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Reopen ICSD

Frequently Asked Questions

Please see below for answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding plans to reopen our schools, and always feel free to reach out to us via email, phone (607-274-2101), or Let’s Talk! with any additional questions.

General
What’s the timeline for determining how and when we will open?
What are the possible reopening scenarios?
How can I provide feedback or share ideas to support understanding and assist decision-making?
If we reopen in person, how can students who have pre-existing conditions remain safe? Can they stay home?
If we reopen in person, how can staff who have pre-existing conditions remain safe? Can they stay home?
How will childcare work for families and for staff? What about after school?
Culture
How can we ensure that students stay physically distanced or that they continue to wear masks?
How will school staff handle situations when students come close together or remove masks?
Physical and Environmental Health and Safety
Will staff be required to wear PPE?
Will students be required to wear PPE?
Will the ICSD provide PPE?
How will health and safety education work for students?
How might classroom configurations work?
Will athletics, fine and performing arts, and extracurricular activities continue?
Social-Emotional and Academic Learning
What will social-emotional and academic learning look like in any of the reopening scenarios?
How might "blended learning" work?
Knowing that students had very different experiences with distance learning, how can we support student learning when students return?
When will staff receive professional development and how will this work?
If we have to return to any form of distance learning, will there be devices for our youngest learners?
To limit cohort mingling, will we be changing class schedules?
How will substitutes receive professional development?
Communication
How is the ICSD collaborating with the local health department?
How can staff provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
How can students provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
How can families provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
How can staff provide input on professional development?
 

General

What’s the timeline for determining how and when we will open?
Decision-making about reopening will be informed by several factors, including:
  • the input from our school community;
  • federal and state guidance;
  • level of community transmission;
  • characteristics of our community; and
  • the capacity of our local healthcare and public health systems.
As we move forward in time, after reviewing available information, we expect to be able to narrow the number of possible reopening options. This will be dependent upon guidance from New York State (we hope to provide our initial reopening scenario at some point in early August, if not earlier). Any initial reopening scenario may be subject to change during the school year based on the factors outlined above.
What are the possible reopening scenarios?
We are planning for five (5) possible scenarios for the fall, based on the CDC's steps for scaling up operations (please note, these are not Governor Cuomo's reopening phases):
  • Step 1: Schools that are currently closed remain closed. E-learning or distance learning opportunities should be provided for all students. Ensure provision of student services such as school meal programs.
  • Step 2: Reopen with enhanced social distancing measures and for children who live in the local geographic area only.
  • Step 3: Reopen with distancing measures. Restrict attendance to those from limited transmission areas (other Step 3 areas) only.
Step 1 - Remain Closed
SCENARIO 1: Full Distance Learning
Step 2 - Reopen with Enhanced Social Distancing Measures
SCENARIO 2: Staggered Return (AM/PM, every other day, or another back-and-forth approach)
SCENARIO 3: Partial Return (PK-5 return and 6-12 continue distance learning, or another split of some returning and others continuing distance learning)
SCENARIO 4: Blended, Choice-Based Return (families determine which distance learning, in-person learning, or combination of both work best for them)
Step 3 - Reopen with Social Distancing Measures
SCENARIO 5: Full In-Person Learning (with some exceptions including those for vulnerable populations) 
How can I provide feedback or share ideas to support understanding and assist decision-making?
We are connecting with our school community through a number of channels, including five information sessions offered between June 15 and June 25. Visit our Reopen ICSD webpage, ithacacityschools.org/reopen, to view a recording of one of these sessions, and please also always feel free to reach out to us via email, phone (607-274-2101), or Let’s Talk! with your questions, feedback, and concerns.
If we reopen in person, how can students who have pre-existing conditions remain safe? Can they stay home?
Guidance from the CDC and other agencies ensures that in all aforementioned reopening scenarios/“Steps,” there are special considerations for all who are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Current guidelines from the NYS Department of Health for special education summer school, for example, require all schools to “Protect and support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness by considering remote options for telework and virtual learning, if in-person is not feasible at a given time.”
If we reopen in person, how can staff who have pre-existing conditions remain safe? Can they stay home?
Guidance from the CDC and other agencies ensures that in all aforementioned reopening scenarios/“Steps,” there are special considerations for all who are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Current guidelines from the NYSDOH for special education summer school, for example, require all schools to “Protect and support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness by considering remote options for telework and virtual learning, if in-person is not feasible at a given time.” The continued partnership between union leadership and administration will support final determinations regarding implementation.
How will childcare work for families and for staff? What about after school?
Childcare centers throughout Tompkins and Cortland counties are planning to continue their reopening plans to greater capacity, as they have begun doing the past several weeks. Families in need of childcare now have more options than previously offered as our region reopens. Once we receive guidance from New York State regarding reopening our physical spaces, we will have a greater understanding of whether our school sites will be permitted to be utilized as after school facilities.
 

