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Students head back to class in Rockville Centre

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After nearly six months away, students in the Rockville Centre School District began returning to school in person this week. The doors opened at all seven school buildings on Tuesday, with teachers and principals eager to welcome students back.

“We’re finally coming back, and we’re excited,” Darren Raymar, principal at Covert Elementary School, said.

Things are very different this year, however, from the classroom setup to the teaching format. District parents have the option of keeping their children at home to learn remotely. To ensure that all students are getting the same level of instruction, teachers are prepared to teach all of them at the same time, with a teaching assistant or monitor in the room to help remote learners. This first week back is considered orientation week for elementary students, giving the staff a chance to familiarize them with the new protocols and helping students acclimate to being in school.

The middle school and high school are operating on a hybrid model this year.

“Every school will look different,” Raymar said, “but we’re all following the same protocols.”

At Covert, for example, there are no buses, so students’ temperatures will be taken once they arrive at school. Children who ride buses will have their temperatures taken by matrons on the buses. Additionally, parents are asked to fill out a questionnaire using a district app once a week, to screen students for any signs of Covid-19. “Before anyone even walks into the building, we’re doing everything we can to make them safe,” Raymar said.

Wilson School will also have some changes this year, according to Principal James Duffy. In the past, he said, Wilson did not have any desks. “All of Wilson’s classrooms had tables to allow for group work,” Duffy said. “This year we put away the tables and brought in 430 new desks that will all have partition dividers.”

Additionally, he said, all “specials” — art, music, Spanish and enrichment/library — will be held in the classroom. Phys. ed. will be held outside as often as possible. The library, art room and music room will be used for small-group reading and math and special-education services. The school has also converted space into additional health offices for the nurse to separate students who may be sick from those who have bumps and scrapes.

“A lot of work has gone into our reopening plan,” Duffy said. “I’m excited to get the students back into the building and back into the classrooms with the teachers. This will be a different start to the school year, but I do think that once we get started, it will begin to feel more and more natural, and we’ll create a sense of normalcy for our students and faculty.”

One aspect of this new normal is the requirement that students wear masks throughout the day. Superintendent June Chang emphasized the importance of allotting time for “mask breaks.” While students do have to keep them on during recess, he is encouraging teachers to schedule a mask break for them when they return to the classroom. The breaks will coincide with screen breaks for online learners.

Chang also stressed the need to remain flexible and the importance of keeping lines of communication open. He said he would continue to give his weekly update via livestream at 1 p.m. on Thursdays. This is important, he said, because with students back in classrooms, things that do not work as well as planned could change.

“Until we live this,” Chang said, “it will be a work in progress.”