Students in Suffolk and Nassau counties have begun their first week of a mandated two-week school closing in response to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The announcement by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Sunday went into effect in the county’s schools on Monday, and will last through Monday, March 30, unless officials announce otherwise.
The Suffolk County Health Department says the virus can contaminate and live for up to nine days in a building.
Local districts have been scrambling to prepare lesson plans and organize food services to those who depend on two meals per day from the schools.
Southampton Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Dyno said the district began its remote learning plan Tuesday, allowing students to complete lessons in a variety of formats at home. Tuesday was also the start of the district’s meal program, which will provide free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch to students from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at a drive-through window located in the back parking lot at 141 Narrow Lane in Southampton.
Westhampton Beach School District announced its plans for meals and lessons on their website on Sunday. Grab-and-go meals will be distributed at the back of the high school on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Any student in need is eligible, not just those who participate in the free or reduced-price meal program.
“The district will continue to monitor this fluid situation and provide updates through automated phone notifications and on the school website as additional information becomes available,” the website read. Students were told to check their school email and Google Classroom accounts for communication from their teachers.
The Sag Harbor School District announced on Thursday, March 12, that it would close for classes at the elementary and high school for the next 10 days. The district announced on March 17 that it would extend that closure to comply with the state directive.
The closure affects not only all programming in the district, including before- and after-school activities, but all athletic and extracurricular practices and competitions, as well as weekend and community events in school district buildings.
There have been no confirmed cases in any local school, but the steps were taken “in an effort to be proactive in protecting the health and safety of our school community,” wrote
Superintendent Eleanor Tritt, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols, Pierson Middle School Principal Brittany Carriero and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone in a joint letter. “Future decisions regarding school closures will continue to be based on protecting the health and safety of our school community.”
East Hampton School Superintendent Richard Burns said that during his 42 years in education, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” speaking of the efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, and comparing it to the Spanish flu epidemic following World War I.
In the past, he said, even after hurricanes forced schools to close for several days at a time, “you still had social interactions, people were still communicating and helping each other. Now this imposed isolation is radically changing everything.”
The superintendent added that he would not be surprised if schools remain on hiatus until the end of the school year.
With a two-week closure currently in place until March 30, East Hampton has set up online learning programs, so teachers and students can make an effort to keep up with curriculum requirements.
The district is also taking steps to ensure that students who depend on free or reduced-fee meals continue to be fed.
In a statement posted to its website, the district announced that meals would be distributed starting Wednesday, March 18, at the high school on a grab-and-go basis. Cars will enter the bus loop from Long Lane and follow the signs to the front of the administration entrance, where a curbside distribution station will be set up. Those picking up the meals will need to present the student identification card or ID number to receive a meal.
On the first day, only lunch will be available. Both breakfast and lunches will be available starting Thursday.
To prevent overcrowding, the school website notes that meals for students whose last names begin with A through M will be distributed from 9 to 10 a.m., and from 10 to 11 a.m. for those whose last names begin with N through Z.
Mr. Burns urged parents, students, and staff to monitor the school’s website, easthamptonschools.org.
Montauk School Superintendent Jack Perna said the school will be closed for two weeks following the order of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Late last week, the school initially planned to be closed only on Monday and Tuesday “to make sure faculty were up to speed with Google Classroom and other online learning opportunities.”
Most teachers were at school on Monday and others were expected on Tuesday and Wednesday to complete the preparation work to transition to online instruction. The district’s goal is to provide as much quality programming as it can and keep its students up to speed with learning goals as possible, he said.
Mr. Perna said he held a staff meeting in the school gym Monday morning and requested that everyone stand at least six feet apart to practice social distancing. “Otherwise people are going to start looking at each other like they are lepers,” he said.
At least one family, which recently returned from a trip to Italy, remains in self-quarantine. Mr. Perna said “the family was very cooperative” when informed they could not send their children back to school. Family members have not experienced any symptoms of COVID-19, he added.
Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District Superintendent and Principal Denise Lindsay-Sullivan said her team is currently working to deliver bagged meals to all of the students in the school who are on our free and reduced-price lunch list.
“We will do so each day that our schools are shut down,” explained Ms. Lindsay-Sullivan.
“Our teachers have created materials for students to utilize at home: both digitally through Google Classroom and in packet form, in the event a student does not have Wi-Fi access at home. All materials were sent home Friday as a precaution,” she said.
Hampton Bays School Superintendent Lars Clemensen said the school was utilizing a combination of the available conference days and snow days this week; next week will count as spring break.
“We have work to send home to students in grades K through 12. We’re utilizing Google Classroom as a platform where teachers can post videos,” said Mr. Clemensen.
He added that he is aware that not all students have access to Wi-Fi, but, he noted that Optimum has been offering free Wi-Fi to those without, given the situation with the virus.
Hampton Bays students in grades five through 12 have Chromebooks, so Wi-Fi should not be an issue.
The Hampton Bays Middle School cafeteria is open to any child in Hampton Bays who wants breakfast or lunch from 10 a.m. to noon.
Mr. Clemensen said if families are unable to pick it up, they can call the main office and it will be delivered.
Bridgehampton School District held a special meeting of the board early Monday morning to address the announcement of the closing and plan for the weeks ahead. Board members wanted to ensure that education was not out on the back burner and released a letter to parents with a devised plan later that day.
The district made the announcement that a staff member’s spouse tested positive on Sunday for the virus at Southampton Hospital.
“The Suffolk County Department of Health was notified by the hospital of the test results; they subsequently contacted both our staff member and their spouse, and conducted interviews of both persons. The SCDOH ordered both the staff member and their spouse to be quarantined at their house and they are monitoring both persons daily,” Mr. Miller said in the letter sent home.
Mr. Miller continued to explain that the district spoke to the Head Nurse at the SCDOH Sunday night and the nurse determined the staff member to be asymptomatic on Friday, March 13, and was not at risk of spreading the virus while in the school district.
“At this time, to our knowledge, no student or staff members have been confirmed to have the coronavirus,” Mr. Miller added.
School officials said the district has begun preparing work to send home to students. Google Classroom is also planned on being utilized in the future.
“Our district is, and will continue to be committed to the health and nutrition of our students. While the district is shut down, breakfast and lunch will be provided each day, during the week. All students can pick up food in the basement of the First Baptist Church, located at 141 Sag Harbor Turnpike,” Principal Michael Miller wrote. “Breakfast can be picked up at 8 a.m. daily and lunch can be picked up at 12 pm. If you would like to receive breakfast and lunch and are unable to drive to the church, please call the number below and we will make sure all students have access to food.”
Mr. Miller asked parents or guardians of students that do not have Wi-Fi accessibility or access to a computer or Chromebook in the secondary school, to contact him so one can be made available after March 30, if school were not to open for students.
The district is planning for staff to return on Monday, March 30, without students, if the school remains closed by executive order.