Sag Harbor Eyes Expanding High School In-Person Schedule

Pierson Middle-High School.

Despite the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sag Harbor School District is considering a plan that would allow Pierson High School students to return to school in person an extra day every other week.

Currently, students in grades nine through 12 attend school in-person on either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Until now, Wednesday has been reserved as a remote learning day for both groups, with the high school devoid of students while the custodial staff gives the building a thorough cleaning.

Superintendent Jeff Nichols told the School Board on Monday that administrators may be ready as early as next week to decide whether to allow students in each of those two groups to return for a full day every other Wednesday.

“The lens we have applied for any expansion of in-person schooling has always been health and safety first,” Mr. Nichols told the board, adding that given the current rate of infection locally he does not anticipate the proposed scheduling change leading to a spike in infections among students or staff.

A poll of board members showed support for the eased attendance policy. “If we can get the kids back in school safely for another day,” said board President Brian DeSesa, “that would be a benefit.”

James Kinnier, a Pierson math teacher, also supported the idea, although he said the board should wait a month before making a final decision to see if New York State is able to avoid the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases currently being seen elsewhere across the country.

“Personally, I didn’t think we’d last in school this long,” he said of the hybrid scheduling employed at Pierson. Mr. Kinnier, who is president of the Teacher Association of Sag Harbor, said he was not speaking for the union, but as a teacher and community member. He added that the school’s success in avoiding infections was due to a good safety plan that is being dutifully carried out.

Getting students back in the classroom would be good for them, he said.
“Sitting at home staring at a screen three days a week is very challenging,” he said. “I do understand what they are going through.”

Mr. Nichols said administrators could be ready as early as next week to make a formal recommendation, but he did not say when the new scheduling would take effect.

Mr. Nichols also shot down a pair of rumors that have been circulating about the upcoming holiday vacations. Suggestions that Christmas break would be extended for two full weeks or that school would be closed from Thanksgiving through Christmas are simply “not true,” he said.

A proposal to bring in portable classrooms to provide more space for on-site classes, which was among the ideas discussed last summer as the district prepared its reopening plan, would appear to be prohibitively expensive. Mr. Nichols said bringing in enough trailers to provide adequate space for all high school and middle school students could cost the district about $500,000 once the units are rented and the site prepared for them. He added that the plan would require the approval of the New York State Education Department, which would require an architect be hired. The need for additional staff would also contribute to the cost, he said.

“My recommendation is we should be very cautious in terms of proceeding,” he said. “I would hate to see the district spend a half-million dollars and then see a spike” that would force schools to close for an extended period and have the units unused.