will be authorized, including: flexible student/staff ratio in prekindergarten; extended time for prekindergarten and kindergarten screening to be completed; a waiver allowing districts to convert UPK seats from full-day to half-day (not applicable to Statewide Universal Full Day Pre-K programs); flexibility with the 180 minutes per week Unit of Study requirement; flexibility in the delivery of physical education; allowance for a blend of hands-on and virtual science laboratory experiences; and when appropriate, districts and charters may utilize remote or virtual work-based learning experiences for CTE and CDOS programs.
Schools and school districts are required to provide: a Free Appropriate Public Education consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those providing special education and services; meaningful parental engagement regarding the provision of services to their child; collaboration between the Committee on Preschool Special Education/Committee on Special Education (CPSE/CSE) and program providers representing the variety of settings where students are served; access to the necessary instructional and technological supports to meet the unique needs of students; and documentation of programs, services and communications with parents.
Schools and school districts should consider in-person services a priority for high-needs students and preschool students with disabilities whenever possible and consider contingency plans developed by the CPSE/CSE to address remote learning needs in the event of intermittent or extended school closures.
Bilingual Education and World Languages
Reopening plans must address the learning loss experienced by many English language learners (ELLs), in both their English language development and their mastery of content area knowledge. The Department has identified the following requirements and considerations that will allow schools to provide ELL services that address the impact of last year’s school closures and prepare them for potential challenges in the coming year. Schools and districts must:
- provide all communications to parents/guardians of ELLs in their preferred language and mode of communication to ensure that they have equitable access to critical information about their children’s education;
- ensure that all ELLs receive appropriate instruction that supports their college, career, and civic readiness, by providing them the required instructional Units of Study in their English as a New Language or Bilingual Education program based on their most recently measured English language proficiency level;
- conduct ELL identification for all students who enrolled during COVID-related school closures in 2019-20, during the summer of 2020, and during the first 20 days of the 2020-21 school year within 30 days of the start of the school year; and
- recognizing that all teachers are teachers of ELLs, provide professional learning opportunities related to the instruction and support of ELLs to all educators, as required by Part 154 of the Commissioner’s regulations.
Schools and districts should align their policies to the Blueprint for English language learner/Multilingual learner (ELL/MLL) Success; adopt progress monitoring tools to measure ELL proficiency; provide social-emotional learning supports to ELLs in their home language; continue utilizing technology in ELL instruction; support Students with Interrupted/Inconsistent Formal Education (SIFE) and other vulnerable populations; ensure the Emergent Multilingual Learners (EMLL) Profile supports early learning; and support completion of the NYS Seal of Biliteracy.
Staffing and Human Resources
As schools and school districts create their plans for the 2020-21 school year, they must ensure that all teachers, school and district leaders and pupil personnel service professionals hold a valid and appropriate certificate for their assignment; can continue to utilize incidental teaching when determining how to staff their classrooms; can employ substitute teachers to address staffing needs for the allowable amount of days given their qualifications and teaching assignment; should work with educator preparation programs to identify appropriate ways in which student teachers can support classroom instruction; and should consider whether their currently approved APPR plans may need to be revised in order to be consistent with their plans for re-opening under an in-person, remote or hybrid instructional model.
By July 31, all districts and schools are required to create and provide to the Department Reopening Plans at the school level, pursuant to the directions in the guidance. The plans should be posted on the school’s public website and must contain the mandatory elements outlined in NYSED’s School Reopening Guidance Document.
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