Culture

How can we ensure that students stay physically distanced or that they continue to wear masks (if recommended by New York State)?
We believe that we must engineer our environments for both affirmation and safety. This means that the way we design our spaces matters. From classroom and cafeteria set-ups to child-centered markings on the floors and signs in hallways, the physical appearance of our schools can help students and adults alike remember the importance of physical distancing and other safety measures. The visual reminders of physical distance must be child-friendly, supportive, and phrased in positive language. In addition, the ways in which we communicate with students to pre-teach and remind them of physical distancing measures will be key.
How will school staff handle situations when students come close together or remove masks (if recommended by New York State)?
Children (and adults) have a natural drive to be socially close, especially when engaged in something they really care about. This natural closeness has to be replaced with a skill of social distancing for now, as a way to show taking care of oneself and others. So, when kids move toward social closeness, we have to work with them through our restorative practices lens to understand, support, teach, and provide opportunities for students to make amends if amends are needed. Discussing what happened, feelings associated with the occurrence, ways in which anyone involved has been harmed, and strategies for repairing the relationship and community will continue to be key. Our students and adults need us all to engage in these discussions in order to shift our culture to one in which we think collectively and act individually. We all have a responsibility to love, support, and teach one another as we learn these new norms together.
 

Physical and Environmental Health and Safety

Will staff be required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
Yes. Based on an interim advisory issued by the NYS Department of Health (June 8) and consistent with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.17 (April 17), staff will be required to wear a face covering whenever they are within six feet of students or other staff. Employees must wear a face-covering unless they are unable to medically tolerate such covering. The use of face coverings and other PPE is subject to change based on future guidance.
Will students be required to wear PPE?
Based on an interim advisory issued by the NYS Department of Health (June 8), students are encouraged, but not required, to wear acceptable face coverings. Additionally, this advisory notes:

Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 2, or for anyone who is unable to medically tolerate such covering, including students where such covering would impair their health or mental health, or where such covering would present a challenge, distraction, or obstruction to education services and instruction.

Guidance from the Governor’s Office and the Board of Regents is pending and this measure may be subject to change. 
Will the ICSD provide PPE?
Yes. Although ICSD staff may choose to wear their own face coverings, the ICSD will provide access to acceptable face coverings at no-cost to employees and have an adequate supply of coverings in case of replacement. Additionally, face coverings will be available for all students to encourage their use.
How will health and safety education work for students?
Education will be provided to students on an ongoing basis, consisting of simple, accurate, and age- and developmentally-appropriate information. Education activities include, but are not limited to:
  • Posting signs that promote everyday protective measures in highly visible locations (e.g., at entrances and exits, in restrooms)
  • Broadcasting regular announcements (building-wide and within homebase or morning meetings)
  • Including messages (through videos, for example) about behaviors that prevent the spread of COVID-19 in student and family communications
  • Reminding students to wash their hands frequently and to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue and throw used tissues into the trash
  • Engaging students in the development and dissemination of information campaigns, messaging, and activities that support health and safety
How might classroom configurations work?
Classroom configurations will vary based on location, square footage, and use. Available guidance recommends configurations that support social distancing - space seating or desks 6’ apart, faced in the same direction, or students sitting on only one side of tables, spaced apart. We will need to be flexible in how we utilize our physical spaces, including cafeterias, gymnasiums, outdoor spaces, rooms traditionally used for individual or small group instruction, and more. Our team has inventoried available desks and we are identifying possible furniture needs.
Will athletics, fine and performing arts, and extracurricular activities continue?
Athletics, fine and performing arts, Extended Day, and clubs will function as permitted by state and local health officials at the time of reopening. Available guidance recommends limiting gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain social distancing, support proper hand hygiene, and restrict group size, as feasible.
 

