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March 18, 2020
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JP O'Hare

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State Education Department Issues Updated Guidance to Schools Regarding Novel Coronavirus During Statewide School Closure

Guidance Outlines Measures to Ensure Continuity of Learning and Child Nutrition Services

Updated Information Posted on NYSED Coronavirus Webpage

The New York State Education Department recently issued updated guidance in accordance with Executive Order 202.4, which requires that school districts, charter schools and non-public schools to close no later than today, March 18, 2020, for a period of two weeks, ending March 31, 2020 due to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak. The guidance will assist school districts as they establish a COVID-19 plan for alternative instructional options, distribution and availability of meals, and child care, with an emphasis on serving children of parents in the health care profession or first responders who are critical to the response effort.

“It’s imperative that while New York’s schools are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all children have access to essential services like food programs and learning opportunities,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “The guidance released today by the Department will assist districts as they create plans to provide the important services and supports that will keep students engaged in learning and receiving healthy meals while schools are closed.”

“Protecting the health and safety of New York’s students and all those that work in our schools is the top priority right now,” said Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe. “All districts should be implementing plans for regular communications with staff, students, families, and their communities during this time of closure. Because so many students across the state rely on their school for vital services, we must ensure the planning includes measures to provide meals and educational supports for students while schools are closed.”

Summary of the Guidance

Feeding Children in Need During School Closure

As schools close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that school districts plan with their community partners to provide meals to students who rely on the two meals a day provided in school when school is open. School districts must provide meals to low-income children during school closures related to COVID-19.  SFAs may provide up to two meals per day per child through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). All School Districts are required to submit a plan on meal provision to children in their community to the Department, pursuant to the Executive Order.

SFAs are encouraged to develop a system to serve meals in a manner that best fits their situation and community. SFAs should provide “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch at one distribution, if possible, at staggered times, to maintain social distancing. Consideration should also be given to areas where distance may prohibit easy access to distribution sites.

School districts must work with their communities or county feeding organizations (food banks, food pantries, Red Cross, etc.) to identify resources to address the needs of all children in their community and particularly, low-income children. Work with your community partners for distribution of food to students by instituting meal pick-up and delivery options. Meals should be coordinated to have them available to both children and adults at one location. Efforts should also be made minimize the distance families are forced travel to access these options. Information regarding your regional food bank or  emergency relief organization can be found at Regional Food Bank and Emergency Relief Organization.

Continuity of Learning

Continuity of learning is the continuation of education in the event of a prolonged school closure or student absence. It is a critical component of school emergency management, as it promotes the continuation of teaching and learning. However, many considerations play a role in the development of continuity of learning programs, such as access and availability, type and quality of materials, and the length of time that the various types of learning will require. 

The guidance includes a range of tools for facilitating learning, including those with varying levels of technological sophistication. It is important for districts to provide a variety of methods to allow for the possibility of restricted access to technology and limited communication by students.

The New York State Education Department is compiling a digitized catalogue of resources that will assist schools in providing content related learning activities for their students. This resource will be available in the coming days on the Curriculum and Instruction website

Childcare for First Responders and Healthcare Workers

Pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order, school districts are required to establish and submit plans on how they will provide child care to the children of essential healthcare and first responders who are critical to the community response to the COVID-19 pandemic. School district plans must be submitted to the Department by 5 pm on March 19.

  • Districts should build upon the myriad of projects and partnerships with existing community-based organizations that are already licensed through the OCFS when developing their child care plans.
  • Where possible, school districts should consider working collaboratively with other districts and with their county partners to provide child care access.
  • Districts may also wish to contact their Child Care Resource and Referral agencies for information regarding available child care spots in existing programs. 

Student and Staff Social Emotional and Mental Health Needs during School Closure

Students and teachers transitioning to online learning and practicing social distancing are experiencing a major, and likely disconcerting, change in daily activities and interactions, and with that, are under a great deal of stress. During this period in which our ability to check in on one another in person is limited, it is even more critical that we find ways to reach out and check in with each other virtually, supporting everyone’s social emotional learning (SEL) and mental health.

Districts should consider offering online SEL or mental health education lessons or incorporate opportunities to practice SEL competencies within academic subject areas. Using community circles in virtual staff meetings and online classes could offer all adults and students an opportunity to be heard, and to voice their experience and concerns. These circles might also offer insights as to adults or students who might benefit from an additional check-in. Consider offering adults, students, and their families tools for coping with the stresses of isolation and anxiety in this difficult time.

Student Medication and Equipment Return

School personnel are reminded to contact parents/guardians regarding medications and health equipment that remain in possession of the school after closure. School personnel should contact the parent/guardian to make arrangements for the parent/guardian to pick up the medications and/or equipment if needed for use at home during school closure. If the parent/guardian cannot get to the school, schools will need to make alternate arrangements for getting the necessary medicine and/or equipment to the parent/guardian. 

Updated 180-Day Requirements

Pursuant to Executive Order 202.4 issued on March 16, 2020, any closure during the period of March 18, 2020 through March 31, 2020 of a public school district (including Special Act School Districts) or charter school will satisfy the requirements for a waiver of the usually required reduction in monies payable to public school districts and charter schools under Education Law section 3604. Such waiver shall not be granted if such closure extends beyond March 31, 2020, unless otherwise directed by the Governor.

The requirement under Commissioner’s Regulations 200.7(b)(5) and 200.20(a)(6) to operate for not less than 180 days during the 10 month school year shall not apply to any closure during the period of March 18, 2020 through March 31, 2020 of a nonpublic school with an approved special education program subject to articles 81 and/or 89 of the education law, state supported school pursuant to article 85 of the education law, or approved preschool Special Class and Special Class in an Integrated Setting program pursuant to section 4410 of the education law. 

Submitting School District COVID-19 Plans

To facilitate the timely collection and review of district COVID-19 Plans consistent with the Executive Order, NYSED has created online templates for each of the three sections that must be completed by each district. Individual plan sections to be completed include:

  • COVID-19 – School District Child Care Plan
  • COVID-19 – School District Child Nutrition Plan
  • COVID-19 – School District Continuity of Education Plan

Plans are to be submitted to the State Education Department no later than 5 pm on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The plan may be amended or modified by the State Education Department, in consultation with the Department of Health and Office of Children and Family Services at any time

Administration of State Assessments

While the USDOE’s March 12, 2020 Fact Sheet on Assessments and Accountability guidance requires states to administer the assessments, NYSED will apply for waivers for schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances associated with COVID-19 to the greatest extent permitted by federal law. Additionally, NYSED will ensure that no school or district is unfairly penalized for closures due to COVID-19.

The Department suspended shipments of Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) Tests that were originally scheduled to arrive in schools this week. The opening of the computer-based testing window for ELA, scheduled for March 23, 2020 has been suspended as well. 

NYSED will continue to work on its plans for the State assessments and will communicate with schools and districts as more information becomes available.

All resources for schools related to COVID-19 can be found NYSED’s dedicated website.