North Country School Reopening Guide: What to expect this fall

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Starbuck Elementary School, Watertown, NY (WWTI/ Isabella Colello)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Most school districts in the North Country are a week away from opening their doors for the upcoming school year.

For many, this will be the first time in over a year that all students will return to in-person instruction. However, this summer has presented many questions for schools as guidance was just recently released by the state.

Specifically in early August, the New York State Department of Health announced that they would not be giving any reopening guidance for school districts to use in planning the 2021 school year. However, the New York State Department of Education followed this announcement by releasing a reopening guide with recommendations.

The guide that was released is similar in content to what teachers got in 2020, including the consistent use of masks and social distance, screening tests on entry, and promoting vaccination for all students who are eligible. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul also mandated masks for students, staff and faculty in all school buildings on August 27.

Schools are now releasing plans across the North Country, with a common theme of wanting to get as many students back for fully in-person learning as possible. Below is what has been released so far to students, faculty, staff and the community.

Jefferson County

Carthage Central School District

Beginning September 7, Carthage will operate on a five-day, full-time schedule. All students will attend in-person instruction, however, those considered medically vulnerable and who have a doctor’s note can work with the District to develop a plan. Chromebooks will be provided to all students in grades Kindergarten through 12.

Students will be instructed to social distance three feet and adults will maintain six foot social distancing.

Changes to athletics will include no changing during physical education classes for elementary and middle school students and spectators will be permitted at Carthage sporting events.

Carthage will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students.

General Brown Central School District

General Brown will reopen for full, in-person instruction for all students starting September 7. The District’s remote instruction model has been eliminated for the 2021-2022 school year. Students and faculty will also be instructed to maintain social distancing indoors.

The District will also use additional prevention strategies such as proper ventilation in classroom and on school busses, teaching handwashing etiquette and cleaning and disinfecting regularly.

Visitors to District buildings will also be limited. This includes nonessential visitors, volunteers and indoor activities involving external groups and organizations.

Indian River Central School District

The new school year for the district starts on September 7 and the school plans a full reopening. Students from UPK through 12th grade will be attending five days per week in person. Full remote instruction will only be available to students who have applied and been approved for a medical exemption.

Students will keep a minimum of three feet distancing when possible indoors. Greater distance will be maintained during “times of exertion,” such as exercising and singing. The school district will utilize alternative instructional spaces when they are available.

The district will not require families to submit daily health screenings.

South Jefferson Central School District

All students in the South Jefferson Central School District will be returning to five-day, in-person instruction beginning September 7. Remote learning will remain open to students with certain health conditions.

Three foot social distancing will be mandated between students and six feet between students and staff and those who are unvaccinated.

If a student or faculty has COVID-19 symptoms, they are to remain home. If a student presents symptoms at school, they will be isolated and sent home. Students are permitted to return to school if a health care provider offers an alternate diagnosis or a negative COVID-19 test is presented.

Tthe North Country Family Health Center school-based clinic in Mannsville will offer a rapid PCR test to students, if needed.

Watertown City School District

Five-day, in-person instruction will begin for all K-12 students in the Watertown City School District on September 7. The District has eliminated both its hybrid and remote learning option. However remote learning will be used as a back-up in the case of a COVID surge, and homeschool and homebound learning options remain available to students.

The District has eliminated daily health screenings. However, parents and guardians will be asked to conduct daily temperature checks to ensure students due not have symptoms.

Beginning August 23, all sports are permitted as state officials lifted restrictions on June 15.

Free breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students throughout the 2021-2022 school year.

Lewis County

Beaver River Central School District

All Beaver River students will return to full, in-person instruction.

Students may remove face coverings when six feet apart, or when seated in classroom spaces that are properly spaced. Staff or students may have immune deficiencies or other medical concerns that may require face coverings which will be communicated by individual teachers. Social distancing will occur “when appropriate and feasible.”

Beaver River will continue to provide hand sanitizer throughout its school buildings and school buses. Daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces in school buildings and on busses will continue.

Lowville Academy and Central School District

All grade levels in the District will be in-person during the 2021-2022 school year. 

Physical distancing will be required indoors for student and faculty. Masks will also be required on school transportation, in bathrooms and when working in small groups. If a student, staff member, or visitor forgets their face mask, the district will provide one.

School bus drivers, monitors and attendant will be required to perform a self health assessment for symptoms before arriving to work.

A change compared to the previous school year, LACS will no longer require daily or weekly COVID-19 screenings. However, faculty, staff and parents or guardians are encouraged to self screen their children daily. The District may institute a daily screening protocol if rates increase within the district.

South Lewis Central School District

South Lewis students will return to in-person instruction every day. The Disrict-wide start and end time for all students will be 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.