Social-Emotional and Academic Learning

What will social-emotional and academic learning look like in any of the reopening scenarios?
The ICSD’s vision of 6000+ Thinkers and mission to “Engage, Educate, Empower” continue whether we are in physical or virtual spaces together. As we enter a new normal, we agree that we cannot simply go back to the way the ICSD was. This is neither an option nor preferable because we are intentionally building an anti-racist approach to reopening. Additionally, we understand that the likelihood that we will return to some version of distance learning again is high and we recognize that students have had varied experiences since closing our school buildings and that our educators have created remarkable learning opportunities for young people in this new era. 

Our approach to learning in the fall will continue upon the foundations of social-emotional learning and our three key levers: culturally responsive practices, inclusion, and teaching and learning innovations.

Blended learning, which involves a combination of both in-person and distance learning, will be a part of our new approach. Blended learning allows students greater flexibility and voice and choice. We are also posing enhanced partnerships as another component of our new approach, as young peoples’ homes have become learning environments and caregivers have become instructors. Staff, families, and students now have opportunities to work together in completely new ways. Additionally, we recognize the importance of leveraging the diverse community resources available within Ithaca and beyond to create a more robust education for our young people. 
How might "blended learning" work?
Blended learning is an educational approach that combines distance and physical learning in a flexible, fluid manner. Varied opportunities for student interaction, grouping, scheduling, and choice in pace, place, and path are all interwoven in this approach. Teachers and other educators function much more as facilitators of learning. The combination of in-person and distance learning presents us with a level of responsiveness we have not seen before and may require flexible schedules for students and staff, which we will explore in partnership with union leadership, and of course with families. 
Knowing that students had very different experiences with distance learning, how can we support student learning when students return?
We fully recognize that the world and our community have had varied experiences with distance learning. As a school district, we believe we need to honor each child’s academic and social-emotional strengths and work from there. Understanding where students are and providing inclusive, meaningful, and anti-racist learning experiences will be key moving forward. While some school districts are planning to focus on rote skill and knowledge development upon a return to physical settings, we aim to honor the ways in which students have been learning while away from our spaces (whether through the content and means we provided or not), as this is a much more responsive approach that aligns with our core values.
When will staff receive professional development and how will this work?
Our goal is to have an understanding of our educators' PD wishes by early to mid-July and craft plans for sessions to take place in late July and throughout August. We anticipate that professional development and collaborative curriculum work will be done virtually, to ensure physical distancing. Details regarding schedule, sessions, and compensation will be forthcoming.  
If we have to return to any form of distance learning, will there be devices for our youngest learners?
Yes. We are in the process of leasing devices for Pre-K - 1st grade students to ensure that they have access to digital learning and communication tools, in addition to physical materials.
To limit cohort mingling, will we be changing class schedules?
This remains to be determined, based on guidance at the time of reopening, and will be determined in collaboration with administrators, teachers, and education support professionals (ESPs).
How will substitutes receive professional development?
We plan to provide professional development/training for all who support our school district, including substitutes. We are planning to hold these training sessions virtually. 
 

Communication

How is the ICSD collaborating with the local health department
The ICSD maintains regular communication with county health officials to collaboratively develop and monitor health and safety measures. In the event there is a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 among our students and/or staff, we will work with our partners at the Tompkins County Health Department to notify our school community, in accordance with New York State Public Health Law and FERPA provisions, and to make a determination as to whether a closure is necessary. 

The local health department also provides the district with information about students and staff impacted by quarantine restrictions, including when those students and staff, if under movement restrictions, may return to school.
How can staff provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
During the week of June 15, staff were invited to complete a survey, through which they provided anonymous feedback on distance learning and returning to school. Additionally, there will be task forces and collaborative curriculum work, along with school-based decision-making teams.
How can students provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
Students in grades 6-12 were invited to complete a survey sent to their email inboxes on June 8, through which they contributed anonymous feedback on distance learning and returning to school. Additionally, there will be focus groups, informational and Q & A sessions, along with school-based opportunities for input.
How can families provide input on distance learning and wishes for reopening?
During the week of June 15, families were invited to complete a survey, through which they provided anonymous feedback on distance learning and their children returning to school. Additionally, there will be focus groups, informational and Q & A sessions, along with school-based opportunities for input.
How can staff provide input on professional development?
In addition to the professional development questions on the survey provided, the broader, district-wide initial task force consisting of teachers and ESPs will have the opportunity to recommend professional development. Information on this task force will be forthcoming to staff.