Return to School Roadmap - FAQ's 9/8/2020

Return to School Roadmap 2020-21

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What will the school year look like as students prepare to resume instruction, following the COVID 19 pandemic.

September 8, 2020

RETURN TO SCHOOL ROADMAP

What are the current state guidelines for returning to school?
On June 17, Governor Whitmer announced that schools may resume in-person learning in Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start plan, with strict safety measures in place.

On June 30, the state released the MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap with detailed requirements and recommendations for schools. A member of our health department and First Student (our transportation partner) were part of the governor’s decision-making team. Administrators, parents, teachers, and students from across the state helped to design the components required to open schools safely.

What’s the Niles Community Schools (NCS) vision for returning to school in the fall?
Families residing in the NCS school district boundaries can choose between two options: continue a form of in-person instruction (if permitted by public health conditions) or enroll in the Niles Virtual Viking Campus platform. A hybrid and remote models were considered but not provided as an option for Phase 4 or 5 due to levels of community risk, academic and mental support, and resource limitations.

OPTION 1: IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION - NCS envisions resuming in-person instruction if our region remains in Phase 4 or above of the MI Safe Start Plan. The district will continue to follow public health data to mitigate public health threats and make informed decisions for a safe return to school. Classroom configurations, schedules, transportation, food services, maintenance and custodial operations are among the many considerations that add to the complexity of the situation.

Note: A shift to remote learning may be required if there is a resurgence of COVID-19. The remote learning platform would be activated quickly if we are required to pause in-person instruction due to an outbreak in the county or school district or large numbers of staff or students are sick, exposed, or quarantined. If implemented, staff are better prepared to provide more rigorous requirements and more robust academic instruction than the measures taken during the crisis in March 2020.

OPTION 2: NILES VIRTUAL VIKINGS CAMPUS - Niles online learning will be offered as a full-time option for K-12 families. The Niles Virtual Viking Campus is a joint learning partnership that includes the child, the family, and our NCS teachers and staff. By choosing to enroll in the Virtual option, families will make a semester (grades K-12), or yearlong commitment to this at-home learning experience, which relies on parent assistance. The curriculum will be monitored by highly qualified and certified NCS educators. Students can expect the same support and academic standards that our traditional, in-person schools provide.

Note: Students in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus would experience no real change with increased public health risks. They would continue their chosen online learning environment uninterrupted. Our goal is to maintain continuity of learning across all platforms.

Factors to consider when selecting a learning option include your child’s or your family’s current health and/or risk factors related to COVID-19; your child’s learning style; your child’s ability to be self-paced; and dynamics within your household.

MI SAFE START PLAN

GENERAL QUESTIONS

What’s the difference between in-person, the virtual, online and remote instruction?
To begin the school year, all families are asked to select one of two options for each student: 1) in-person instruction, or 2) online instruction.

In-person instruction involves traditional school and schedule with the district following guidelines and requirements of local and state health officials to reopen schools safely.

Given the unpredictable public health environment, in-person instruction could shift to remote instruction.  A resurgence of COVID-19 may require schools to pause all in-person instruction and temporarily shift to students learning at home (remotely). If this happens, all in-person students will move swiftly and efficiently to a remote learning platform with their same teachers who will continue to teach them. This is all part of the in-person option that parents can choose.

Note: Remote learning in the 2020-21 school year will have far more rigorous requirements and more robust academic instruction than the quickly employed measures put in place during the crisis in March 2020. Pacing, grading, daily attendance and curriculum progress would remain consistent with in-person learning expectations.

For NCS offerings of instruction and programming, there is no distinction between the two terms – online and virtual. Virtual instruction and online instruction occur when a student does not attend a school building but receives instruction through an online platform. While the content is online, local teachers and mentors are assigned to assist students and ensure they are successful. This may include virtual meetings held online. NCS’s online or virtual instruction is through our Virtual Vikings Campus.

Were hybrid, alternate day, or half-day schedules considered?
Hybrid, alternate day and half-day schedules were each considered and plans were in the beginning stages, however, these schedules were not recommended by Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) as an option for Phase 4 or 5 due to levels of community risk, academic and mental support, and resource limitations. While these schedules would appear to lower the risk in schools, health officials warn of an increase in the risk of exposure and spread due to the introduction of additional external contacts with formal and informal child care being needed for more students than would be typical given a normal school day and/or week schedule. More contacts in a student’s life increases the likelihood of spread in the community and, in turn, more risk of exposure in the classroom.

Do I have to re-enroll my student?
If you are already enrolled in NCS and you choose in-person instruction for your child, no action is required.  In-person instruction is the automatic default for all students.

