Back-to-School 2021: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question that is not addressed here? You can send it to BTS21@niskyschools.org. This FAQ will be updated periodically.

Questions & Answers Posted on Aug. 20, 201

What is the current level of community transmission in our area today?

The level of community transmission in Schenectady County is currently High, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Health and safety protocols are based on the CDC transmission level as outlined in the district’s layered mitigation plan.

Are all students K-12 learning in person?

Yes, the district is planning for a full return to in-person learning every day for students K-12. The only exception is for those who may participate in an all-remote option through Capital Region BOCES due to a medical need.

What are the school schedules for this year? Are they different from last year?

School schedules are different than last year and provide more instruction time. Here are the schedules for this year.

Elementary

  • Arrival: 7:45 a.m. Students should not arrive before this time.
    Instructional Day Begins: 7:55 a.m.
  • Dismissal: 2:10 p.m.

Middle School

  • Arrival: 8:40 a.m. Students should not arrive before this time.
  • Instructional Day Begins: 8:50 a.m.
  • Dismissal: 3:15 p.m.

High School

  • Arrival: 8:15 a.m. Buses begin arriving at about 8:25 a.m.
  • Instructional Day Begins: 8:40 a.m.
  • Dismissal: 3:15 p.m.

Are fifth grade students attending school in their elementary school?

Yes, unlike last year, fifth grade students will attend their elementary school.

Is the district providing an option for students to participate in all-remote learning for the year?

The district is working on an all-remote option for students K-12 with a documented medical need/circumstance in partnership with other school districts in the region through Capital Region BOCES. A Virtual Elementary School would serve students in Grades K-6, with students placed into a class with classmates from other participating school districts. It is likely that Niskayuna students would be taught by a teacher from a different school district, although it is possible that Niskayuna teachers will teach some of the class sections. Students in grades 7-12 would participate in all-remote learning through the BOCES Distance Learning (DL) Program. They would be placed into classes with students from other participating districts. While they would have teachers from districts other than Niskayuna, some Niskayuna teachers may teach in the DL program. All teachers who participate in K-6 or 7-12 all-remote programs will be New York State Certified, highly qualified, and trained in remote learning.

Are virtual options only available to someone who has a documented medical need/circumstance? What does this mean?

Yes, in order to participate in the all-remote options through BOCES students must have a documented medical need or circumstance. This means that students will be able to participate if they have a medical need documented by a physician’s note indicating that their health and safety or the health of a family member are at risk from in-person learning. The district will make decisions about this in consultation with the school medical director.

What is/was the deadline to let the district know if you would like to participate in an all-remote program?

A message about the potential K-6 Virtual Elementary School went out to all families on July 19 and the deadline for those who prefer this option to notify the school district of their interest was July 30. A message asking for interest in the all-virtual program for grades 7-12 went out on August 10 and the deadline for those who prefer this option to notify the school district of this interest was August 17. To streamline communication, after the respective deadlines listed above, additional information about these programs is only going to those who indicated interest in all-virtual learning.

When will the district provide more information to people who would like an all-remote program?

Additional information about this will be provided the week of Aug. 23. The all-remote programs are not expected to start until Sept. 7 based on the BOCES calendar.

Will instruction at any level from the district be livestreamed so that students who are not in school can follow along?

No. Teachers will not be livestreaming their daily instruction at any grade level. When students miss a day of school because they are sick they will not receive livestream instruction. Students who are ill should take the time to rest and recover so that they can return to school as soon as possible. The only circumstance when livestream instruction may be available is when a student is quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure by public health for three or more days. In these situations, families will need to work with the school to arrange this. It’s important to note that it may take some time to set up streaming services for a quarantined student, especially at the K-2 level. Student cameras will be expected to be on.

Will we continue to Google Classroom/Seesaw to share learning materials and connect with each other?

Yes. Google Classroom and Seesaw will continue to be used to share materials and enrich learning experiences. These tools are key in order to be able to pivot to all-remote learning if needed due to quarantines and to facilitate collaboration between classroom teachers, special education teachers, ENL teachers and related service providers.

How will special education services be delivered?

Special education services will be delivered in-person based on a student’s individualized education plan (IEP). There have been no changes to special education programs for this year as a result of the health and safety plans. Similar to all other school programs and services, masks, distancing and other protocols will be observed. For those students with an IEP who may participate in the all-remote regional programs, special education services will be provided by the district.

Will students and staff members need to complete a daily health screening prior to coming to school?

The CDC no longer recommends temperature screenings or screening questionnaires at school. However, families should be reminded and encouraged to be mindful of indications their children may exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 and to seek testing when such symptoms are present. The CDC maintains a list of COVID-19 symptoms on its website.

