Reopening Plan: Communications & Family Engagement

We are committed to communicating all elements of this reopening plan to students, parents and guardians, staff and community members. The plan is available to all stakeholders via the district website at https://www.niskayunaschools.org/reopening-our-schools/niskayuna-reopening-plan/, and will be updated throughout the school year, as necessary, to respond to local circumstances. The link to the plan appears on the website homepage and all pages within the district website, including all school web pages. Every effort has been made to ensure that our plan is accessible to all individuals in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A/AA. The plan can also be translated into other languages via the G-Translate feature available on the district website.

As part of our planning for the reopening of schools and the new academic year, the district has developed a plan for communicating all necessary information to district staff, students, parents/guardians, visitors and education partners and vendors. We will use existing communication channels and methods, which are outlined below, to share information about reopening, including health and safety precautions and academic plans and school schedules. In addition to our regular communications channels, we will also utilize appropriate signage and training opportunities to support the dissemination of consistent messaging regarding new protocols and procedures, expectations, requirements and options related to school operations throughout the pandemic.

Communications Channels & Methods Include:

  • School District Website
  • School Messenger E-mails, Text Messages and Phone Calls (Mass Notification System)
  • “The Nisky Weekly” E-mail newsletter
  • Internal All-Staff E-mail Directory
  • Staff Reopening Website
  • Back-to-School Mailings (Niskayuna Startup Guide booklet, letters, etc.)
  • Virtual Town Hall Meetings for Families and Middle School and High School Students
  • Faculty and Staff Meetings (Virtual and In-Person)
  • FAQ Document
  • Signage & Posters
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • E-mails to PTO Leaders
  • E-mails from School Principals to Faculty, Staff & Students
  • PowerSchool Parent/Student Portal
  • Google Classroom

To help inform our reopening plan, we have sought feedback and input from stakeholders, including administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents/guardians of students, local health department officials and health care providers, employee unions and community groups. Notably, a community-wide Reopening Task Force was formed that included approximately 385 members of the school community working on 23 subcommittees in areas related to reopening. Engagement efforts also included an online survey about virtual learning, a virtual town hall, and one-on-one conversations. These efforts will continue as the school year approaches.

Responsive, Ongoing, Two-Way Communications

Ongoing, two-way communication is critical to efforts to ensure that families, students and staff have the information they need as school reopens. The e-mail address “reopening@niskyschools.org” has been published and will be promoted as a place to ask questions or seek assistance. Additionally, reopening communications will include contact lists for more specific questions or concerns, as well as information about our COVID-19 coordinator.

The Importance of Accurate Family Contact Information

It is critically important that the district has accurate contact information for each family. Each year, we verify contact information through an online “Returning Student Registration” platform, which helps ensure that this information is automatically loaded into our communications and student management systems. This year, we accelerated this process, opening it in July to collect this vital information earlier and more completely. It is essential we achieve a 100 percent response rate this year, therefore the district will follow-up with families who do not complete the online form to offer technical support or a paper option.

Providing Information in a Family’s Preferred Language

As part of its registration process, families notify the district if they would prefer communications in a language other than English. During the spring of 2020, the district mailed families a letter, in their preferred language, informing them how they can access the translate feature on the website. A similar communication will occur prior to the start of the school year, along with a letter informing families of the reopening plan, again in the preferred language. The Communications Office will work with the English as a New Language Department to ensure the translation of ongoing communications. The feasibility of automating translation of School Messenger e-mails and texts is also being investigated.

Access to Technology

In support of remote learning, the district will make computer devices available to students and teachers. Providing all teachers with a computer has been regular district practice for some time. For the 2020-21 school year, the district has taken steps to have one Chromebook for each student. Information about this will be communicated to all families in multiple formats prior to the start of the school year. The district’s Returning Student Registration platform asks families to provide information about high-speed Internet access in the home so that the district can provide access to those in need or facilitate it through an outside program or provider. The district will provide students and their families with multiple ways to contact schools and teachers during remote learning, including e-mail, the online Google Classroom platform and phone messages.

Communicating School Schedules

The district will use the existing internal and external communications channels outlined above to notify staff, students and families/caregivers about in-person, remote and hybrid school schedules with as much advance notice as possible.

Special Education

The district will follow its existing engagement and communication protocols with parents regarding the provision of special education services for their child. The district has continued to hold Committee on Special Education meetings (in a virtual format) during the school closure to make plans for students for the 2020-21 school year. The school district website and the back-to-school mailing (Niskayuna Startup Guide) contain information about the special education process and who to contact for parents whose child has a disability or if they suspect their child has a disability.

