The Averill Park Central School District is committed to returning all K-12 students to our buildings for full time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year. This goal aligns with guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED). We are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic is currently seeing increased spread, which will require the District to develop a proactive and flexible plan that keeps the health and safety of our students and staff at the forefront of all decisions.
The first day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, September 8. A finalized reopening plan will be presented and reviewed by the Board of Education at its meeting on August 30 at 6:30 p.m.
NYSED released a Back to School Health and Safety Guide on Thursday, August 12, to help school districts plan. The guidance is aligned with current CDC guidance. On Tuesday, August 24, Governor Hochul stated that she would be implementing a number of COVID-19 directives impacting school districts across the state, including the wearing of masks.
Averill Park CSD created its school opening plan based on the NYSED Back to School Health and Safety Guide, the CDC guidance, Governor Hochul’s anticipated directives, and in coordination with Questar III BOCES and other regional school districts. Any additional state or county guidance received by school districts in the future will be incorporated into our district’s plans.
The District’s preliminary opening plan below outlines specific health and safety guidelines, such as a physical distancing in classrooms, face coverings for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status, and ongoing cleaning and disinfecting.
The District will present the plan to stakeholders and respond to feedback prior to the start of the upcoming school year. A virtual community forum will be held on Thursday, August 26 at 6:30 p.m.
It is important to note that this plan is written as a point in time. We have certainly learned since March 2020 that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic requires constant analysis and flexibility. Consequently, the District will continually monitor the data and the science and will be prepared to react accordingly to balance the physical, social, and emotional well-being and safety of our students and staff as we work to fulfill the District’s mission to meet the needs of and create opportunities for every student every day.
Preliminary Opening Plan (subject to change)
The COVID-19 vaccine is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the pandemic. All eligible individuals are encouraged to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. Currently, there are three vaccines available (Pfizer-ages 12+, Moderna-ages 18+ and Johnson & Johnson-ages 18+). If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, please contact your family physician.
MONITORING COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION
The CDC recommends schools “should consider many factors as they prepare for the 2021-22 school year, including the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community at large and in their school community, as well as vaccination coverage rates in both the community at large and their school community. Schools should consult with local health officials and monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.” This is particularly significant due to the fact that students under age 12 cannot receive the vaccine at this time.
The District will work closely with the Rensselaer County Department of Health to monitor positivity rates in the school district and the county.
LAYERED MITIGATION APPROACH
The CDC guidance identifies multiple prevention strategies in a layered approach to promote safer in-person learning and care.
Many health and safety guidelines that the District put in place last year will continue to ensure the safety of students, staff and families. This year, the District will use a layered mitigation strategy that will include, but not be limited to:
- Promoting vaccination;
- Consistent and correct use of masks;
- Physical distancing;
- Screening testing to quickly identify cases;
- Improved ventilation;
- Proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette;
- Staying home when sick and getting tested;
- Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine; and
- Routine cleaning with disinfection.
The CDC and NYSED recommend that face masks covering both the mouth and nose should be required for all students, staff and visitors inside schools and on school buses regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC states that “unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern. Although breakthrough infections in vaccinated people happen much less often than infections in unvaccinated people, individuals infected with the Delta variant, including fully vaccinated people with symptomatic breakthrough infections, can transmit it to others.”
Governor Hochul stated that she is directing the New York State Department of Health to implement universal masking for anyone entering school buildings throughout the state.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks when indoors. Masks will be optional when outdoors on school property. Students will be provided mask breaks when seated in class and physically distanced. Mask breaks will also be provided when students are outside.
All students and staff must wear face masks while riding on a school bus regardless of vaccination status. CDC guidelines permit buses to operate at full capacity. To the extent feasible, windows and roof hatches will be open to increase ventilation on the bus. Cleaning and disinfecting will continue daily.
PHYSICAL DISTANCING AND COHORTING
Schools will maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms whenever possible. All schools within the District are able to comply with this guidance and fully accommodate all students for instruction.
Schools will maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within cafeterias and eating areas whenever possible. Seating arrangements for students are being made to ensure as much physical distancing as possible within space constraints. Layered mitigation protocols will include hand washing or hand sanitizer before and after meals; limiting mask removal to the duration of eating; cleaning and disinfection between lunch periods.
Appropriate physical distancing will be maintained in classrooms being used for music instruction. Following NYSED’s Back to School Health and Safety Guide, the CDC guidance, and the International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study, the following guidelines will be followed for band, orchestra and choral groups.
All indoor spaces being used for music instruction will provide 3 feet of spacing between students. If the room being used for rehearsals or lessons allows for additional spacing, additional spacing beyond 3 feet will be utilized.
Masks will be required for all students in band, orchestra, and chorus, with the exception of the students in band who play wind instruments. Students playing wind instruments (woodwinds, brass, etc.) will utilize bell covers on their instruments to reduce aerosol from circulating in an indoor space. Students may also use slitted masks when playing wind instruments.
