OSWEGO COUNTY – With no guidance coming from either the state or county health departments, school districts here are left to formulate their own plans for reopening this fall, once again under the dark cloud of COVID.
This is the first in a series on those plans. The county is made up of 10 school districts including CiTi BOCES. This article will focus on two of them: the Oswego City School District and the Central Square School District.
Oswego Superintendent Mathis Calvin III summed up Oswego’s reopening plan in an Aug. 12 statement as follows:
“As many of you are aware,” Calvin began, “school districts across New York state were patiently awaiting guidance for the 2021-22 school reopening from Governor Cuomo and/or the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), since the end of the last school year. While doing so, like many school districts across the state, our district has been busy developing preliminary plans that include various options that could be considered for implementation. These plans are based upon possible reopening scenarios that the state and/or the NYSDOH might have required in the fall.
“Late last week, all districts were informed that the Governor and the NYSDOH would not be providing reopening guidance for school districts and decisions on school reopening’s would be left to local County Health Departments and school districts. This news was surprising, given the amount of time districts have been awaiting this guidance. Subsequently, school districts in our county were notified by our County Health Department, they too were not going to be providing reopening guidance to school districts. Instead, we were told to consult with our individual school district’s medical director on reopening strategies.
“In planning for re-opening we considered recommendations from our district’s medical director, updated guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, and the fact that Oswego County was recently (as of 8/9/2021) identified as a county with ‘substantial’ COVID-19 spread (substantial transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%, and ‘high’ transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10% or higher). Based upon all of this information, below is a list of details from the district’s reopening plan that we are planning to implement this fall:
“Fall 2021 Plans (effective Aug. 23, 2021) –
1. All K-12 students will attend school for ‘in-person’ instruction five days a week - Given the significant learning and social – emotional needs of our students, the district believes that it is imperative to return all of its students to school five days per week for ‘in person’ learning right away. Accordingly, the district will be returning to ‘in-person’ learning for all students in the fall, unless there is a documented medical reason (must be identified in a doctor’s note) that parents and/or guardians feel should be considered and would prevent their child from attending school ‘in-person.’
All parents who have a child with a documented medical reason should contact their school principal to inform them and complete the attached medical excuse survey link to share this information with us. We are asking that parents complete this survey by no later than August 22, 2021, if at all possible. Once this information is received, a health review will be completed to determine the appropriate supports and/or educational program that will be offered to accommodate the students’ learning needs.
The Medical Excuse Survey can be found online at:
2. School Schedules – All schools will return to their normal operating schedule this school year. Accordingly, all secondary schools (OMS and OHS) will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. All elementary schools will begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
3. Special Education and Student Support Services - All Special Education, English Language Learner, Academic Intervention Services and 504 plan service accommodations will be provided in accordance with IEPs, 504 and student support plans.
4. Preschool Committee on Special Education and Committee on Special Education Meetings - In support of our students, the district will continue to have CPSE and CSE meetings for its students. In an effort to ensure the health and safety of all meeting participants, the district will continue to hold these meetings virtually throughout the school year.
5. Technology Supports - In support of our students and in an effort to continue to leverage student outcomes, the district will provide 1:1 technology for all of its students, K-12. This includes a computer and a WiFi mobile hot spot for all students who need them. Technology will be distributed to students at the beginning of the school year.
6. Athletics - The New York State Public High School Athletics Association has determined that all interscholastic sports team will be practicing and having contests throughout the school year. It should be noted, athletic related health risks will be evaluated throughout the year, and all athletic program offerings are subject to change based upon the COVID -19 related health risks and/or concerns.
7. Extra-Curricular Activities - The district will be offering all extra-curricular clubs and intramural programs throughout the school year. School administrators will be reaching out to parents to inform them of these offerings. It should be noted, all clubs and intramural program offerings are subject to change and/or review – based upon health conditions due to COVID-19.
8. Transportation - The district will provide safe transportation for all students who will be attending ‘in-person’ instruction. Students and staff will not be required to socially distance on buses but will be required to wear a mask while on them. Every effort will be made to sit relatives and/or members of the same household together while on buses. The district’s transportation department will be contacting parents and/or guardians to clarify transportation arrangements in the near future.
Please complete the OCSD transportation survey for parents and/or guardians. This survey is designed to provide the district with information on whether parents and/or guardians intend to utilize district transportation to transport their child to and from school this school year. All parents are asked to complete this survey by no later than August 22, 2021.
The OCSD transportation survey can be found online at:
9. Masking - In keeping with the recommendations of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics and per recent guidance from our district medical director, we will be requiring all students, staff and visitors to masks while indoors. When outdoors, students, staff and visitors will not be required to mask. Masking breaks will be provided for students throughout the school day, as needed.
Should a student have a medical need which prevents them from wearing a mask, parents and/or guardians should share this information with their school principal and health office. After doing so, our medical director will review this information and contact parents directly to discuss additional options and/or alternatives that will secure the health and safety of the students and others.
10. Social Distancing – The district will continue to maintain the current CDC and NYSDOH recommendations for social distancing. This involves three feet of social distancing in classrooms where possible, six feet of social distancing in cafeterias, music spaces (for vocal and instrumental) and during all physical education classes.