If you are choosing the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus, you must contact Angie Pingel at 269-683-0736 ext. 10017.

Do I have to commit to the full year when choosing between in-person or online instruction?
When choosing between in-person instruction or the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus, students are asked to commit to a semester (grades K-12), or a yearlong experience.  After that time commitment expires, families can reconsider the learning options.

What if I want to switch to/from in-person or online instruction?
NCS has always had a two-week window to allow for critical schedule changes. Within the first two weeks of a course, we will do our best to accommodate changes if the learning environment is not suitable for your student. With every schedule change, we have to consider student outcomes, so we encourage families to have thoughtful discussions when making their selections. After each semester families may reevaluate their selections and change learning environments for the next semester.

Will school start on August 31 as originally planned?
At this time, we expect to begin the school year on August 31 as planned. Although we do not anticipate changes to the previously published school calendar, it is possible that modifications may be needed to prepare for new requirements or state-mandated protocols. Guidance from the state regarding attendance, standardized testing, and pupil accounting may impact the calendar. We will continue to keep the community updated.  The calendar for the 2020-21 school year is located on the NCS web page at https://www.nilesschools.org.

Some important dates for the 2020-21 school year are:
·       No School for the Labor Day recess, September 4, 2020 and September 7, 2020
·       Winter Break, December 21, 2020 – January 1, 2021
·       Spring Break, April 5 – 9, 2021
·       End of School Year, June 15, 2021

Will attendance be taken for in-person and online learning?
Attendance will be recorded daily for in-person instruction, remote learning, and the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus. Sick students and staff members should stay home and away from others. Attendance incentives will not be observed in the 2020-21 school year.

What if my student fell behind during the end of the 2019-20 school year?
Our teacher’s care deeply about their students and we know that last year was unusual.  Our educators will account for special circumstances.  Interventions, resources and support systems are available for students to overcome academic or social-emotional challenges.

Will my child’s middle-school or high-school course selections change?
Scheduling will be based on the course selections each student indicated last year. There is a possibility that modifications may be required. School counselors and administrators will work with each student to find suitable alternatives as needed as well as work with students who did not make course selections last year.

Will college level courses (i.e., dual enrollment, AP, early college academy, 5th Year Early Middle College, etc.) continue to be offered?
Yes. Please contact a school counselor for these options. Niles High School is working with local community colleges to ensure course content and delivery of instruction will meet the needs of our students who want to take these courses.

Will teachers receive additional training for online and technology-enhanced learning?
Yes. We take great pride in providing NCS teachers with quality professional development opportunities for continued education and training. We surveyed parents, teachers and students to determine what worked and what needed to be improved relative to remote learning so we have a much better transition and product this fall. Teachers have volunteered their time and participated in district provided professional development to build their capacity in integrating technology in the classroom and to deliver remote learning if the need arises.

IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION

What protocols will NCS follow for in-person instruction?
The MI Safe Schools: Return to School Roadmap was issued on June 30, 2020, by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with input from the COVID-19 Task Force on Education and the Return to School Advisory Council. It states, “All preK-12 schools will be required to follow the safety protocols outlined in this Roadmap which are noted as ‘required.’ Many schools may also choose to implement some or all of the ‘strongly recommended’ or ‘recommended’ practices, thus going beyond what is required.”

While 100% of the required components will be implemented at each school, we share many instructional programs (i.e., career tech, special education, math and science center, 5th year early middle college, etc.) with other districts in the county, and therefore, it was determined that all school districts in Berrien County would agree on which recommended practices would be implemented that were not required.

NCS will follow all Roadmap requirements. Implementation of recommendations will be based on the realities of safety, cost, staffing, physical space and logistics. The full Roadmap can be viewed at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/whitmer/MI_Safe_Schools_Roadmap_FINAL_695392_7.pdf.

What is the NCS vision for in-person instruction?
It is our vision to return students to classroom routines that are as close to normal as possible, with added safety protocols. As families make an informed decision about what’s best for their student, they may want to consider how in-person learning will look.

State requirements. NCS will follow the requirements in the MI Safe Schools Roadmap.  As we mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread, our efforts will focus on these key areas: 1) personal protective equipment (i.e, masks), 2) social distancing and 3) cohorting (limiting the number of students interacting with one another during the day). Ideally, all three areas are addressed completely, however, these decisions are locally based on the realities of safety, cost, staffing, physical space and logistics.

·       Personal protective equipment. In Phase 4, facial coverings are required for: all staff; preK-12 students in hallways and common areas; students in grades 6-12 in classrooms; K-5 students in classrooms are not required but they will be encouraged, if tolerated; and all people on buses.