Social distancing will be maintained whenever possible. This includes in classroom settings, on busses, in the cafeteria, gymnasium and in locker rooms.

Student temperatures will be taken daily upon entry onto the bus or arrival at school. Those students with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher will not be permitted at school or on the bus. Any students or staff that have been placed into “sick protocol” will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test or doctor’s note.

Vaccination will neither be promoted nor discouraged by the District.

St. Lawrence County

Brasher Falls Central School District

All students will return to in-person instruction five days a week. No remote learning option will be available to families.

In accordance with CDC guidance, social distancing of three feet, when practicable, will be maintained between students including when eating meals. Social distancing will not be required on school buses.

If an student, faculty, entire class, or school is under a mandatory quarantine, the district released it is probable that the school will pivot to remote learning. Individual students who are under mandatory quarantine will have access to all classroom resources through their teachers’ learning management system like Google Classroom.

Clifton-Fine Central School District

The District is planning to offer in-person instruction every school day for the 2021-2022 school year. Remote instruction will not be available for non-quarantined students.

Clifton-Fine will implement infection control strategies which will include time management, plastic separators, alcohol-based hand rub dispensers and dividers where practicable. Windows and doors will be opened and fans will be used when possible to increase air flow.

Elementary classes and grade six will be required to eat meals in their classrooms. The sharing of food and beverages, such as buffet-style meals or snack-time is prohibited unless individuals are members of the same household.

Students in band and chorus will be required to maintain six foot social distancing.

Students or staff who develop COVID-19 symptoms during the school day are to report to the nurse’s office. Cleaning and disinfecting will be done in heavily trafficked areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms, officers and cafeterias.

Gouverneur Central School District

Gouveneur will provide full-time in-person instruction for all students, and will not be providing a fully remote option for instruction for the 2021-2022 school year.

If a student or teacher is placed in mandatory isolation or mandatory quarantine by the Public Health Department they will be able to log on to classroom instruction using their district-issued device. This option will be limited to individuals with COVID-19 related quarantines.

The district said they will be returning to a double tripping schedule for busing. This will include bussing for the high school from 7:40 a.m. to 2:28 p.m., the middle school from 7:35 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., and the elementary school from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

The District will release building-specific information for each of its four schools directly to parents and guardians.

Hammond Central School District

Hammond will begin its 2021-2022 school year with full, in-person instruction on August 3 and return after the Labor Day holiday on September 7.

Cell phones are no longer permitted in the classrooms. High school students may access them between classes but should be kept in their lockers and not on their persons.

All students will be provided free breakfast and lunch throughout the school year.

Hermon-Dekalb Central School District

Students in the Hermon-Dekalb District will return to in-person instruction. Remote instruction models will be reserved for medically vulnerable and quarantined students.

All faculty, staff and substitutes will complete daily COVID-19 screenings. Students will be pre-screened by parents or guardians before arriving at school.

The district will ensure social distancing between individuals while eating in the school cafeteria. Barriers will be employed for the majority of the seating in the cafeteria. Students who are out on remote learning due to quarantine or in isolation will also be served meals by parent pick up of food for their families.

All students are entitled to transportation by the district. However patents who are able are encouraged to drop students off at school to reduce bus density. School busses will undergo regular cleaning and disinfecting.

After-school programs will follow same rules and regulations as the District follows during the normal school day.

Heuvelton Central School District

The district will provide in-person learning to all students for five days each week. However, the need for incidental remote instruction may arise.

All students will be asked to have their temperature taken at home, daily before coming to school. Random health screening and temperature checks may be conducted at school by trained medical staff during the day.

Social distancing will be implemented between students, students and staff, those unvaccinated, in the cafeteria, on school busses and during arrival and departure.

Students will have special area courses such as art, music, and PE, but some other courses such as electives, band, and chorus may be limited. Students enrolled in District or BOCES Special Education programs will attend in-person school five days a week.

Heuvelton is working with St. Lawrence County Public Health to offer a COVID-19 screening testing program. Tests will either be a shallow nasal swab or a cheek swab. Parental consent will be required for minors.

Morristown Central School District

Morristown will offer its regular school schedule through in-person instruction to all students five days a week in the 2021-22 school year.

The District continues to utilize directional arrows in hallways, maximum capacity signage for spaces, and reminders to social distance throughout the building.

Social distancing will be implemented in classrooms, during meals and when working in groups. Distancing is not required on school buses.

Districts and BOCES must ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. When temperature allows, and no other means of ventilation is available, windows will be opened to allow for fresh exchange.

The District requires students, faculty, or staff members who develop COVID-19 symptoms during the school day to report to the Nurse’s Office.

School-sponsored extracurricular activities will be allowed to resume on a case-by-case basis.

ABC50 will continue to update this list as more information is released by individual districts.

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