School leaders play an important role in educating teachers, staff, families, and students about when they should stay home and when they can return to school. Amid the recovery from the pandemic, the CDC recommends that:

  • 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.
  • Schools should encourage everyone in their school community to 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.

Will all students and staff members need to wear masks in school and on buses?

Yes, based on the layered mitigation plan that the district has established, all students and staff members will start the school wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. This practice is recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The CDC has ordered that individuals are required to wear masks on school buses. Protocols around mask-wearing may change throughout the year based on factors that include changes in the level of community transmission of the virus.

Q: Are there certain types of face coverings that are not allowed to be worn at school?
A: Yes, just like last year, neck gaiter-style face coverings and masks with exhalation valves cannot be worn to school. Individuals who wear these types of face coverings to school will be provided with a replacement mask. Acceptable masks include but are not limited to cloth-based masks (e.g., homemade sewn, quick cut,), and surgical masks that cover both the mouth and nose. (Added 9/8/21)

Will masks be required when students and staff are outside?

Based on the layered mitigation plan that the district is putting in place, masks will be required outdoors in situations where students and/or staff members will be within 3 feet of each other, including at recess. Masks will not be required when students and staff members will be 3 feet apart or more outdoors. Protocols around mask-wearing may change throughout the year based on factors that include changes in the level of community transmission of the virus.

What social distancing is being followed at school?

In regular classroom settings, three-feet of social distancing to the greatest extent possible is being followed. In situations where masks cannot be worn, such as when students are eating, 6 feet of social distance to the extent possible is being followed. There will be situations where it is not fully possible to ensure these distances while also having all students learning in person, including during lunch. Social distancing protocols may change throughout the year based on factors that include changes in the level of community transmission of the virus.

What protocols will apply to school visitors?

Visitors may only come to school when conducting official business that would not be possible to do in a virtual meeting/format. Should the level of community transmission decrease, based on data provided by the CDC, this will be revisited.

Can the district require students or staff members to have a COVID vaccination?

The district has no authority to require a COVID-19 vaccination for students of any age. Required vaccinations for students are established by the New York State Department of Health and a COVID-19 vaccination is not currently required. There are currently no required vaccinations for school district employees in the state of New York. Requiring a COVID-19 vaccination would need to be negotiated with the district’s collective bargaining units. Although the district cannot currently require a COVID-19 vaccination, it is important to note that based on CDC guidelines, the protocols that are applied in some situations may be different for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals.

Are there any special protocols related to transportation that families should be aware of this year?

  • Transportation will be provided from a single location and to a single location for each student for both the morning and afternoon with the exception of students who are riding designated district buses to established childcare providers in the afternoon.
  • Established childcare locations that we will transport to in the afternoon are: Schenectady JCC, TSL, KinderCare, St. Kateri’s and Villa Fusco. Parents may designate an established childcare location and the day(s) their child will be transported there after school and the day(s) their child will be transported on their regular bus route. In order for this to happen, parents/families must complete and return the “Transportation Request to Childcare Locations” form that is on the district website.
  • Other than going to these childcare locations, students will only ride their regular, designated bus route this year. There will be no bus passes and/or riding to friends’ houses on other routes.
  • Any requested transportation changes will require one week to take effect.
  • All students must wear a mask or face covering when riding the bus. If students do not have a mask or face covering, the driver will provide one.
  • Students will sit in seats assigned by the bus driver to help with contact tracing in the event it is necessary

What steps are being taken to help ensure students grow academically and socially in light of the impact the pandemic has had on education over the last 18 months?

Several steps are being taken to support students’ academic and social growth in light of the impact of the pandemic on learning. These include:

  • Summer 2021 program: MS/HS Summer School, English as a New Language Program, Summer Learning Club (K-5 Reading & Math intervention) K Readiness and Enrichment Program
  • Return to full length instructional days
  • Focus on Social-Emotional Learning
  • Additional K-5 Intervention Teachers (federal funds) focused on math and literacy
  • Grades 6-12 afterschool interventions focused on math, science, ELA, social studies and world language
  • Grades 3-5 Math Classroom teacher shared TA support
  • High School Study Skills advisement grouping
  • Enhanced support for High School alternative learning programs
  • 9th Grade Health Seminar
  • K-8 Whole Class Social Worker Meetings

Will athletics be offered this year?

Yes, our intention is to offer interscholastic athletics while also adhering to appropriate health and safety guidelines. As of August 2021, Schenectady County has been designated as a high transmission area and based on the recommendations of the CDC, students must provide proof of vaccination, or vaccination in process, to participate in the high-risk sports of football and volleyball. More information about how to submit this will be provided in the coming days

Are there limits on spectators at athletic events?