11. Cleaning and Sanitization - The district will continue to follow all of the most recent CDC and NYSDOH cleaning – sanitation protocols. Our goal is to ensure and maintain clean and well-sanitized learning environments throughout the year.
12. Food and Nutrition Services - The district will continue to provide free breakfast and lunches for all students, per NYS COVID-19 pandemic requirements. Students will be socially distanced by six feet during all meals; and lastly
13. Screening, Monitoring and Temperature Taking – All students, staff and visitors will be required to have temperature checks taken prior to entering our busses, offices or school buildings. Students and staff will be required to complete a weekly screening form (on Mondays). This form must be completed prior to arrival to school, via Parent Square.
“As you can all ascertain from the information listed above,” Calvin continued, “our goal for the 2021-2022 school year is to return as many of our students back to school full-time for ‘in-person’ learning while also providing all extracurricular opportunities students had available prior to COVID-19.
“I am hopeful the COVID-19 and the delta variant are short-lived and more COVID–19 restrictions will be lifted as we move throughout the school year. However, please understand things may change in the future based upon guidance we receive and/or community spread. Should changes to our plan become necessary, we will share them with all of you as soon as we can.
“With that said, please know that each week leading up to our district reopening, district administrators and I will be reaching out to our learning community to share more information (i.e. any guidance that we receive from the State or the County, the district’s revised reopening plan for the 2021 -22 school year, school specific information, etc.). Our goal is to make sure that our community has timely information that will ensure a smooth transition back to school in the fall.
Thank you again for all of your patience and for your consideration of this information.”
Central Square School District Superintendent Tom Colabufo also released a statement for his district’s plans Aug. 12 as follows:
“New York state school districts were informed last week that individual school districts were authorized to implement their own reopening plans, and our District chose to utilize a data-based system and let the actual transmission rates in our area dictate our response as we navigate through the 2021-2022 school year. Please see the CSSD Masking Guidelines online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BaIeQap0x2Gn9zJGc9Rgi7ZaDASmfZQt/view.
“We recognize and agree with healthcare professionals that the COVID-19 pandemic was, and will continue to be, a very fluid situation, and as a district, we will monitor the current transmission rates (Low, Moderate, Substantial, High) based on a seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people per county and utilize the masking guidance (seen in the link above) accordingly. Since Brewerton Elementary is located in Onondaga County, the Brewerton students and staff members will follow the transmission rate category that Onondaga County is experiencing at that time. The remaining five schools in our District are located in Oswego County and will follow the transmission rate category that Oswego County is experiencing at that time.
“We are excited to announce that our PreK-12th grade students will be returning to school for five days of in-person learning each week,” Colabufo continued. “In order to offer in-person learning five days a week, we must return to full capacity on our school buses so we must require masking of all students and staff on school buses, unless a student cannot medically tolerate it, and we will make accommodations. All students will have their temperature taken while boarding the school bus or as they enter school if they are dropped off by an adult. Only students with a signed physician statement indicating that they cannot return to in-person learning due to a documented, pre-existing medical condition or have an immediate family member living in their household that has a documented, pre-existing medical condition will qualify for remote instruction. Please contact Erin Phillips at our District Office at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the remote option for students (or immediate family members in the same household) with a pre-existing medical condition and documentation from their physician requiring a remote option. Unfortunately, we must have a deadline of Friday, Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. because BOCES had to set a deadline to see how many fully-remote teachers and support staff they would have to employ to meet the needs of all Oswego County school districts.
The local health departments have informed us that we must still adhere to the NYSDOH Toolkit, (online at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/02/nysdoh_prekgr12_toolkit_update-020121.pdf) which is the in-person decision-making flowchart schools must use. Currently, there are no travel restrictions, so please disregard that from the Toolkit, and when we receive an updated Toolkit from the Health Department, we will provide you with that. Here are the newly-revised quarantine guidelines (from Aug. 9, 2021) for all Oswego County Schools, (online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LTKNPl8_SuCfhPwq0_m7x9EVLOJIhH57/view) and (from Feb. 6, 2021) for all Onondaga County Schools (online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1M-Sek58NM9HzyLsfK0MMvaLE6LjSSNwo/view).
In the coming weeks, we will provide parents/guardians with more information regarding the start of the school year to make this as smooth of a transition for our students as possible. The intent of this letter was to illustrate how we will be consistently monitoring the data to make our decisions, as seen in the ‘CSSD Masking Guidelines’ link in the opening paragraph. We will continue to be transparent in how we disseminate updates to parents/guardians in a timely manner, as well as our established practice of reporting new COVID-19 cases on a daily basis in all of our schools to parents/guardians.”
In a separate email, Colabufo offered an example of the plan’s masking requirements according to the two counties’ present COVID ranking:
“Here are our masking guidelines,” he wrote, “as we are using the actual CDC metrics. If school started tomorrow, since both Onondaga County (Brewerton Elementary) and Oswego County are in the Red ‘High Transmission’ Zone, all students and staff would be required to wear a mask in school, regardless of their vaccination status. All students and staff are required to wear a mask on the bus no matter what transmission zone we are in throughout the year.”