Safety Measures & Protocols

The district will rely on the communications channels and methods outlined above to communicate news, requirements and updates related to reopening and in-person instruction, including social distancing requirements, proper wearing of face coverings and proper hand and respiratory hygiene. The information that we will share will be based on state guidance and the work of the Reopening Task Force and town hall feedback, as outlined in this plan.

Training

The district is committed to ensuring that all of its students and their families are taught and re-taught new expectations related to all public health policies and protocols. As part of this continuous training, the district will assess the best approach to communicating the information for each students’ age group and will provide frequent opportunities for students to review these policies and protocols. This targeted education will help ensure that all students and their families know what is expected of them as they successfully return to the school setting. These trainings will cover:

  • Hand hygiene – Students will be given time and instructions on how to wash their hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Students should wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching the front of their mask and frequently throughout the day. If soap and water is not available, students will be given adult-supervised access to hand sanitizer that has a minimum alcohol content of 60%. Hand sanitizer will not be stored in science labs, on buses or in other areas that include or may include combustion or open flames.
  • Proper face covering procedures – Students, staff and visitors to our schools will be expected to wear face coverings indoors and outside, including on the school bus. Students will be allowed to remove face coverings during meals as long as they maintain appropriate social distance. Students who are unable to medically tolerate a face covering will not be required to wear one and appropriate social distancing will be ensured. Face coverings will be provided to students and staff, if needed, at no cost. Acceptable face coverings for COVID-19 include, but are not limited to, cloth-based coverings and surgical masks that cover both the mouth and nose.
  • Social distancing – While at school, students and staff members will maintain a minimum of six feet of social distancing between themselves and others. For some activities, like choir and aerobic exercise, students will be required to maintain a minimum of 12 feet of social distancing.
  • Respiratory hygiene – Students should cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue and then promptly dispose of the tissue in a waste basket. If no tissues are available students should cough or sneeze into their elbow. After coughing or sneezing, hand washing is recommended.
  • Identifying symptoms – Symptoms of COVID-19 include but are not limited to cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. Families will be asked to check for symptoms as part of the screening process that they do prior to sending their student to school. Students will be reminded frequently at school to let their teacher know right away if they have any COVID-19 symptoms while at school. Students who become symptomatic at school will be brought to an isolation area, cared for and monitored while the school arranges for their family to pick them up.

As a note, all employees are required to take a COVID-19 safety training prior to returning to work for the Summer/Fall of 2020. Staff training will be delivered via webinar, on the SafeSchools online platform and in live sessions.

As the guidance evolves, supplemental district and departmental information will also be provided.

Signage

The district will deploy signage throughout the district to address public health protections surrounding COVID-19. Signage will address protocols and recommendations in the following areas:

  • Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Acceptable face coverings and requirements related to their wear
  • Hand washing
  • Adherence to social distancing instructions
  • Symptoms/prevention of COVID-19

In addition to signage, the district will encourage all students, faculty, staff and visitors to observe verbal and written communication and adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DOH (Department of Health) guidance regarding the use of PPE. This will take place through additional means such as the required COVID-19 training, written materials (e-mail, handouts) and faculty and staff meetings.

Health Information

The district is committed to creating a learning environment that protects student and staff health, safety and privacy. In the event that a student or staff member is sick, symptomatic, or has tested positive for COVID-19, notification to exposed individuals will occur pursuant to the state’s contact tracing protocols as implemented by the local health department. The district will not notify the wider community of health information unless specifically directed to do so by local health officials. These procedures are detailed in the Health & Safety section of our reopening plan. In addition to being part of the plan, a summary of these protocols will be provided in writing to all teachers, staff members, and families.

School Closures & Schedule Changes

The district is preparing for situations in which one or more school buildings need to close due to a significant number of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19 or a considerable regional increase in COVID-19 cases.

Prior to the school closure in March 2020, the school superintendent and designees were in regular contact with local public health agencies regarding COVID-19. Local public health partners reviewed particular communications related to COVID-19. As the school year opens, this contact will continue whenever needed so that district decisions can be guided by the latest information in our community/area and the best public health practices.  

The district may choose to modify operations in one or more schools prior to closing to help mitigate a rise in cases. The district will consult its local health department when making such decisions. 

In the event that any change to a previously announced schedule is required, the district will provide as much notice as possible. However, given the nature of the situation, all stakeholders must recognize that some situations may not lend themselves to providing ample advance notice. For this reason, changes to a previously announced schedule (i.e. a school is closed or the day is altered for a particular group of students) will be communicated through multiple means, including the the district website, internal staff email, and School Messenger emails, text messages, and phone calls. Last but not least, principals and teachers must reinforce schedule updates with the means of communication they are using to connect with families.