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Freeport School District officials mull reopening

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The Freeport School District will be submitting their plans for possible reopening in September this Friday, as per the New York State Board of Regents orders.  

The Board of Regents recommended that school districts create plans for in-person instruction, remote instruction and what is being called “hybrid instruction,” a mix of in-person and remote learning. The guidance was distributed to school districts on July 15, and their reopening plans must be submitted to the State Education Department by July 31.

“The plans need to be comprehensive and include health and safety, social-emotional learning, transportation, nutrition, staffing, human resources, special education, English as a Second Language education and so much more,” said Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of the Freeport School District. “We have to take everything into account should the state order schools to reopen this fall.” 

Kuncham said the district was looking to hold alternating school days, where half the students would come to school on Monday and Wednesday, while the other half attended Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

When not in school, students will be taking class through the district’s distance learning platforms. Fridays would also be distance-learning days for students. 

The district is considering allowing special needs students, ESL students and students in grades K through one to attend school four days a week in order to meet their specific needs.  

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa noted that the recommendations came after four virtual Board of Regents meetings were held last month. 

“Life has changed radically for New York’s students, parents and educators during the unprecedented Covid-19 emergency, and we have to provide flexibility to districts in our new normal,” Rosa said during the July 13 meeting. “Today the Board of Regents has adopted emergency regulations that afford essential flexibility for educators, students and professionals to address issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

To adhere to the state’s social distancing guidelines, school districts will have to adjust to holding some classes in larger spaces such as the cafeteria or gymnasium. SED Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe noted that each district must make different adjustments for this.

“As school districts think through how they will support social distancing throughout their buildings, they’ll have to consider whether the physical structure of the space as currently set up will put students and faculty at risk,” Tahoe said during the meeting. “To mitigate these risks, schools can use flexible scheduling or staggered dismissal times. But we realize that there is no one size fits all answer as each district has its own challenges to face with this.”

Also on July 13, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state formula for reopening schools. A region must be in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols, and the daily average rate of infection must be 5 percent or lower over a 14-day period. Should there be a spike, a region with a seven-day average infection rate of 9 percent or higher cannot reopen schools.

“We will look at the data and make a decision based on science,” Cuomo said. “We want to keep the children as safe as possible. We will not use the children as guinea pigs,” he added, referring to how some states reopened their economies, which resulted in severe spikes, especially in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

As of the time of press, the Freeport School Board of Education held a public meeting on July 29 to present a draft of their reopening plan to residents before submitting it to the state. 

“We’re working on finalizing our plan and making sure everything and everyone is ready for the upcoming school year,” Kuncham said.