Reopening: Communication / Family and Community Engagement

Effective two-way communication – listening as well as providing timely information and answers – is a foundational element of strong relationships that help all students succeed. The City School District of Albany believes that clear, consistent and honest two-way communication with all stakeholders in our diverse community is a critical component in supporting our vision, mission and goals, as well as a cycle of continuous improvement.

These needs, and our district’s commitment to meeting them, are true now more than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.

To help inform our 2020-21 Reopening Plan, the district has sought feedback and input from all stakeholders: administrators, faculty and support staff – including the leadership of the employee unions representing these three groups – students, parents and guardians, community members, the Albany County Health Department and local health care providers, and Capital Region BOCES. We also have developed our 2020-21 Reopening Plan in alignment with all guidance from Governor Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Education Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Engagement efforts to solicit input on our planning included online surveys for all stakeholders, virtual forums and meetings, and individual conversations. We have shared updates and developing information frequently and broadly through a variety of digital and print sources.

We provided updates on the status of our planning activities at the July 9 and July 23 Board of Education meetings (conducted remotely), and held virtual forums that included opportunities for live feedback and questions on the following dates for students, families and community members:

We held virtual forums for all faculty and staff on July 29, again providing an opportunity for live feedback and questions on our draft reopening plans:

In addition to feedback received from employees, students, families and community members through our various reopening surveys and public meetings throughout the spring and summer, the district also convened a district-wide Reopening Committee and subcommittees at the elementary, middle and high school levels to develop our plans.

Governor Cuomo also appointed our superintendent, Kaweeda G. Adams, to participate on the statewide Reimagine Education Advisory Council. That perspective, with input and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders statewide, also informed the development of our plan.

As we submit our 2020-21 Reopening Plan and move forward with implementation in alignment with current and future guidance from Governor Cuomo and other state and local agencies, the district remains committed to communicating all elements of this plan to all stakeholders, with a primary focus on our students and families, and our employees.


Sharing our 2020-21 Reopening Plan 

Our 2020-21 Reopening Plan is available to all stakeholders at albanyschools.org/reopening, and will be updated throughout the school year as necessary to respond to updates and developing circumstances should they occur. The link to the plan appears on our homepage, albanyschools.org, and also is linked to each of our school pages and all pages throughout our site.

The full plan is accessible to all individuals in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A/AA. The plan can be translated into more than 100 languages via the G-Translate feature available on the district website. The one language that is prevalent in our district that is not covered by the G-Translate feature is Karen. The Communications Department will work closely with our English as a New Language and Refugee Services Department to ensure that the full plan and any related documents, including FAQs developed and updated as part of our overall communication plan, are translated and available to our Karen-speaking students, families and community members.

As part of the planning for reopening schools for the 2020-21 academic year, the district has developed a plan for communicating all necessary information to employees, students and families, community members, education partners and vendors. The district will use its existing communication channels – including but not limited to our website, Facebook, Twitter, School News Notifier, School Messenger, district email, direct mail to families and flyer distribution in the community – as well as 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.

To facilitate translation, our communication plan will endeavor to drive all stakeholders to our website whenever possible to benefit from the G-Translate function, and, as noted previously, the Communications and ENL and Refugee Services departments will work closely to make information and materials available to our Karen-speaking community.

The district will use these tactics to communicate news, requirements and updates related to all aspects of reopening, including methods of instructional delivery, social distancing requirements, proper wearing of face coverings, proper hand and respiratory hygiene, transportation, food and nutrition, cleaning and sanitizing, among many other critical areas.

The information that we will share will be based on state guidance and the extensive engagement and two-way communication process the district used to inform and develop our 2020-21 Reopening Plan. 

Each year, the district’s Community Engagement Department plans a series of monthly Parent University meetings at the middle school level during the fall and spring semesters. Our Parent University planning for fall 2020 will include Parent University content specifically related a range of health, safety and wellness topics related to returning to school with precautions in place due to COVID-19. These virtual sessions will include guidance and information for students, families and community members from internal and external experts.


Addressing technology needs

When the initial COVID-19 school closure began in mid-March, the district provided more than 3,200 Chromebooks to student homes in support of remote learning. The district did not have the devices necessary to provide a device to every individual student, so a device-per-household model was used. 

The district has a plan in place to acquire an additional 4,900 devices in order to provide a device for every student and instructional staff member. Additionally, we acquired 600 mobile Internet hotspots during the spring to address the connectivity needs we identified through direct outreach to our families at the start of the school closure in March. These devices were deployed to all households in need by the end of April and we still have an inventory of mobile hotspots ready for deployment as needed. 

