Our Reopening Plan: Introduction

The COVID-19 crisis has had a deep and lasting impact on nearly all aspects of society throughout the international community during 2020. While it has limited opportunities, it also has created new opportunities to reimagine the way we live and work. 

In education, it challenged school districts, practically overnight, to reconsider and retool all aspects of instruction and operations to meet the critical needs of our students and families, beginning with safeguards to protect the health and safety of all stakeholders in a school community. 

The City School District of Albany’s 2020-21 Reopening Plan presents a comprehensive overview of the district’s vision for returning to school in September following the statewide closure over the final 3½ months of the 2019-20 school year due to the rapid and persistent spread of COVID-19.  This plan includes procedures that will be followed in all district schools as well as our district administrative buildings.

The health and safety of our more than 11,000 students and employees, and all of their families, is our top priority. We want students and employees to be safe returning to school campuses. This plan incorporates all current recommendations and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Education Department.

It is possible that we may need to alternate between in-person and remote learning throughout the year due to recommendations and guidance from our partnering agencies, and stay-at-home orders from the governor. The level of infection, the spread of the virus and response to the disease in our community will be at the forefront of our decision-making as we move to open our schools and as we continue to operate throughout the 2020-21 school year. 

Dr. Laura Staff, the district’s medical director, will serve as the district’s COVID-19 safety coordinator. Dr. Staff will work closely and coordinate with the Albany County Health Department. The medical director will serve as a central contact for schools and all stakeholders, including families, employees and other school community members, and will ensure the district is in compliance and following the best practices per state and federal guidelines. 

Developing our plan

The district has engaged in a comprehensive, inclusive process to not only develop the possible plans for reopening schools in three models -- in-person, hybrid or virtual -- but also to examine the requirements that must be met. 

Under the leadership of Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams and the Superintendent’s  Cabinet, the district established reopening committees charged with developing recommendations for reimagining schools in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committees consisted of stakeholders representative of our schools and community at all levels. The committees were asked to define the framework for learning in three modalities: fully on-site, blended or hybrid, and fully virtual/off-site.

The committees’ best thinking to date, given the parameters, is an illustration of the collaborative approach coupled with feedback from student, parent, community, faculty and staff forums, surveys and discussions. The committees analyzed research, reviewed guidance documents from the Reimagine Education Advisory Council and the New York State Health and Education departments, and sought input from stakeholders to inform the proposed reopening options.

The ultimate goal and purpose of the district’s reopening committees was to present the best recommendation for a safe plan for reopening in September that creates the most conducive learning environment aligned within the guidance parameters and the precautions necessary to ensure health and safety for all stakeholders throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

Considerations for reopening

On July 13, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that school districts in New York can follow plans to reopen for in-person schooling in September if COVID-19 infection rates stay at 5% or lower in a given region.  

Determinations will be made by region about opening and closing schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. If a region is in Phase 4 and has a daily infection rate of 5% or lower over a 14-day average, schools in that region could hold in-person instruction. However, if daily infection rates exceed 9% over a seven-day average, schools in that region would not reopen. 

Similarly, should a region see such an average after reopening, schools in that region would also be directed to close.

While districts have been instructed to prioritize efforts to return all students to in-person instruction, the district is also planning for remote/distance learning as well as a hybrid or blended model that combines in-person instruction and remote learning. Parents and guardians will have the choice to remain in the remote learning model. Should parents or guardians choose to begin the school year in a fully remote learning environment, and then choose to enroll their students in the hybrid/blended model of instruction, that transition may be made at the beginning of the next grade-reporting period based on social distancing guidelines.