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Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District prepares for September opening

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School districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, along with the rest of the state, will be allowed to reopen, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Aug.7. He said he based his decision on low infection rates recorded in every region of the state.

“Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “If there’s a spike in the infection rate, if there’s a matter of concern in the infection rate, we can revisit.”

For students in the Oyster Bay East Norwich Central School District, those in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade may attend in-person classes, those in seventh and eighth grade will attend everyday in cohorts and ninth through 12 graders will attend in person lessons on alternating days. The district’s Aug.11 power point stated that the district would make modifications as needed to bring high school students back to an in-person schedule five days a week as soon as possible.

“I can’t wait for school to open,” said Michele Myers, the mother of incoming fourth and eighth graders. “My kids are looking forward to going back. I’m looking forward to them coming back for the social aspect of it.”

Students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grades, will stay with their teacher all day, similar to past years, and programs like band will continue. However, modifications will be made to keep the students and faculty safe. For example, following Department of Health and New York State Education Department, there must be 12 feet of distance in all directions between individuals while participating in music lessons that require singing or playing wind instruments which includes brass and woodwind instruments (flute, clarinet, trombone, baritone horn, and trumpets).

Bell covers, which are masks for instruments, have been purchased for all brass players (trombones, trumpets, baritone horns). Sleeves have been ordered for French horn players.

Bands and choirs will be split into smaller groups due to spacing limitations and social distancing guidelines. Singers will be required to wear masks when singing.

It’s also anticipated that concerts and performances will not have a live audience. The ensembles will be pre-recorded or live streamed and the links will be shared on the district website.

The fall sports season will be pushed back to Sept. 21 and a three season athletic schedule may start in January, in which all three season would be condensed into the second half of the year.

Classrooms will look different for all grade levels. Use of facemasks and desk guards will be required for all students and faculty and most specials will be taught in the classroom to minimize students walking around the building for the elementary students.

Before students begin their lessons, they will have a health screening and will get their temperature taken. Hand washing and respiratory hygiene will be emphasized and while students must wear their masks during the school day, they will have an opportunity for mask and lunch breaks.

“I hope that they will include more outdoor classroom activities as well,” said Ron Paradiso, the father of an incoming tenth grader. “[My daughter] is looking forward to going back to school, so she’s okay with the hybrid model. Everyone’s doing what’s safe for everybody.”

And as for transportation, 75 percent of respondents in a survey the district sent out to parents said that they would be willing to drive or walk their child to school, while 20 percent said they needed the transportation for their children.

To keep those on the bus safe, according to the presentation, there will be low-density routing and cleaning and disinfecting on the bus. All students and employees will be required to wear face coverings on the bus.

“While we will be providing in-person instruction, we understand that this option may not be feasible for some students, particularly those who may have an underlying health issue or is living with someone whose immune system is compromised,” OBEN Central School District Superintendent Dr. Laura Seinfeld said in a letter to district families. “We are working on a remote option for these students.”

According to the Aug. 11 presentation, students learning from home will be learning their lessons at the same time their classmates are inside the school building by using pre-recorded materials and online resources. They will complete group work in an independent or collaborative way.

Meyers said that some of her friends have told her that they wish there was a hybrid model available for students in the younger grades so that the students could alternate from home and in the classroom.

But, the State Education Department is leaving the specifics of how to reopen New York’s 749 school districts to the districts themselves. Districts are empowered to make decisions about what in-person learning will look like, how much remote learning will be offered and how to implement safety protocols.

“We are giving flexibility to the school districts,” Cuomo said, similar to the state’s phased-in economic reopening. He added that “there was no one-size fits all” approach then nor is there now.

The governor emphasized that the communication between school districts and their communities is essential to address concerns of families and teachers. School districts will be required to post their specific plans on their websites for public review and specifically, he said these plans must fully detail three “highly questioned” areas: remote learning options, protocols for testing of students and staff and contact tracing plans in a situation where a student or staff member tests positive for Covid-19.

Cuomo is also requesting that school districts have ample discussions with parents and staff. “Districts have to communicate with parents,” he said. “Parents need an opportunity to be heard and schools should welcome the opportunity to explain their plans.” Districts should plan to hold “at least three sessions to give everyone the opportunity to participate between now and Aug. 21,” he said.

Cuomo is also asking districts to provide at least three sessions for parents to address their questions and concerns by Aug. 21 and to set up at least one discussion with teachers.

“In our continued efforts to work with our learning community and meet state and health guidelines for the safe return of students and staff to school in September, we are hosting four online discussions [and Q and A’s] for families,” Seinfeld said in a letter that was sent out by the district. “We hope you make every effort to join us as your feedback is vital to the success of our re-opening plan.”