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Return to Learn & COVID-19 Info (2020-21)


July 31, 2020

Dear East Rockaway Families,

I hope this letter finds you and your families well and safe and enjoying this beautiful summer. As per the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) we are required to submit our reopening plan for our return to school in September on July 31, 2020. This plan is now posted in its entirety below. 

To ensure a collaborative process in creating our Return to Learn Reopening Plan, the East Rockaway School District engaged over 100 stakeholders in the school and community to develop plans for the reopening of schools after the COVID-19 closure period. These stakeholders included administrators, teachers, teacher assistants, teacher aides, monitors, custodians, nurses, secretaries and parents working together to put forth recommendations to the Superintendent and Board of Education.

The District established the following priorities as we developed our plan:

1. Safety: Mitigating risk of exposure continues to be our #1 priority. All planning decisions are being made based on guidance from the New York State Education Department, the New York State Department of Health, the CDC and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

2. Robust Learning: The goal is to accommodate as many students as possible for in-person learning (preparing for transitions between hybrid and 100% remote learning should that become necessary again) and to ensure that all students -- whether learning in-person, in the classroom or remotely –– are engaged in a structured day of robust learning. The East Rockaway School District will ensure that all teachers receive training and instructional tools needed to support students, assess their progress, and provide regular feedback.

3. Social-Emotional Needs: Emphasis, as always, is placed on attending to students’ individual emotional needs and providing a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students.

This letter provides a brief summary of some of the critical points included in our plan. The plan is quite lengthy, detailed, and covers all of the required components. We will be holding virtual interactive presentations for families for both Centre Avenue and Rhame Avenue Elementary Schools and a second meeting for the Jr. Sr High School to explain the critical components of the district’s plan. These meetings will be scheduled as soon as Governor Cuomo makes the decision on the reopening of schools which we anticipate will occur during the first week of August. We expect that you will have additional questions about our plan and the reopening of schools. Please know that this letter is just the first of a number of communications you will receive with regard to our reopening planning.

School Calendar

For staff, our academic year will begin on Wednesday, September 2. For half of our students, school will begin on Tuesday, September 8, instead of on Friday, September 4. Specific schedules will be provided by your building Principal in mid-August.

• These calendar changes allow for robust professional training for our staff in:
• Health and Safety Protocols
• Trauma-Informed Practices (to enhance the social, emotional, and mental health of adults and students who have experienced pandemic and racial trauma).
• Improved hybrid learning practices and the opportunity to work out issues with remote learning tools.

Schooling Models

At this time, the New York State Education Department and New York State Department of Health have indicated that Districts may return to in-person instruction provided that very strict requirements are met regarding health and safety, facilities, transportation, food service, social-emotional well-being, attendance and chronic absenteeism, technology and connectivity, instruction, special education, and ENL.

Based on the Governor’s directive, there are three options for which school districts must plan for September:

• Full In-Person Model (Typical School Model)

We can only implement this model after New York State has completely removed all pandemic restrictions.

• Hybrid Model

The hybrid model provides both in-person and remote schooling on alternate days as detailed more fully in our Return to Learn Reopening Plan. Attendance for both in-person and remote instruction is mandatory.

• Remote-Only Model

This month, as you are aware, families completed a survey regarding returning to school. Approximately 8% of families indicated that they may not want their child(ren) to return in the fall. An additional 22% of families were unsure about their child(ren) returning to in-person learning. Approximately 70% were confident about having their child(ren) return to school. For those students with a medical condition, East Rockaway School District, upon parent/guardian request, and presentation of appropriate medical documentation, may approve a remote-only option. These students will remain at home on all days that school is in session. Students will participate in all classes via live stream. Classrooms in all schools will be outfitted with a camera to provide live streaming. Students will follow their regular schedule of classes and online attendance is mandatory. Parents/guardians who have a particular family situation that would make it difficult or unsafe for their child(ren) to attend in person schooling may request the remote-only option by completing a form that will be available next week on our website. Each request will be reviewed by the administration and the family will be contacted with a decision. This form must be completed and submitted by August 10 so we may plan appropriately. Parents who elect to apply for the full remote-only option at this time may switch to the hybrid model at the end of the first marking period. The all-remote learning option under these circumstances will only be available if permitted by New York State.

Should New York State close schools due to a spike in the pandemic, the district would be required to revert to a version of the remote-only model.

Important Considerations:

Student and Staff Safety
The safe return of students and staff is the primary concern. East Rockaway Schools will provide an environment following recommendations from the CDC, the New York State Department of Health, and the New York State Education Department. Specific procedures and protocols are in place in the event that a positive case of COVID-19 is identified in our schools. Further details can be found in our plan.