Yes. While the level of community transmission in Schenectady County is High, there will be no spectators at indoor athletic contests and a limit of two spectators per student-athlete at outdoor contests. This information may change if circumstances change and as the district works with its Suburban Council and Section 2 partners / NYSPHSAA

Will there be off-grounds trips/field trips offered this year?

At this time only off-grounds trips that are essential to the curriculum will be considered. Any proposed trip will require the submission of a safety plan to the District Safety Officer, School Medical Director and Board of Education.
How will music be approached in the schools? Will there be concerts this year?
Based on the International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study and New York State Department of Health guidelines, music will take place this year with 3 feet of social distancing and mask-wearing while singing and playing string instruments. Band instruments will be played with bell covers and masks will be optional. In-person concert dates are on the district calendar and decisions about if and how to hold the concerts will be made closer to the date of the performance based on COVID conditions and guidance from public health partners.

Will there be PTO/family events at school this year?

Our hope is that COVID conditions allow as many events and activities as possible to take place. Given that the level of community transmission of COVID-19 is high, we have decided in the interest of protecting health and safety that large-scale indoor and outdoor events (e.g., school-wide events) will not be held in-person in September. The calendar of events will be adjusted to reflect this in the near future. Smaller scale events with mask wearing and appropriate distancing may be held. All events will require the submission of a safety plan to the District Safety Officer, School Medical Director and Board of Education. In mid/late September, decisions will be made about larger scale events that are on the calendar for October.

Will the district and public health departments be doing contact tracing for confirmed cases of COVID-19 this year?

Yes. Similar to last year, the district and public health partners will work together in the event of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to determine if anyone needs to quarantine. For this reason, the district is maintaining seating charts for buses, classrooms and school meals.

If someone is determined to be a contact of someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19, how long will they need to quarantine for?

The answer to this varies based on factors including the vaccination status of the contact. Vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine as long as they do not display symptoms and should get tested 3-5 days after the exposure and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until a negative test result. Unvaccinated contacts will need to quarantine for 10 days from the date of exposure, based on local public health guidelines.

Will notification be provided if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19?

Yes. Similar to last year, when the district is notified of a confirmed case of COVID-19, notification will be made to all families and staff members about the positive case, the school, and if all individuals who need to quarantine have been notified.

If a student or staff member does not feel well, what should they do?

Anyone who is not feeling well should not come to school. Students and staff members who do not feel well at school should go to the nurses office and follow-up with their healthcare provider.

What do students or staff members need to return to school/work after experiencing COVID-like symptoms?

In order to return to school/work after COVID-like symptoms, students or staff members will need resolution of symptoms and a negative COVID test. In the event a student or staff members is COVID positive, they can return to work/school when the following take place: 10 days after the initial onset of symptoms and fever free for 24 hours and symptoms have improved.

Is the district prepared in the event COVID circumstances require fully remote learning for all students?

Yes, all students will have a Chromebook at the start of the year so the district is prepared for instruction to take place in an all-remote format if that is necessary.

Will students and staff members be able to share materials and supplies this year?

Yes. Individuals may use shared supplies as long as they wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after doing so.

Will students be able to look at and check out library books this year?

Yes, students will be able to look at and check out library books this year as long as they wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after doing so.

What ventilation measures does the district have in place to help prevent the spread of illness?

Prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year the district made a variety of repairs and improvements to be sure ventilation systems were working properly. The district continues to monitor these systems and make repairs and upgrades as needed.

Will enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures be in place?

Yes, the enhanced cleaning and disinfecting measures put into place for the 2020-21 school year will continue to take place each day.

Will plans and protocols change throughout the year if circumstances permit?

Yes, the district is using a layered mitigation approach that calls for plans to change based on the level of community transmission and guidance from public health experts. If COVID conditions improve then it is possible that restrictions in effect at the start of the year can be loosened.

High School Questions

Will there be before and afterschool activities?

Yes, extracurricular activities will take place following all of the same safety protocols in place during the school day including masking, distancing and contact tracing if necessary.

How will breakfast and lunch work? Where will students eat and what social distancing will be in place?

Grab and Go breakfast and lunch will be available. School meals will continue to be provided at no charge this year based on federal government policy. Students will be assigned to a lunch location and attendance will be taken to facilitate contact tracing if needed. All students can go outside for meals and juniors and seniors will be able to go off campus with appropriate authorization. In order to have all students attend school in person, lunch is one of those times when it will not be possible to provide a full 6 feet of social distance in many situations.

Will all students be expected to attend in-person learning at the high school?

Yes, except for those who are participating in the fully virtual option through BOCES. The only circumstance when livestream instruction may be available is when a student is quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure by public health for three or more days. In these situations, families will need to work with the school to arrange this. It’s important to note that it may take some time to set up streaming services for a quarantined student.

