With East End school districts still trying to figure out just what shape the upcoming school year will take, they also find themselves juggling with the prospect that second homeowners, who have taken refuge on the East End during the coronavirus pandemic, might enroll their children in local schools en masse, overwhelming the ability of schools to provide a safe classroom experience in the age of social distancing.
But although projections of hundreds of new students showing up unannounced for classes in some districts have been spewed out by the rumor mill, officials interviewed this week said they were anticipating much lower — and manageable — numbers that will allow them to meet the reopening plans they were required to submit to the state late last month.
Still, some districts, notably Sag Harbor and Amagansett, are facing prospective enrollment spikes that administrators must plan for.
Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Jeff Nichols said as of this week the district has registered 47 new students already, spread among all grades, for the coming school year from families who are legal residents of the district but did not send their children to its schools in the past. He said that number included second homeowners, those who rent in the district, and still others who may have sent their children to private schools in the past.
The number includes six children from the Wainscott and Sagaponack school districts, which have tuition agreements that allow parents to send their children to Sag Harbor without paying out-of-district tuition, Mr. Nichols said.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors about how many new registrants we have,” he said. “I’ve heard it is in the hundreds, but a lot of that is inaccurate.”
The majority of the new students enrolling in Sag Harbor formerly attended school in the city, although a handful attended other Long Island schools, he added.
But Mr. Nichols said Sag Harbor, which now has 959 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, including those 47 new enrollees, has another 40 out-of-district students on a waiting list, hoping to be able to attend district schools on a tuition-paying basis.
That lists includes 21 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade and another 19 in grades six through 12.
Mr. Nichols it would most likely be easier to find space for the older students than the younger students, because younger students are typically grouped in a single classroom. Still, he added, there may be some flexibility in a given elementary school class.
He said he expected to notify those families if there would be space by mid-August, but added that the final decision of whether to allow them in is up to the School Board.
The tiny Amagansett School, which had 75 children in prekindergarten through sixth grade when classes went remote last spring, is projecting a total of 126 students in September, according to Principal Maria Dorr.
“In a regular year, it would be no problem,” she said, “but with COVID, it’s much harder,” noting that the tentative plan is to have all the district’s students return to their classrooms next month.
“This is the hardest year to start,” she said, “because there are so many variables and unknowns.”
Another district that has recorded a sizeable increase in new enrollees is Westhampton Beach, where Superintendent Michael Radday said 25 students, whose families have homes in the district, have enrolled for the fall semester. Mr. Radday said the district could absorb the newcomers.
“We are watching the numbers carefully,” he said, “but right now it hasn’t caused a serious problem. Twenty-five out of 1,800 is not a spike or being inundated.”
The East Hampton School District will see a similar hike, according to Superintendent Richard Burns, who said the district had received about 100 inquiries, but has about 28 new students signed up in its three schools. “We’re all dependent on what the governor is going to do,” he said, adding that if schools are closed in the city, his district might see another bump up in enrollments.
Officials at other districts said up to this point the number of projected enrollees will be manageable, although the Sagaponack School, which educates students in kindergarten through third grade in its two-room schoolhouse and sends other district students to neighboring schools on a tuition basis, is watching its enrollment carefully.
“At the present time, we have received a larger than ordinary number of inquiries from parents interested in the enrollment process at the Sagaponack School,” said
Superintendent Alan Van Cott via email. “To date, these numbers are not hard and fast.”
However, under the assumption that the district might see a surge in enrollment, he said it is “researching available space in the community, but not considering sending children to neighboring districts.”
Superintendent Robert Hauser of the Bridgehampton School District, which is racing to complete a major addition by October 1, said the district continues to get informal inquiries from people, but has only received a half-dozen more registration packets.
“I would imagine they are waiting” to find out what will happen with their schools in the city, he said. “If their private school is going to be closed, are they going to be willing to spend upward of $50,000 for tuition?”
Hampton Bays has also seen a half-dozen new enrollees signed up from among three new families that have moved into the district, said Superintendent Lars Clemensen.
“Now that plans are being finalized for New York State, it’s certainly reasonable to consider that families may make the decision to stay put out here, versus returning to the city,” he said via email. “Time will tell.”