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East Meadow students return to school after pandemic shutdown

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After a summer of preparation and planning, all nine schools in the East Meadow School District welcomed students back on Tuesday for the first time in nearly six months.

While some students will attend classes on a hybrid schedule and others will continue to learn remotely, district officials have created a reopening plan aimed at providing all of them with the same access to education.

In anticipation of Tuesday, the district sent parents a video montage featuring welcoming messages from the principals of each school. Gregory Bottari, who heads Barnum Woods Middle School, began his message in front of the school on May Lane, saying, “This building has missed you.”

“Many people say it’s impossible to pull off a year like this,” Bottari continued. “And I have to share with you, I have in my office a saying that says, ‘Impossible is an opinion.’ I truly believe that. Our kids will learn and thrive this year, and that’s a promise.”

The district released its reopening plan on Aug. 7, though some components were still subject to change even as students entered their classrooms on Tuesday. For example, desks will be six feet apart, but only those in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms will be affixed with plastic guards for the time being.

“It’s about getting kids back to school safely,” said Superintendent Kenneth Card, “and then evaluating and making whatever adaptations we need to make moving forward.”

The district created a School Reopening Committee that included dozens of administrators, teachers, parents, nurses and police officers. Administrators also sent a survey to district parents, asking them about their concerns about and hopes for reopening.

The district held four virtual meetings in late August, during which department officials and principals broke down specific changes and answered parents’ questions.

“The physical education teachers have been working together to cerate a curriculum that’s following New York State Education [Department] regulations while still providing a safe and hopefully challenging and enjoyable program,” said Kristi Detor, the director of health and physical education. Phys. ed. classes will be held outside as long as weather permits, and activities will be designed to prevent sharing equipment. Students will be required to wear masks when they can’t maintain six feet of social distancing.

Supplies will not be shared in science labs. Most labs will instead include a demonstration in which students will observe an experiment and take notes, said David Casamento, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

To prevent socialization in hallways, middle and high school students will not have access to lockers, and will carry their backpacks with all their necessary supplies.

Before students returned to classes in person, staff members were trained in safety measures through an online learning platform called the Global Compliance Network. Students were to receive similar training this week from their teachers and school nurses.

Students are required to wear masks all day, except when eating lunch and during periodic “mask breaks.” They will have their temperature taken each day and asked questions about their health, and will be sent home if their temperature is higher than 100 degrees.

If a staff member or student comes within six feet of someone with Covid-19, he or she must tell a district official, who will report the information to the state Department of Health. The staff member or student will not be permitted on school property until OK’d by the health department, which could mean quarantining for 14 days. If anyone who has been exposed enters a building, it will be evacuated for up to three days and thoroughly cleaned.

“Everything will not be perfect, but the beginning of each school year has its issues,” Board of Education President Matthew Melnick wrote in a Facebook post on Monday night. “It is our responsibility to be understanding. It is incumbent on us to be flexible. And most importantly, it is our obligation to make sure that we show the children the positives, not dwell on the negatives, and rather work to improve them.”