Governor Andrew Cuomo rendered his long-awaited decision on school reopening in New York State on Friday. With the infection rate low, and staying low, he said that across the state, so long as the rates stay that way, schools can open.
Districts will have the flexibility to decide schedules, as well as in-school, remote or hybrid options for instruction — but the reopening decree came with several provisos that have area administrators, as Springs School Superintendent Debra Winters said, “swimming upstream.”
For those who plan to offer remote learning, the governor wants districts to post the specific remote learning plans on their websites. He also wants districts to publicize how they will conduct testing for COVID-19 and how they will implement contact tracing. Those three areas elicited the most questions and concerns from parents across the state, he said.
The governor urged school districts across the state to involve parents in reopening discussions. “They have to communicate with the parents and explain the plan,” he said.
Districts should offer three opportunities for parents to be heard and to learn about the reopening plan between now and August 21. He also wants districts to set up a discussion with their teachers before that date.
On the South Fork, most districts formed reopening task forces that included parents, along with administrators, teachers and board of education members. Many sent surveys out to parents seeking input as well.
Superintendent Denise Sullivan of the Remsenburg-Speonk School District said her district’s plan was the result of meetings with committees comprised of parents and educators that began in June. “None of them count,” she said on Monday: The governor ordered the meetings to be held between August 7 and 21.
In Springs, meetings and workshops with the Board of Education, parents and staff began in July and will continue this week and next. In East Quogue, Superintendent Robert Long pointed out that, as in other districts, the district’s plan was developed with all community stakeholders. The Southampton and Westhampton Beach districts both convened task forces with committees of dozens of volunteers.
Springs is one of the few East End districts that won’t be able to bring all students in lower grades in for in-person classes daily. Space issues appear to make social distancing and all students on campus at once impossible. Ms. Sullivan said that in her district, like many others, “We are using every available space in order to create classrooms.”
Exactly when schools open for all-day instruction for those lower grades may differ from district to district. In East Quogue, Mr. Long said the first five days of school will use a phased-in approach, with daily in-person instruction beginning on September 15. “This will allow us to assess our protocols, deep clean the building and adjust things accordingly,” he said.
In Hampton Bays, the entire district will operate on alternating days for the first two weeks, Superintendent Lars Clemensen said.
In Amagansett, Superintendent Seth Turner said his district is planning to reopen for students on September 9. “We are focusing on ensuring that all students and staff are able to safely return to the school facility by planning in accordance with Department of Health and CDC guidelines,” he said.
“As there is the potential that remote instruction may need to be relied upon at some point during the school year, or as a means for involving those who are unable to attend school for health reasons, we have also been working to improve our instructional delivery under these circumstances,” Mr. Turner continued. “There are several upcoming meetings for parents and stakeholders to review the district reopening plan, and all information including our Continuity of Instruction Plan is available on the district website.”
Tuckahoe is another district fortunate enough to open for all students for full-day classes daily, Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik said. “We remain hopeful as we enter the new school year and feel that our families, faculty and staff have rallied together to create a plan that limits the possibility of transmitting the COVID-19 virus to the greatest extent possible, ” he said.
The state required districts to submit plans that outlined three different scenarios: in-person learning, remote learning and a hybrid option combining the two. Posted on district websites, the plans laid out strategies for maintaining social distance, sanitizing facilities, daily health checks, transportation and the like.
“Upon submitting our plans to the State Education Department, we were told to consider our plans approved and to proceed with fidelity to the guidance and regulations and that, should there be a need for amendment or modification, we would be notified by the State Education Department,” Mr. Clemensen explained.
On Monday, Mr. Cuomo listed schools that haven’t submitted plans for in-person learning, warning that if they weren’t handed in by Friday, the districts would not be allowed to open for face-to-face instruction this year. Locally, Tuckahoe, Remsenburg-Speonk, Wainscott and Sagaponack were among the 107 districts statewide that hadn’t submitted plans.
Or, rather, hadn’t submitted them to the desired place. On Monday, Ms. Sullivan said she filed the plan for Remsenburg-Speonk with the State Department of Health on July 30 — learning only on Monday that there was still another step to undertake in order to submit the information.
“When [the Department of Health] called me today to tell me that I wasn’t in compliance, they didn’t even know how I was supposed to upload the plan,” she said. She shared a copy of the confirmation from the State Education Department and said, “To have my district listed publicly is very upsetting.”
Plans had to be posted on a district’s website, with a link provided to the State Department of Education, then pages of approximately 75 assurances had to be completed, with another set of assurances completed for the Department of Health.
Tuckahoe, Wainscott and Sagaponack all have their reopening plans posted on their district websites. Whether they encountered the same submission difficulties as Remsenburg-Speonk was not immediately evident.
While most schools have landed on a decision about which alternative to pursue, Springs and Sag Harbor have not. In Springs, Superintendent Debra Winter anticipates a decision by August 20 or 21.
In Sag Harbor, the district proposed four reopening options and will make a final decision by August 15, according to Superintendent Jeff Nichols. The district initially favored an option that would see a full-day, in-person experience for children in kindergarten to ninth grade, with high school students in grades 10 to 12 studying remotely. Once parents weighed in, however, the district began to lean toward full-day, in-person scheduling for students in grades K to 8, with grades nine through 12 following a hybrid schedule, Mr. Nichols reported.
The Sagaponack School District also remained undecided. “The district continues to monitor its enrollment numbers and has yet to determine whether it will offer in-person instruction, remote instruction, or a hybrid of both,” Superintendent Alan Van Colt said via email.
From Westhampton to Montauk, there are over 10,600 students enrolled in 15 school districts.
Below are thumbnail attendance expectations for area districts that have made their decisions. Those schools listed with alternating days, will combine remote learning with in-person learning. The rotating hybrid style generally entails two days in person, three days remote one week, then three days in person and two days remote the next week. Check with your school to see how the days will be split.
HAMPTON BAYS PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
Pre-K, K-2, 5-6: in person, every day
3-4, 7-12: alternating days
* The entire district is on alternating days for the first two weeks.
WESTHAMPTON BEACH SCHOOL DISTRICT:
K-8: in person, every day
9-12: alternating days
REMSENBURG-SPEONK UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
K-6: in person, every day
QUOGUE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
PreK-6: in person, every day.
* Early dismissal the first three days of school
SOUTHAMPTON UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Pre-K & K: half-day schedule
Grades 1-6: daily in-person
Grades 7-12: alternating days
TUCKAHOE COMMON SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Pre-K-8: in person, every day
EAST QUOGUE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
K-6: in person, every day beginning September 15, with a phased-in approach from September 8 through 14.
BRIDGEHAMPTON UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT:
K-6 : full day, in person, every day
7-12: hybrid schedule, with half-day in person instruction twice weekly
* The tentative plan is to phase in the seventh and eighth grade for in-person instruction starting October 1, provided the addition is finished
Pre-K-8: all day, in person
EAST HAMPTON SCHOOLS:
K-5: full day, in-person every day
8-12: hybrid model with in-class instruction two days per week
K-8: hybrid model with all children attending school two days per week
* Final decision pending
WAINSCOTT COMMON SCHOOL DISTRICT:
K-3: full-day schedule
All students, full day
Additional reporting by Kathryn Menu and Stephen Kotz