In Phase 5, facial coverings are recommended but not required for all staff and preK-12 students in hallways and common areas.

In all Phases, exceptions are made for anyone who cannot medically tolerate a facial covering, is incapacitated, or is unable to remove the covering without assistance. Students may use their own homemade facial coverings (which must be washed daily) or disposable masks, which must be disposed of at the end of each day. NCS will supply disposable masks for those who do not have one.

·       Hygiene. In Phase 4, schools are required to: provide supplies including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, tissues and informational signs; teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and/or the use of hand sanitizer; and use hand sanitizer before entering buses.

In Phase 5, it is strongly recommended that students wash hands or use hand sanitizer after changing classrooms and before entering buses. We will provide flexibility in scheduling to allow for hand washing. Education and training will be important to ensuring healthy hygiene habits for our students in both Phase 4 and Phase 5.

·       Spacing, movement and cohorting. Students, teachers, desks, and tables will be  spaced as far apart as possible, and desks and tables will face the same direction as much as possible. Modifications may be made to areas with shared table space and labs.

Considering state funding and the logistics associated with the size of our district, we expect most classrooms set-ups to look similar to a regular school year. Depending on the number of families who opt for the Niles Virtual Viking Campus, there may, or may not, be a reduced number of students in our school buildings. Signage, floor markings and seating will encourage distancing. Guests and visitors will be limited in all buildings.

What is the expected daily schedule for in-person instruction?
We expect to follow a full-day, Monday-Friday schedule. The format of daily student schedules was thoroughly evaluated by building level school improvement teams.

How many students will be in each class?
The number of students will remain roughly the same as in the past school years. We are continually evaluating classroom sizes, taking into consideration safety, physical space limitations, state funding, and the logistics associated with the size of our district. Depending on the number of families who opt for the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus, there may, or may not, be a reduced number of students in classes.

What precautions will be taken for bus transportation?
First Student, our transportation provider, had a representative on Governor Whitmer’s taskforce and is keenly aware of the health and safety requirements in the Roadmap. With hundreds of daily bus runs and an inconsistent number of riders each day and season, we will balance the number of students per bus, given our inventory of vehicles and drivers. When appropriate, windows will be open and students will have assigned seats and a back to front loading procedure will be used to emphasize cohorting. In Phase 4, facial coverings are required for all people on buses and hand sanitizer will be affixed to the entrance of the bus and students will be required to clean their hands before entering.

How will schools educate students about proper hygiene?
Handwashing signs will be strategically placed above faucets in all school buildings and school facilities. Students, staff and families will receive instruction about proper handwashing, physical distancing, virus spread and risk mitigation protocols. Throughout the day, students will have frequently scheduled opportunities to wash their hands.

Are gatherings and assemblies permitted?
State requirements will limit large-scale interactions and groupings for cafeterias, assemblies and extracurricular activities. In Phase 4, indoor assemblies may not bring together more than 50 people or students from more than one classroom. Outdoor stadium events are limited to 100 people with physical distancing.

In Phase 5, it is recommended that indoor events are limited to 50 people and outdoor stadium events are limited to 250 people, with physical distancing. These standards may fluctuate with changing public health conditions.

Will students have recess?
Recess will be conducted outside whenever possible with appropriate distancing and cohort of students will remain together to limit interactions. The playground area will be divided into clearly marked zones and students will rotate through these zones throughout the week. Equipment will be cleaned using approved cleaning supplies.

Will students take field trips?
Field trips will be canceled until further notice.

How will gym, band, choir and other specials be treated?
We believe in a well-rounded education at NCS and want to keep specials as part of the curriculum as safely as possible.  As with other classes, social distancing, masks, and keeping cohorts separate will be our focus. For classes like choir, band, and gym, additional space, creative grouping, and proactive scheduling will be required. If we do not believe we can safely employ these additional safeguards, these specials may be temporarily suspended.

What if we return to Phase 1-3 and are required to close schools?
A resurgence of COVID-19 may require schools to pause in-person instruction and temporarily shift to remote learning. NCS utilized federal money and local foundation money to purchase additional Chromebooks for students to use at home. With a near 1:1 technology model, where every student has access to a device, a remote learning shift would happen swiftly and efficiently to maintain the continuity of learning.

Remote learning in the 2020-21 school year would have far more rigorous requirements and more robust academic instruction than the quickly implemented measures put in place during the crisis in March 2020. Pacing, grading, daily attendance and curriculum progress would remain as consistent as possible with in-person learning expectations. We expect a smooth transition between in-person and remote learning.

