East Hampton School Officials Weigh Reopening Schools for In-Person Classes

John M. Marshall Elementary School Interim Principal Karen Kuneth, high school Principal James Crenshaw, Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo and the East Hampton board of education discuss the possibility of reopening schools on Monday.

East Hampton Superintendent of Schools Richard Burns said a notice will go out to parents on Friday specifying whether in-person classes will resume next week.

“We’re looking at this very carefully, keeping an eye on staff,” Mr. Burns said during the January 19 East Hampton Board of Education meeting. “We really want kids back in school, and we’ll see if the virus allows us or hinders us.”

High School Principal James Crenshaw said he foresees a “high chance” of reopening next week.

“We’re going to punt on the decision-making on that until we get a little bit closer,” he said, “but I think right now things are looking good in terms of students and staff who are anticipated to be done with their quarantines by Monday.”

Middle School Principal Charles Soriano and John M. Marshall Elementary School Interim Principal Karen Kuneth couldn’t speak with the same certainty.

“I can’t speak with the same confidence about having John Marshall students return next week,” Ms. Kuneth said. “It’s really going to depend on the number of staff members we have quarantined.”

The superintendent begged community members in the meantime to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

“The social-distancing piece is so important to keep us safe,” he said. “Most experts say the social-distancing element is even more important than mask wearing. We want to continue to keep schools as safe as we can.”

Assistant Superintendent Adam Fine said he met with Mr. Burns, Assistant to the Superintendent Timothy Fromm and the school principals on Tuesday to discuss bringing more students back to school. Originally, there was an instructional in-person plan to welcome more students back into schools in February.

“Back then, the numbers were ridiculously low and everything seemed feasible,” Mr. Fine said. “Obviously, we don’t feel comfortable recommending to this board or the community bringing back more students February 1. In addition to that, we did consults with medical personnel — our chief medical officer, nurses … it defies common sense and logic to bring more kids back now.”

He added that instead of reviewing this decision quarterly, the district has decided to assess the situation on a monthly basis.

“We want the kids back, and if we could do it safely, we would truly do it,” Mr. Fine said. “This is heartbreaking, to be honest.”

Student-athletes also have to wait to return to practice and competition, because while school is closed, their practices and meets are also on pause.

“The guidelines say that when schools are not in session for in-person learning, all athletic activities stop,” Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo said, adding all meets have already been rescheduled. “It’s going to be a jam-packed schedule when we get back, hopefully on Monday.”

In the interim, boys track and dance began practicing virtually January 19, and members of the girls track team met up with their Pierson High School counterparts for practice, since the Sag Harbor School District is not currently closed.