Watertown school district offers reopening updates

Watertown High School. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Upon Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Friday announcement that schools across the state have the OK to reopen in the fall, districts are detailing individual reopening plans, which include three specific elements vital to the safe reopening of each district.

The three aspects include information about remote learning, testing of students and staff and contact tracing if someone in the school tests positive for the novel coronavirus.

On Friday afternoon, the Watertown City School District outlined its reopening plan in a six-page document posted on its website.

The detailed reopening plan allows for the choice between two instructional models: Full-time remote learning or in-person instruction.

For the full-time remote instruction model, all grade levels will have five days of online learning per week. Elementary school students will receive roughly two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours of synchronous — occurring at the same time — instruction per day. Other activities will be offered for about one to two hours per day, depending on grade level. Middle school and high school students, if the remote instruction model is chosen, will follow weekly assignments and meeting schedules posted online and connect with designated remote teaching staff at on a regular basis.

The in-person instruction model calls for all grade levels to receive at least two full days of instruction in person at school per week. One group will attend on Mondays and Thursdays, while the other group will attend on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Grades K-6 will function as a “one-room schoolhouse” with specials “visiting” the classrooms at scheduled times. If teachers of K-6 students chose to partner with one another, teachers would move, not the students. Teachers of grades 7-12 will have students on a regular schedule.

All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays with the focus on social-emotional learning and establishing goals and objectives for the following week.

“While our teaching staff is flexible and has devoted hours to learning new methodologies for engaging students in virtual instruction, this is a heavy lift and does require opportunities for planning and collaboration among staff members,” the district’s reopening plan reads. “To accommodate this, teachers will be working together for a portion of each Wednesday. They will also receive continuous professional development on innovative and supportive virtual instructional techniques.”

Wednesdays will also be utilized as a time for teachers and other staff to check in with their students and parents during virtual visits.

The curriculum section of the reopening plan states that all necessary courses to fulfill the state’s learning standards and graduation requirements are guaranteed to students. It’s not certain whether students will be able to participate in all courses they originally selected, including electives, honors sections and special programs.

To the extent possible, remote-only students will be served by certified WCSD teachers in a cohort model with other students from their school and/or grade level.

The district will implement daily health screening practices for students, staff and visitors. Staff will be required to self-report daily to verify they’re asymptomatic when coming to school. Parents who are able to screen their students at home will do so and report the results via a secure electronic means (Parent Square). The district, in cooperation with the North Country Family Health Center, will screen students and staff on-site if it can’t be conducted at home. If there are any “yes” responses in the self-screening reports, students and staff members are instructed to stay home until a “no” response can be provided.

During the school day, if students or staff member exhibit symptoms, if potentially related to COVID-19, all students will be screened by the nurse on staff in the building. If the nurse’s assessment confirms a temperature or symptoms, the district will isolate the student or staff member in an exam room. All buildings will exercise caution and call the parent of the child to pick them up them from the school, or have the staff member depart for the day.

Both students and staff should remain at home until their symptoms subside, documentation from a healthcare provider following an evaluation is provided and a negative COVID-19 test result is returned. If a positive test result is returned, returning to school can be allowed only after the county public health department releases the person from isolation.

If the county public health department places a student under mandatory or recommended quarantine, the district respectfully requests that parents keep the child out of school until the quarantine period ends.

In the event of a positive case, all stakeholders will be notified immediately. Information regarding the duration of existing closures, nature of precipitating events and plans for re-entry will be shared immediately as well.

If a student exhibits signs of MIS-C — multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children — or any other concerning symptom possibly related to COVID-19, emergency personnel will be contacted immediately and the county public health department will be notified. In the event a person is diagnosed with COVID-19 and it’s determined that the person has been in one or more of the school buildings, the building or sections of a building may need to be closed for about one to two days for cleaning and disinfection.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 or have been quarantined by the county public health department will be notified by the department or district as to when they can return to school.

In order to communicate the reopening plans, the governor asked that district schedule, by Aug. 21, at least three public sessions for parents and community members and at least one discussion session to review the plan with district teachers and staff.

The district will hold a school reopening plan community meeting at noon Aug. 13, including a question and answer session.

The district’s next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 18.

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