How will remote learning look different if schools close this fall?
We surveyed teachers, parents, and students regarding the strengths and weaknesses of remote learning as employed last spring and we have made many changes and added numerous supports for teachers, parents, and students to make remote learning more robust. Details of our improved continuity of learning plan can be viewed here Learning Plan.

Will students be screened by taking their temperature before entering school?
At this time, the MI Safe Schools Roadmap does not require temperature checks in schools. The screening requirement states, “Schools must cooperate with the local public health department regarding implementing protocols for screening students and staff.” Our local health department does not recommend this practice due to the large number of false positives, false negatives, asymptomatic cases, and potential for congregating and further disruption to the learning environment.

Instead, families are encouraged to make it their practice at home to check their child(ren) for COVID-19 symptoms. We surveyed our parents to make sure they were aware of the assistance we are asking and will provide information and support if needed. We trust the partnership we have with parents as we seek the cooperation of our community to work together for healthy schools.

Specifically, parents and guardians are encouraged to check their child(ren)’s temperature at home every morning using oral, tympanic or temporal scanners; students with a temperature of 100.4 or greater must stay home and consider coronavirus testing. In addition, families are encouraged to monitor their children for symptoms of COVID-19. The presence of any symptoms such as, sore throat, new uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain or new onset of severe headache, should prompt the family to keep the student home from school and to follow up with a primary care provider. Monitoring symptoms link.

What if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified in a student or staff member?
NCS will follow the MI Safe Schools Roadmap requirement that states, "All schools, public and private, must cooperate with the local public health department if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified." BCHD has provided all districts with appropriate protocols that we will follow. Here is the link: http://berriencounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/12182/COVID-in-Schools-Handouts-for-Schools-and-Parents-73120?bidId=

The NCS Preparedness and Response Plan for staff aligns with state guidelines and can be located at:https://www.nilesschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_19604150/File/Niles COVID19 Preparedness and Response Plan 2020-21 (1).pdf

What if a child becomes sick in school?
We worked with our administrators and our facility operations manager to designate a safe quarantine area in each building for students who become ill at school. Parents or guardians will be called to take a sick child home. 

Since symptoms of COVID 19 mirror symptoms of other illnesses, will requirements for students to come back to school differ this year?
Requirements for students to return to school can be found in the parent student handbooks under the heading "Control of Non Casual-Contact Communicable diseases" Berrien County Health Department has provided all districts with appropriate protocols that we will follow for COVID 19 cases.  Here is the link Berrien County Return to Learn: Handouts for Schools & Families.

For students who are quarantined or isolated and cannot attend school for long periods of time, will they be able to make-up all of their classwork?
Yes. Student Handbooks lay out the requirements for make-up work and students will continue to be allowed to make-up missed work under those parameters.  Knowing that additional student absences may occur, teachers will be using Google Classroom during in-person instruction so students at home will still be able to progress alongside their classmates.

What if a child starts showing symptoms as school?
All schools have protocols in place to address a child or staff member who starts to show symptoms of COVID 19 while in school.  For students, the first step will be to isolate the student in a designated area away from other students and staff.  Parents will be immediately called to pick up their child as the student will not be allowed on bus transport home to prevent exposure to other students. 

What if my child is the only one wearing or not wearing a mask, due to medical or personal concerns?
Education about PPE, hygiene and health will be a key component in our safe return to school. The assistance of NCS families and the greater community will be important as we continue to model positive behavior and teach our foundational behavior expectations of Respect, Responsibility and Resilience.

What if a student tries, but is unable to tolerate a mask?
We encourage parents to have children start wearing their masks at home and out in public to try and get used to wearing one.  If a student has a medical condition and cannot tolerate a mask, we ask that parents inform their child's teacher and/or building administrator.  If a student starts school in-person and realizes they are unable to tolerate a mask, there may be an exemption to enroll a student as a Virtual Viking if a spot opens up.

Can my child wear a face shield instead of a mask?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), face shields are not an alternative to masks or cloth face coverings. Respiratory droplets and aerosol can still enter around the sides and bottom of the face shield, so they are less protection than a mask. For those wearing a mask, face shields offer an excellent alternative to goggles for eye protection.