If I am not feeling well and need to stay home for non-COVID reasons, am I supposed to join my classes remotely?

No. Classes will not be livestreamed on a daily basis. When students miss a day of school because they are sick they will not receive livestream instruction. Students who are ill should take the time to rest and recover so that they can return to school as soon as possible.

What will the 1st week of school look like for each grade level?

  • Sept 1: The first day of school for 9th and 10th grade students. Given the large numbers of 10th graders who learned remotely last year, we feel it is important to have them join the Freshman on the first day of school. They will have time to review their schedules, tour the building and meet all of their A and B day teachers.
  • Sept 2: Grades 9-12 – We will use an extended Advisement Period to allow time for reviewing schedules, reconnecting with students and teachers. They will follow an abbreviated A/B day schedule.
  • Sept 3: Grades 9-12 – Regular schedule – A day. We will have extended lunch mods, hopefully outside with lawn games, BBQ fare and festivities.

Where should high school students go when they arrive at school in the morning?

Students can go to the cafeterias prior to the Advisement Period (begins 8:40 a.m.) or meet with teachers.

Will I be able to use my locker?

Yes.

Will there be off-grounds passes this year?

Yes, there will be off-grounds passes for all 11th and 12th graders who complete and submit the application form.

What do juniors and seniors do during free mods/blocks?

If juniors and seniors stay at school, they will be assigned to the library for contact tracing purposes.

Will I be able to access the library? Juniors and Seniors will be assigned to the library during their study halls.

Our current plan is to have the library open to other students and before and after school as soon as possible.

Will there be late buses?

Yes, late buses will leave at 4:15 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Will there be school concerts, events, dances, and Prom/Gala this year?

Our hope is that COVID conditions will improve and we will be able to hold many of the events that students look forward to. However, while our county is in a High Community Transmission area, we will not hold large scale indoor events. Outdoor events and smaller scale indoor events may be possible. All events will require the submission of a safety plan to the District Safety Officer, School Medical Director and Board of Education.

Will there be Regents Exams this year?

Yes.

Will the 3-Day Grace Period continue this year?

Yes. In response to the need for flexibility given our current circumstances, we will allow HS students a 3-day grace period to hand in assignments or homework. This decision is based on feedback from all stakeholders and has been made in order to provide support for students as they continue to manage the stress of returning to school in this ongoing pandemic.

The 3-day grace period can be thought of as a due date extension that allows students to hand in assignments 3 school days after the original due date regardless of the letter A or B.

As always, teachers have the discretion to allow for more flexibility and further extensions as needed. The 3-day grace period is the minimum. Please note that the 3-day due date extension is done in order to extend the window for students to submit assignments. It does not include resubmission of assignments.

We will revisit this practice after the first 10 weeks.

Middle School Questions

Will there be before and afterschool activities?
Yes, extracurricular activities will take place following all of the same safety protocols in place during the school day including masking, distancing and contact tracing if necessary.

Will there be late buses?

Yes, late buses will leave at 4:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday

How will breakfast and lunch work? Where will students eat and what social distancing will be in place?

We anticipate that breakfast and lunch will take place in the cafeteria and other designated areas. We anticipate that meals will be individually packaged to avoid students congregating in lunch lines. School meals will continue to be provided at no charge this year based on federal government policy. Students will have assigned lunch seating of some form to facilitate contact tracing if needed. In order to have all students attend school in person, lunch is one of those times when it will not be possible to provide a full 6 feet of social distance in many situations.

Will I be able to use my locker?

Yes.

Will all students be expected to attend in person learning at the middle school?

Yes, except for those who are participating in the fully virtual option through BOCES. The only circumstance when livestream instruction may be available is when a student is quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure by public health for three or more days. In these situations, families will need to work with the school to arrange this. It’s important to note that it may take some time to set up streaming services for a quarantined student.

If a student is not feeling well and needs to stay home for non-COVID reasons, am I supposed to join my classes remotely?

No. Classes will not be livestreamed on a daily basis. When students miss a day of school because they are sick they will not receive livestream instruction. Students who are ill should take the time to rest and recover so that they can return to school as soon as possible.

Elementary Questions

How will breakfast and lunch work? Where will students eat and what social distance will be used?

We anticipate that breakfast will take place in classrooms and lunch will take place in the cafeteria and other designated areas. Meals will be individually packaged to avoid students congregating in lunch lines. School meals will continue to be provided at no charge this year based on federal government policy. Social distance of six feet between students when they are not masked and eating will be observed to the extent possible. Students will have assigned lunch seating of some form to facilitate contact tracing if needed.

Will there be accelerated math in 5th grade or will cohorts remain together for the entire day?

Yes, there will be 5th grade accelerated math this year. Students who need to change locations as part of math groupings will do so.