Facilities Readiness
East Rockaway School District is adapting school buildings to meet social-distancing requirements that include isolation and treatment areas. The hybrid re-entry model depends on adaptations made to classrooms to allow for appropriate social distancing.

For a successful hybrid plan, the district needs:
• The timely arrival of ordered PPE supplies
• New York State approval of polycarbonate barriers for specific classrooms and spaces

Districtwide Overview of Safety and Other Precautions
• Social distancing and space requirements limit East Rockaway School District to a hybrid-schooling model.
• East Rockaway School District will follow school re-entry guidelines and require students to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols at all times.
• Social distancing, wearing of face-coverings and face-shields, use of polycarbonate dividers, daily health checks of students by parents, frequent hand washing and/or use of sanitizing stations will be implemented. • Visitors to the schools will be significantly limited and allowed only in specific situations and only if they follow all safety protocols including health checks.
• There will be medical isolation areas in each school.
• District nurses have been trained in contact tracing.
• The Scope Childcare program will continue after school. Information can be found on our website.
• CDC and New York State Department of Health guidelines will be followed with regard to cleaning and sanitizing our facilities.
• The New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) will delay definitive decisions regarding athletics until September 21.

• In the scenarios more fully detailed in our instructional plan, the hybrid model at the elementary level will be divided into two cohorts, A and B. Students will report to school every other day at the elementary level and siblings in different grade levels will be grouped on the same day.
• Secondary students will follow the six (6) day cycle and will report to school for two (2) consecutive days and then work remotely for two (2) consecutive days followed by two (2) onsite days, and so on. Secondary students in the alternate cohort will work remotely for two (2) consecutive days, report for onsite learning for two (2) consecutive days and then work remotely for two (2) consecutive days, and so on. Siblings at the secondary level will be scheduled, when possible, to the same cohort for onsite and remote learning days.
• Students working remotely will be expected to access live instruction during actual class time. Schedules will be shared with students and families prior to the start of school year.
• Attendance will be taken for onsite and remote learning, and daily student attendance/participation is expected for all classes.
• Students will continue to receive special education services, accommodations, modifications and supports regardless of the format of instruction that provide our students with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible.
• Social Emotional Learning (SEL) will be prioritized in general education classrooms with a shared focus on these needs as well as academics.
• Our staff will be trained in providing trauma-informed care for our students who were most significantly impacted by the pandemic and resulting school closure. We will be sharing a survey with students and parents soon so that we can proactively meet the needs of these students.

• Student access to Google accounts has been extended to include grades K-3 so that all students in the district have access to Google Classroom, making it our universal digital learning platform.
• The district 1:1 initiative has been expanded to include grades 3 and 4, so more students have access to Chromebooks at home, and the use of shared devices in the classroom is limited.
• Webcams will be installed in each classroom so that teachers can livestream lessons to students at home via Google Meet.

Food Service
At the elementary level, students will eat lunch in classrooms. At secondary level, students will eat in the cafeteria and in a classroom located in the middle school wing. There will be a limited menu, in compliance with the Child Nutrition guidelines, that will allow for prepackaging and distribution of meals. Students from K-12 will order their lunch in advance by submitting a form for the meal selection each morning. There will be no option to purchase to a la carte items. Breakfast will be available daily with limited options. A student will not need to complete a meal form to purchase breakfast. In accordance with New York State Education Department guidelines, meals will be available for students on the hybrid or full-remote learning model.

We have implemented safety and cleaning protocols for the in-house transportation. These protocols can be reviewed in our Return to Learn Reopening Plan. The District is in the process of finalizing their routes with outside vendors for all students in out of district locations. We have begun to meet with the various vendors to be share our safety and cleaning protocols and to ensure they will meet or exceed our expectations. According to the New York State Education Department Guidelines, parents are encouraged to walk or drive their children to school, as children will be required to wear masks on buses. If you have chosen to opt out of transportation, we encourage you to contact the District so we can plan accordingly.

This letter provides some highlights of our Return to Learn Reopening Plan. I encourage you to read the plan in its entirety on our website. We look forward to meeting with you to provide a more thorough explanation of our plan along with a question and answer period, at a date to be determined in the very near future, when the Governor makes the announcement concerning the plan to reopen school. Please be sure to check your email and texts for further updates.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the over 100 administrators, faculty, staff and parents who provided input in the development of our plan. We are creating something completely new in order to address the extraordinary situation the pandemic presents. Your support and ongoing two-way communication will help to ensure that our reentry to school is safe and effective for everyone in our school community. I thank you for your patience and cooperation as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances. Stay safe!

Lisa J. Ruiz
Superintendent of Schools
East Rockaway School District

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