Masks and face coverings should: cover the nose and mouth, below the chin; fit snuggly but comfortably, against the sides of the face; be secured with ties or straps; and allow for breathing without restriction.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in a school facility, who quarantines?
The district continues to work with the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) who provides guidance on when, and if, quarantine is necessary. It is possible that individual classes, cohorts, or school buildings could be quarantined or closed. Exposed students and staff are encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 and report results of testing to the district’s  Student Support Services Director. Guidelines, procedures and protocols given to all Berrien County Schools can be found at http://berriencounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/12182/COVID-in-Schools-Handouts-for-Schools-and-Parents-73120?bidId=

NILES VIRTUAL VIKINGS CAMPUS OF SCHOOLS

How does Niles Virtual Vikings Campus online learning operate?
The goal of the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus is to mirror the instructional practices of the traditional classroom in a virtual setting. Students will be supported by a certified NCS teacher.

Why would a student choose online learning?
Students would choose online learning as an alternative way to access the academic standards that our traditional, in-person schools provide. This scheduling provides flexibility for the student and the family.

As with in-person learning, factors to consider include your child’s or your family’s current health and/or risk factors related to COVID-19; your child’s learning style; your child’s ability to be self-paced; and dynamics within your household.

Will my student have NCS teachers in the Niles Virtual Viking Campus?
The district will provide a Niles highly qualified teacher of record (TOR) to support the student with his/her learning.  The TOR will have regular communication with students/parents and continually keep them informed on progress throughout the year.  The teacher of record’s purpose is to build a relationship with students and their families. They are a resource for accountability and assistance. Once a week two-way communication will be initiated by the TOR with students/parents. Google Hangout sessions will also be available for students who wish to participate in open lab opportunities for support. Parents and students may utilize these opportunities to empower students to succeed in this virtual environment. 

Each Niles Community Schools building will provide a building contact for Virtual Vikings if other questions or concerns outside of the curriculum arise.  Building contacts are an advocate for the student and will do all they can to assist in a positive outcome. 

As a parent/guardian, how will I support my student?
At the elementary level, parents will support their student as an instructional coach. Depending on their age and level of independence, an elementary student may need assistance with logging in, navigating the online interface, or successfully completing an assignment. In general, the virtual experience will be supported by the parent/guardian in partnership with the virtual teacher.

Students may have questions and need assistance throughout their instructional day. While their virtual teacher is available through email and virtual meetings, students may need to direct some questions to their home instructional coach as well. Offline activities may also require support and coaching similar to how a parent/guardian may have typically supported home projects and assignments in the traditional school setting.

At the secondary level, parents can ensure that their child is on task and meeting the goals each week.

Who can enroll in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus?
All students in kindergarten through grade 12 registered with Niles Community Schools are eligible to enroll.

How do I enroll my student in the Niles Virtual Viking Campus?
To enroll a student in the virtual program, go to: Enrollment Information - All Grades.

When is the deadline to register?
The deadline to register your NCS student in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus is Wednesday, August 19, 2020. Elementary students will be enrolled based upon grade level for the 2020-21 school year. Secondary students will be registered in the courses they requested by their high school counselor.

What is the reason for the August 19 registration date?
In order to staff all classes appropriately to best serve students, we are asking families considering the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus to register online by August 19. This will enable the NCS team to predict staffing and coordinate student and teacher schedules and also allow our technology team to deploy the necessary technology.  

Students who enroll after this date may expect potential delays and/or limitations in their course selections and schedules.

What are the dates for the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus sessions?
The Niles Virtual Campus follows the regular posted NCS school calendar, found at: 2020-2021 School Calendar

Can students with an IEP enroll in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus?
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) process is a personalized process and no two IEPs or students are alike. Virtual learning would be considered a change in placement and discussions regarding changes in each child’s IEP would take place as part of the IEP team process. Please remember that decisions regarding whether the NCS virtual learning option is appropriate or what, if any, accommodations and supports would be necessary for your child would be determined in the IEP process after parents submit an application for the virtual learning option.

What if I decide that the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus is not for my child after he/she is enrolled in the program?
Students may return to the traditional classroom schedule in the first two weeks of the course.  If a grade level is full, your child will be put on a waiting list until a spot opens up.

If my child enrolls in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus, can he or she reevaluate a transition back to in-person instruction later in the year?
Students who enroll in the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus will have an opportunity to switch to in-person instruction at the end of each semester.

How do I receive credit for courses completed through the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus?
Elementary students will receive the traditional progress report, and secondary students will receive letter grades per the traditional transcript process. Courses will include formative and summative assessments and course work will align with Michigan’s state standards.

Who will be my teacher, and will I be able to meet them in person?
Niles Virtual Vikings  Campus courses will be monitored by Niles highly qualified teachers. Where possible, there may be opportunities for in-person meetings. Our pride in excellence includes a team of dedicated teachers, administrators and staff members who deeply love our students. We remain committed to building and maintaining those valuable connections that are integral for student growth and success.

