Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton School Districts Prepare for Reopening

Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Jeff Nichols speaks during the Pierson High School 2020 Commencement Ceremony at Pierson High School on Saturday, June 27

It’s a tough call for parents: in-person or remote learning?

While many families in the Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton school districts are opting in, there are a good deal opting out, too.

“There are some parents that are pleased with the fact that their children are coming back to school, and there are some still hesitant,” Sag Harbor Superintendent Jeff Nichols said. “I was concerned the test positive rate would tick upward, but if there’s a time to open up, now’s the time to do so, with the test positive rate being so low.”

The COVID-19 infection rate has been between a half and 1 percent for the past couple of weeks. But that doesn’t mean the superintendent is letting his guard down.

“I think we’re heading into a bit of an unknown,” he said. “We don’t know how this is going to play out over the next couple of months.”

But Mr. Nichols also ensured the district has a concrete plan in place.

Students in pre-K through eighth grade are going to be learning in person daily, while those in ninth through 12th grade will be following a hybrid format, where half the students will head to school Monday and Tuesday and the other half Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be total remote learning days, providing an opportunity for the custodial staff to deep clean the rooms.

One of the primary areas of focus, the district said in its plans, is ensuring students and staff can socially distance while on the bus. This will require re-routing bus paths and adding additional bus stops. It will limit the number of students at each stop, and the number of students on each bus.

Students and staff will have their temperatures checked via infrared scanner at the door daily, and manually checked thereafter if a temperature of 100 degrees or higher is detected.

Teachers will arrive 15 minutes early each day to be in their classrooms prior to student arrival, and kids coming in will be expected to go straight to their class to avoid large groups. Those in school will be expected to wear masks throughout the day, and lunch will be eaten inside classrooms.

Across the district, the average class size will be 12 students, though there are some sections where there’s 17 — those are housed in double classrooms, where social distance guidelines can still be adhered to.

But there is a remote learning option for all grades. Mr. Nichols said the first survey conducted a month ago revealed 27 percent of parents were electing to educate their children remotely. When the school community was asked about a week-and-a-half ago, that number, he said, dropped to 15 percent.

Pre-K through fifth-grade students will have a designated staff member teaching them remotely, while those in sixth through 12th grades will watch a live stream of their class.

While the number of students engaged in distance learning alone has dropped, the superintendent has seen an uptick in those looking to homeschool their children. The district has received 20 applications to date, but also has 97 new enrollees as of August 31, entering first through 11th grade. Officials said those students will have residential status verified before the start of school.

Bridgehampton Superintendent Robert Hauser said his school will operate a little differently. This is mainly because of the limitations placed on the district while a 35,400-square-foot expansion project is still being completed. It is about a month behind schedule.

Due to this, only students in kindergarten through sixth grade will attend school in person. Pre-K will be 100 percent remote for the entire year, while students in seventh through 12th grade will be phased back into the building.

“As classrooms become available, we will try to phase back, starting with the seventh grade,” Mr. Hauser said. “We were looking at that beginning October 1, but more likely it will be November 1. We cannot put students and staff in a new building without a certificate of occupancy from the State Education Department, so it’s contingent upon that.”

Once students in seventh through 12th grade return to the building, any student or family electing to maintain distance learning must commit to do so until the end of the second quarter for scheduling and spacing purposes. Those taking part in distance learning will have a separate teacher for the year, and he or she would change should a family opt in or out of either offering.

Currently, Mr. Hauser said parents of at least one student in kindergarten through sixth grade have elected for their children stay home and take part in the remote learning option provided by the school.

The superintendent said the district has received some negative feedback on its plan, as some parents of students in seventh through 12th grade expressed concern that their children will be home 100 percent of the time, at least for the beginning of the school year.

“We simply do not have the space — that’s our biggest hurdle right now,” he said.

One positive is there are 11 first-graders that will be attending class in-person. This could allow the district to utilize a larger classroom to house them and free up space for kids from another grade level, he added.

Students and staff will also have their temperatures checked at the door and eat lunch inside their classrooms.

“The plan is fluid and it can change based on enrollment,” Mr. Hauser said. “There’s a lot of curiosity among the staff to if the plan we have is going to be the plan. It’s not easy to change without all three parties — parents, faculty and students — being on the same page. The parents are sending their children back, and we have to be careful if a decision is made to modify the plan that we communicate that and prepare for the responses.”

The superintendent said the district also has to be careful because its plan was submitted to the State Department of Health and Education Department, and has since been approved.

“Each time we make a change, we’re going to have to let both of those agencies know,” he said. “The other part is there’s a checklist put out by the State Education Department — school districts had to certify they will comply with all 92 requirements. We have to be careful of that, too, if we change our plans.”

Mr. Hauser said the district is anxious and excited to be back in the school after being away for so long. He added it will just take some time to adjust to the new normal.

“The thing that I’ve preached is students and staff need to maintain their health and well-being.” Mr. Nichols said. “We want to deliver instruction of a high quality, but we also want to follow safety protocols. I remain focused on making sure we do the best we can in that regard. We’re heading into uncharted territory, and we’re doing our best to look out for the safety and wellbeing of the students that are entrusted to our care.”