Members of the Rensselaer City School District Community:
You may have seen some other schools releasing reopening plans for this year. We are excited to be planning for a full return to in-person school for all students this year. Creativity and collaboration are critical as our administrative team continues working with our reopening team to make sure that we can provide a safe and productive environment for our students and staff. We know that all of our students need to be in school.
New York State Education Department has provided guidance for operating safely this year. The information is consistent with CDC guidance and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance. Our team is still processing all of this information to see how it specifically applies to our school and our students.
Some of the specific challenges to address are:
Transportation – In this case, our bussing is covered under federal regulations. Public transportation is operating with no capacity limits, but requires masks at all times. Our transportation will operate just like CDTA and any airline travel. This is important because it allows us the capacity to bring all students in.
Distancing – We have designed a plan where most of our classes can be distanced at approximately 6 feet. The flexibility in the guidance allows for as little as 3 feet, but at no time will we need that density for an entire classroom. The ability to preserve 6 feet is important for both a maximum safety standpoint and the ability to preserve the flexibility that we had last year with masks during instruction.
Meals – Students in grades 7-12 will eat in classrooms. Any classrooms that have too many students to remain 6 feet apart will overflow into alternate locations to meet the 6 foot criteria. This will allow elementary students to utilize all 3 cafeterias and a location in the ground floor hallway to spread out and eat lunches at 6 feet apart in the same cohorts that they spend the day in. Thanks to our food service workers, maintenance crew, cleaners, and teachers for all being flexible to make this adjustment possible.
Masks – This is an emotional topic for many people. Our team created a flexible mask policy last year that allowed us to best meet the needs of each classroom, adjust with infection rate, minimize distraction, and still meet the guidelines last year. We hope to build on that success this year. We hope that any anticipated mandate from the governor’s office in the coming weeks will not further restrict our ability to be flexible.
Knowing that many have strong feelings on this topic, I’d like to reinforce that many of us are not looking forward to the mask wearing, but are committed to bringing all students back full time and will do whatever it takes to make that happen successfully. Please know that education remains our primary focus.
Screening Testing – We are told that 10% of students and staff will need to be VOLUNTARILY tested on a rotating weekly basis. We are still looking for more specifics about this testing and will share them as we better understand this topic.
Athletics – We plan to offer our full slate of athletic opportunities to students this year. The CDC recommends that high risk sports not be held in high transmission areas, but our region does not plan to take that opportunity from students that want to participate. As a risk mitigating action, we will require COVID-19 screening testing of all athletes and coaches participating in high risk sports as we did last year. We believe that this effort is a better alternative than cancelling football and volleyball this fall. There will be no restrictions on fans at this time except that masks must be worn if attending an event inside the school building.
There are certainly more details to work out. Our team will work diligently to opening day and beyond to design the best learning environment that we can for our students in the current situation. Thanks to each student, parent, and community member for being part of this solution and helping the entire #fRAMily stay focused on educating the children of Rensselaer.