Duration of all rehearsals and performances will last no more than 50 minutes maximum prior to a break for a full air refresh of 20 minutes. Outdoor space will continue to be utilized when possible for rehearsals, lessons and performances.
When indoors, students should maintain 3 feet of distance when possible during physical education instruction and masks will be worn. Physical Education teachers will prioritize outdoor activities as weather permits.
SPORTS AND OTHER EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Interscholastic sports will be offered to students this Fall. Parents of all students, including those registered for interscholastic athletics, are encouraged to consider vaccination in consultation with their child’s primary care provider.
The District will test all student-athletes who are playing a high risk sport in the Fall. Parent/Guardian consent for testing of student-athletes is required in order for participation in high-risk sports.
All student-athletes and coaches will need to be masked while indoors. This includes the locker room, gymnasium, lobby, athletic training room, weight room, fitness room and school bus.
According to current guidelines, student-athletes who are fully vaccinated most likely can refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if they are asymptomatic, which means they would be allowed to continue participating in in-person learning, sports and extracurricular activities. Those student-athletes who are not fully vaccinated will most likely need to quarantine following a known exposure, meaning participation in in-person learning, sports and extracurricular activities will be interrupted.
The District aims to conduct other extracurricular activities throughout the school year, as well. These activities will adhere to all physical distancing and mask requirements.
As stated in the CDC guidance, COVID-19 screening testing identifies people infected with COVID-19, including those with or without symptoms, who may be contagious. In K-12 schools, COVID-19 screening testing can promptly identify and isolate cases, help quarantine those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 who are not fully vaccinated, and identify clusters where the virus exists.
The District is working with the Rensselaer County DOH and Questar III BOCES to implement a robust screening program that will test a percentage of students on a regular basis.
TEMPERATURE AND QUESTIONNAIRE SCREENING
The CDC no longer recommends temperature screenings or screening questionnaires at school. Families should be mindful of their children exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and to seek testing when such symptoms are present.
As a result of this change to the guidance, the District will not take the temperature of students and staff as they enter the school, nor will a morning screening assessment be utilized.
HANDWASHING, RESPIRATORY ETIQUETTE, AND CLEANING
The CDC recommends that covering coughs and sneezes can help keep educators, staff, and students from getting and spreading COVID-19 and other infectious illnesses.
In accordance with CDC recommendations, in general, cleaning once a day is sufficient to remove potential viruses that may be on surfaces. Daily disinfecting removes any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection. Surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected daily by custodial staff. High-touch surfaces will be given additional cleaning and disinfecting.
STAYING HOME WHEN SICK AND GETTING TESTED
Amid the recovery from the pandemic, the CDC recommends that teachers, staff, families, and students should:
- Students and school personnel should stay home if they are showing signs and symptoms of infectious illness, including COVID-19, and get tested;
- Parents/guardians are encouraged to screen for COVID-19 symptoms prior to their child attending school each day;
- Get tested when symptoms are compatible with COVID-19, as this will help with rapid contact tracing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 at school.
CONTACT TRACING & QUARANTINE
The District is discussing contact tracing and quarantine protocols with the Questar III BOCES Health and Safety team and the Rensselaer County Health Department. More details are expected on the contact tracing and quarantine requirements.
The CDC guidance document defines a close contact as “someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (for example, three individual 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Exception: In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time. Additional guidance for wearing masks is available from the CDC. This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.”
According to the CDC, people who are fully vaccinated, “do NOT need to quarantine after contact with someone who had COVID-19 unless they have symptoms. However, fully vaccinated people should get tested 3-5 days after their exposure, even if they do not have symptoms, and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative.”
The CDC states that “improved ventilation inside school buildings can reduce the number of virus particles in the air.” Some ventilation strategies include:
- Bringing fresh outdoor air into the building by opening multiple doors and windows (when this doesn’t present a safety hazard) and by maximizing the amount of air being brought into classrooms as part of the ventilation system;
- Using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows; and
- Opening windows on buses and other forms of transportation, if doing so does not pose a safety risk.
This year, school districts are not required to offer a virtual option to students. However, we are very aware that certain situations exist where documented medical conditions prohibit the safe return for a student to in-person instruction. As a result, the District is planning to offer a virtual solution to those students that are unable to attend in-person instruction.
A full remote program through BOCES is being made available to medically eligible students. This program would be a regional Full Remote Program for K-12 students taught by instructors.
At the K-6 level, students will be enrolled in a virtual class that is taught by a BOCES teacher. Averill Park CSD teachers will not be involved in the K-6 remote program. Students who enroll in the K-6 program must commit to a full-year enrollment in this program. Students will follow a daily synchronous (live) instructional schedule with their virtual teacher.
At the secondary level, students will take online courses that will be supported by a BOCES teacher. Course content is provided by Apex Learning with scheduled video class sessions supported by a BOCES teacher occurring twice per week. The courses available for students in this model will be: English 7-12, Social Studies 7-8, Math 7-8, Science 7-8, Global History 9 & 10, Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, US History, Participation in Government, Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Spanish 1-3, Living Environment, Health.