Will there be any orientation sessions made available?
Yes, there will be a student and parent orientation presented via an online platform. Please watch for these scheduled dates.  On August 31st, your child's teacher of record will contact you regarding informational and orientation sessions that will be held on September 1st or September 2nd.

Can you describe a typical day’s workload?
Sample schedules and recommended time frames can be found on the Niles Virtual Vikings Campus Programming for the 2020-21 School Year At-a-Glance. Courses will have teacher open lab opportunities.

How does my child get help?
Niles Virtual Vikings Campus teachers will be available during normal school hours to address your child's questions or provide help.

Are Niles Virtual Vikings Campus students eligible to participate in school sports and other programs and activities?
Yes, students will have the opportunity to participate in athletic activities or other extracurricular programs or events offered at their home school.

What are the eligibility requirements of a virtual student to participate in sports?
The eligibility requirements for student athletes can be found in the Athletic Handbook.  Virtual Viking students who participate in sports will need to contact the Athletic Director, Jeff Upton, as the requirements may include more rigorous pacing of a student's coursework than students who do not participate in sports.

Where can I get more information about the Niles Virtual Viking Campus?
You can find more information by visiting the NCS main website page at: 2020-21 School Year Learning Options

SPECIAL NEEDS

What considerations are being made for students with IEP's?
We understand there are many uncertainties as we make informed decisions for our students next year. NCS will conduct a review of each student’s IEP in partnership with teachers and parents to reflect the evolving needs of each individual. Depending on the public health conditions and the risk phase of our school district when school begins, we will work together to find the best option for your student.

What if my child has special needs and the district moves to a remote learning environment during a COVID-19 resurgence?
If in-person instruction is not available due to a resurgence of COVID-19, we will continue to meet the needs of students in our special education programs.

To support students who would not be able to fully engage in online or remote learning activities, our staff will provide students and families in the Early On programs, Early Childhood Special Education, K-12 Special Education, and Adult Transition Programs and Services with additional instructional materials and resource kits. These packets will contain various manipulatives and instructional activities.

Staff members will connect with families to ensure parents are comfortable utilizing the resources with their children in the home setting. Service providers will also connect with students through virtual classrooms and virtual sessions. Early On and ECSE educators will utilize customized instructional videos created specifically for NCS students and families.

How will students receive their IEP and special education services online if the district moves to remote learning?
Parents of students with IEPs will be contacted directly by their teacher consultant or caseload teacher with specific information. The district will make a good faith effort to support students in making progress on IEP goals and objectives. We will develop a contingency learning plan for each student. Remote technology will be used as much as possible.

 

What about English language learners if learning is remote?
English language (EL) learners will continue to receive support and instruction focusing on the WIDA English Language Development Standards. Lessons are designed for individual and small group learning. EL teachers may use a hybrid model of instruction that incorporates the use of technology and encourages students to maintain journals with their families. Teachers will check in with students either through email, an online platform, or by phone. The check-ins focus on the whole child to ensure social, emotional, physical and academic wellness.

Paraeducators will support students by being available to translate when possible and provide clarification to assignments if the teacher is unavailable. The district’s family resource assistant will also provide support for families utilizing virtual meeting platforms and email to ensure students have the necessary tools to continue learning.

How will the 504 team meet the needs of students during this unusual time?
The 504 leadership team will meet often to evaluate student needs and discuss the updates from the state and county. The district is committed to providing equitable opportunities for all students and understands that flexibility is key in this ever-changing environment. As students’ needs change, the leadership team will review established processes and adapt accordingly. If a parent requests a meeting to discuss current accommodations, depending on the availability of in-person meetings, the 504 coordinator may hold a virtual meeting or other means to determine if some, or all, of the identified services and/or accommodations can be provided through alternate or additional methods. If a student requires at-home or medical accommodations according to the 504 plan, interventions will be evaluated on an individual basis.

FACILITIES AND CLEANING

What are the cleaning protocols in our buildings?
Our teaching and learning environments have reliable cleaning protocols that support safety and wellness, while mitigating environmental health risks. All cleaning protocols and products meet industry standards and recommendations set by local and federal governmental health organizations. These rigorous standards apply to schools and school facilities, to include classrooms, offices, athletic facilities, food preparation areas, and common areas in every building.

Per the MI Safe School Roadmap requirements, special attention is given to frequently touched surfaces (including desks, light switches, doors, benches and bathrooms), plus media centers, computer labs and playground structures. We have enhanced our cleaning capabilities by purchasing additional Clorox Total 360® electrostatic sprayers that distribute safe, commercial-grade cleaning solutions in hard-to-reach places. These sprayers, commonly used in schools and health care facilities, kill 99.9 percent of bacteria on application.

