The first thing David Casamento noticed when he visited the nine buildings in the East Meadow School District during the first week of classes, he said, was the joy and enthusiasm of students who were seeing classmates and teachers in person for the first time since March.
“It was heartwarming to see our teachers welcoming kids,” said Casamento, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “They were scared, too, and some of them are probably still scared today, but . . . we’re trying to lower stress and relieve the pressure as much as possible.”
One month into the school year, three students across the district have been diagnosed with Covid-19, but, starting Monday, the remainder of elementary school students will be welcomed back to classes full-time.
There was a staggered start date for full-time instruction on the elementary level, with kindergarten through first-grade students returning on Sept. 8 and second- through fifth-graders, who have been on a hybrid schedule, set to return on Monday. Middle and high school students will continue to follow a hybrid schedule until a still to-be-determined date.
The explanation for the staggered reopening involves space and resources, district officials said. At their normal capacity, there is not enough room in any of the buildings for students to be six feet apart while in class. Only elementary students whose desks were fitted with plastic guards have returned to daily classes.
There are now 1,591 students — 22 percent of the student body — working on a fully remote schedule, an option that parents are still being of-fered.
At a Board of Education meeting on Sept. 16, Casamento re-ported on the district’s re-opening progress and the challenges that students, teachers and administrators have faced. “One of the reasons we decided to come right out with a summary of where we’re at is because this is a process,” Superintendent Kenneth Card Jr. said. “This is the first time in our history, all of us, that we have attempted something on this scale. And so it’s really important that I emphasize and continue to emphasize the important of patience and cooperation with what the district is currently pursuing.”
A student at W.T. Clarke High School tested positive for Covid-19 on Sept. 9, one day after the district reopened. A student at Bowling Green Elementary School tested positive on Sept. 18, followed three days later by a student at Woodland Middle School. Each day a case was reported, Card sent letters home to parents explaining that the infected students would not be permitted to return to class until they quarantined for 14 days or tested negative. Any students who had come in contact with them were notified by the district, and also required to quarantine.
Also in each case, all areas of the buildings that the infected students had visited were closed off, and cleaned and disinfected, before anyone was allowed back in them.
While some district parents said that hearing about the positive cases made them anxious, they were confident that the district was handling them properly. “I know the district has gone out of [its] way to implement guidelines to ultimately keep everyone safe,” said Patsy Mustafich, who has three children in district schools.