We will be performing outreach in August in order to update the data in our collection tool. This will continue to keep us informed as to the status of connectivity and access on an ongoing basis. 

You can read more about these efforts in the Technology and Connectivity section of our 2020-21 Reopening Plan.


Engagement during remote learning 

The district will provide students and families with multiple ways to contact schools and teachers during remote learning, including Google Classroom, schooltool, email and phone. The district has created a Family and Community Communication Guide to assist our stakeholders in identifying the correct individual and chain of command for their questions or concerns..
 
The district will use existing internal and external communications channels as noted previously in this section to notify employees, students and families about in-person, remote and hybrid school schedules with as much advance notice as possible.


Communicating with families of students with special needs

The district will follow its existing engagement and communication protocols with parents and guardians regarding the provision of special education services for students. Communication with families of students with special needs will continue to be ongoing and documented in Frontline IEP contact log, Medicaid log, Progress Monitoring Tools and Quarterly Progress Reporting on goals and transition.

The language needs of all special education families will be addressed as required using existing district processes: 

  • Students and families who have translation and interpreter needs are clearly identified in both schooltool and Frontline IEP, so staff are aware
  • Interpreters are available on the Language Line as needed at any point in time to address translation needs

Parents and guardians will continue to receive training opportunities in-person and virtually as appropriate on a variety of topics once quarterly in accordance with social distancing. Trainings are anticipated to include topics on: Autism, Anxiety and Depression, OPWDD and Sensory Integration.

The Special Education Department will hold virtual meetings as necessary with parent and guardian language needs considered. The department collaborates with the district assistive technology specialist to provide technology support and training to staff, students and families. The department will share information with families on accessing this technology support as well as other resources.


Meeting our families’ language needs 

The district will make every effort to ensure that communication to parents and guardians is in their preferred language and mode of communication. All content on the district’s website is translatable into more than 100 languages via the G-Translate feature. The Communications and ENL and Refugee Services will continue to work closely to translate documents for the large Karen-speaking population in our district and city -- Karen is not a language currently available through G-Translate. 

The district also will continue to work with a translation service to provide print communications to families in our top 10 languages, and also uses Language Line Solutions to assist families with a range of services and needs, including registration.


Health and safety expectations

The district is committed to ensuring that all of our 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
  • Proper face covering procedures (how to wear and remove)
  • Social distancing
  • Respiratory hygiene
  • Identifying symptoms

As noted earlier in the Communication/Family and Community Engagement section, our Parent University programming in the fall of 2020 will focus on important health, safety and wellness information and expectations for all stakeholders. 

The district also will create and 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
  • Handwashing
  • Adherence to social distancing instructions
  • Symptoms and prevention of COVID-19

In addition to signage, the district will encourage all students, employees and visitors, through verbal and written communication, to adhere to CDC and NYDOH guidance regarding the use of PPE through additional means such as our website, social media and digital communication tools at the district and building levels, and school and district mailings.


Positive or suspected cases of COVID-19

The district is committed to creating a learning environment that protects student and employee health, safety and privacy. Our district will operate under a standard procedure for addressing situations in which an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 or appears symptomatic. These procedures are outlined in the Health Screening, Hygiene and Safety section of this plan

In the event that we are notified that a person connected with a district school or building tests positive for COVID-19 or is symptomatic, notification to exposed individuals will occur pursuant to the state’s contact tracing protocols as implemented by the county health department. These communications will be limited to those individuals directly connected to a potentially affected school or building community. Per health department guidelines, the district will not notify the wider community unless county health officials specifically direct us to do so.

The superintendent will provide the Board of Education with regular summary updates regarding COVID-19 cases in the district.


School Closures

A closure refers to contingency plans, protocols and procedures for decreasing the scale or scope of in-person education or closing a school or district. The district will collaborate with the county health department to determine the parameters, conditions or metrics (e.g., increased absenteeism or increased illness in a school community) that will serve as early warning signs that positive COVID-19 cases may be increasing beyond an acceptable level.

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 our medical director, Dr. Laura Staff, and the county health department when making such decisions. 

Building administrators are to communicate regularly with their supervisors and district leadership if attendance rates impact the ability of the school to operate safely. The decision to close schools is made collaboratively and in consultation with the superintendent, the district's medical director, county health department, and local and state agencies.

For more information, please visit the School Closures section of this report.