All learning environments will be deep-cleaned throughout summer and the custodial staff will receive regular training throughout the school year on new protocols.

How will restrooms be cleaned?
As outlined in the MI Safe Start Roadmap, bathrooms will undergo cleaning at least every four hours with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectant.

What about HVAC systems?
NCS is very fortunate to have passed the 2015 bond, which gave us an opportunity to update our HVAC systems. We know that classroom air is refreshed 6 to 8 times per hour and our newly conditioned rooms will help make wearing masks all day more tolerable.

Additionally, the maintenance team routinely replaces filters on all HVAC equipment and performs preventative maintenance on these systems to confirm that the HVAC equipment is in good working order.

What about shared classroom supplies?
Shared classroom supplies will be avoided. Technology, devices and computer labs will utilize special sanitizing wipes and procedures as required in the Phase 4 Safe Start Roadmap.

SUPPORT SERVICES

What if a family has questions about health concerns?
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a hotline to direct residents, providers and community members to the right resources in their local communities and in other state government departments. The hotline is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136.

Is social-emotional wellness still a district-wide priority?
Social-emotional learning, maintaining relationships, and making sure that our staff and our students are safe are always our priorities.

Mindful of increased global pressures and heightened feelings of anxiety in children across the country and within our own community, NCS puts social-emotional wellness at the center of our work. A culture of compassion has developed to promote empathy, self-care, equity and belonging for all students and staff.

The NCS commitment to “whole child” education means we care about each student’s physical, emotional, and academic development. This critical work served as an essential foundation to support students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families can be assured that the focus on mental health will continue throughout the 2020-21 school year and into the future.

Additionally, in our current environment, it is our moral imperative to state explicitly that every member of the NCS community has a right to feel safe, valued and respected, as outlined in the NCS Respect Code.

Will the district be addressing implicit bias during the 2020-21 school year?
Yes. NCS will continue the momentum of addressing implicit bias and social justice issues. Two NCS and one student were named to the state Racism Advisory Group this summer. This group met over the summer to discuss how NCS can become more inclusive in our work with children and will inform our professional development efforts this fall.

What should I tell my children about COVID-19?
While we want to make sure our families are well informed and prepared, we understand that this situation can affect children in varying ways.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, here are some steps you can take at home to address their concerns:

·       Model a calm response

·       Give correct, clear and comprehensible information. Correct misinformation.

·       Focus on what kids can do to keep themselves healthy.

·       Manage your own catastrophic thinking.

·       Don’t dismiss their fears. Acknowledge that fear is healthy, and help them manage it appropriately.

·      Preview potential changes or disruptions, like school closures and remote learning, which may be unfamiliar.

·       Maintain basic routines like mealtimes and bedtimes to keep daily structure.

TECHNOLOGY AND EXTRACURRICULARS

How will NCS accommodate computer and technology needs?
To ensure equitable technology for in-person, Niles Virtual Vikings Campus, and potential remote learning, NCS will adopt a one-to-one (1:1) technology model for the 2020-21 school year, ensuring that all students have access to an electronic device. Previously, devices were shared from mobile computer labs at each school, however, federal and local foundation funds were used to purchase hundreds of new Chromebooks. The district will also make WiFi hotspots available to families in need of internet access.

This 1:1 technology integration ensures that the district’s commitment to equity and academic excellence will continue in any learning environment. The timing of implementation is reliant on device delivery from the vendor.

Will the district be able to support the 1:1 technology model in the future?
While it is a balancing act to spend funds in the short-term to address emergency needs, thanks to the community’s investment in the 2015 bond and 2019 sinking fund, NCS has the technology infrastructure and funding available to support this model post pandemic.

Can student-athletes participate in sports?
The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) continues to update its guidance for participation. Updates are detailed at: https://www.mhsaa.com/. NCS will follow guidance from the MHSAA and communicate updates as they become available.

In accordance with these guidelines, NCS students and coaches were permitted to resume outdoor summer conditioning and team activities in June. Indoor athletic activities are not yet permitted, and at the time of this publication, school buildings are still closed.

Athletic directors, coaches and trainers in our high schools and middle schools have protocols in place to protect the safety of our students and staff. Protocols are subject to change, depending on public health guidance.

Athletic safety protocols include the following:

·       Voluntary outdoor activities may resume in groups of 100 people or less.

·       Participants must complete a health questionnaire and agree to a temperature check prior to each activity.

·       Persons with positive symptoms or a temperature high than 100.4 degrees will be discreetly removed from          activity. Parents will be notified by a coach or athletic trainer. Athletes can return to workouts after being              fever-free for 72 hours, without medication. (per CDC guidelines).

·       Physical distancing must be maintained.

·       Fields and practice areas will have a single entrance where everybody is screened prior to participation.

·       No physical contact. No sharing equipment.

Can students participate in band, choir and other NCS enrichment activities?
We hope to continue to offer students the opportunity to participate in these enrichment activities. All districts are currently awaiting guidance indicating protocols to participate in various activities that occur outside the normal school day. For instance, NCS will work with the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) which governs instrumental music programs across the state. Participants in all activities will be required to follow protocols similar to those used by our student-athletes in accordance with the MHSAA. Updates will be communicated as details are announced.

HUMAN RESOURCES

There are many questions about various leaves and accommodations available to employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Personnel Department has put together a Leave Scenarios Under COVID-19 chart.  The chart provides an overview of employee leave or accommodation scenarios and includes links to a flowchart andinformational documents for further guidance Each leave is handled on an individual basis.  Please consult Jenny Cunningham, Human Resources and Benefits Coordinator if you have any questions.

With the existing shortage of teachers/substitute teachers, what will we do if our staffing levels are reduced?
Fortunately, NCS is fully staffed. We were informed that only six substitute teachers decided not to return in the countywide consortium of substitute teachers.  Unfortunately, it is possible that schools may have to close due to inadequate staffing for instruction, food service, custodial supplies, and/or transportation.

 

Can I telework/work remotely because of COVID-19 concerns? 
It depends.  Please refer to the Leave Scenarios Under COVID-19 for qualifying events. 

My child's school district offers both in-person and online learning and I chose online learning.  Am I eligible for EPSLA and EFMLA leave? 
Your child's school or place of care must be physically closed in order for an employee to qualify for EPSLA and EFMLA.  Please refer to theLeave Scenarios Under COVID-19 for qualifying events.

COMMUNICATIONS

How is NCS collecting stakeholder input?
Last spring we collected survey responses from nearly 900 families, our staff, and students and used that input to make changes to our remote and reopening plans. In addition, we hold weekly meetings with our local health department. Teachers and parents are part of our school improvement teams which designed our building specific reopening plans.

How is NCS communicating to stakeholders?
NCS has shared updates regularly throughout the summer. Television and radio news interviews have been conducted, guest columns were written, and biweekly live interviews of district administrators are streamed and posted on our youtube channel. All communication is shared on our social media outlets as well as on our website. Draft and final plans were shared and adopted at public Board meetings.

Who provides notification and outreach if contact tracing is required?
The district works closely with the BCHD who provides guidance regarding the need to communicate with exposed and potentially exposed individuals. Students and staff members exposed to an individual who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be notified with a phone call and will receive a letter providing specific guidance.

What about the disclosure of staff or student information if he/she tests positive for COVID-19?
The NCS COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan states, “The District will take reasonable precautions to protect health information pursuant to all applicable laws and statutes, including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1975 (FERPA).” For reference, the plan is located on the district website at https://www.nilesschools.org.

When will you tell us more?
Updates will be communicated as soon as information is available. We will continue to utilize our social media outlets, email, website and youtube channel to share information. We appreciate the community’s support and patience as we work together to provide high-quality instruction for our students in unprecedented circumstances.

Official sources for information include the following:

·       School Messenger notifications

·       NCS District website: https://www.nilesschools.org

·       District social media:

·       https://www.facebook.com/nilescommunityschools

·       https://twitter.com/NCSVikings

·       https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiuNfgNxBt9M9nO8e5sVJNA    

What if I have a district concern about reopening plans or anything not addressed in the FAQ?
Community members can email Tracy Hertsel, the district’s COVID-19 Coordinator at: tracy.hertsel@nilesschools.org.

Due to the fluidity of the situation leading up to the 2020-21 school year and the ever-changing public health conditions, there are still many uncertainties and unanswered questions. These uncertainties can include details and “what if” situations related to in-person instruction, virtual instruction, academic standards/instruction, public health, and human resources. We understand the practical and emotional frustrations that families might be feeling. We are feeling them too. Our goal is to provide as much and up to date information as possible so families can make an informed decision about what is best for their child(ren) and your family.

We assure our families that we are working tirelessly to share updates in a timely manner. We are doing the work and evaluation, but the resolution in the current environment takes time. Please be patient. If you submitted a question, but have not yet received a response to your concern, please know that we are working on it.

We will continue to inform our community with transparency and honesty as information becomes available. Given the complexity and the fluidity of the current environment, information is subject to change.

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