Williston area schools announce reopening plans

Elliot Weld
East Williston school board President Mark Kamberg (pictured in 2017) awaits the governor's decision on schools reopening. (Photo by Rebecca Anzel)

The Mineola school district has submitted a plan to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that welcomes back grades kindergarten through eight to in-person classes. Grades nine through 12 at Mineola High School would be in school every other day and on off days will take classes virtually, according to the plan.

The plan was among the school reopening proposals submitted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Friday. All the districts in the state were to submit plans for fully in-person classes, a hybrid learning model and online classes. However, not all school districts felt they are able to safely accommodate all students in their facilities, so some did not submit a plan for fully in-person classes.  Cuomo will make the decision this week on whether schools are opening this fall.

Reopening plans for districts on the North Shore generally followed a similar format, outlying overall goals and guidelines for the district to follow and diving into specifics of what a typical school day will look like.

A few themes are consistent in all of the reopening plans. Masks will be worn at all times when students are within six feet of each other, but they will be given breaks from wearing them each day. Schools will develop health and safety protocols which involve all persons entering school buildings to answer a screening questionnaire.

Schools must set up a system to accommodate students’ mental health needs and address the stress and toll of the pandemic. School buses will be cleaned regularly and keep masks on hand for students who don’t have any. Schools will provide an option for fully remote classes for families who don’t feel comfortable sending a child to school. 

In Mineola, staff members at the high school will undergo training before the first day of school to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19. Staff members will send any symptomatic person to an isolation room to be evaluated by a school nurse.

A person diagnosed with the novel coronavirus must be fever-free for 24 hours and have been asymptomatic for at least 10 days to return to school. A person who tested positive but was asymptomatic the whole time may return after 10 days from the time he or she tested positive.

Signs will be placed around all schools to remind students to practice social distance and keep masks on.

Under Mineola’s plan, if a student arrives at a school without having completed a screening questionnaire or has submitted a response which would necessitate exclusion from school, he or she will be directed to a designated area while waiting to be picked up by a parent. Principals and school nurses “should review daily screening reports before the start of school.”

Mineola’s plan also said hall monitors will be ensuring that a limited number of students go in the bathroom at one time. 

Superintendent Michael Nagler said at a virtual Board of Education meeting that he was considering using face shields instead of masks, since this allows people to see each other’s facial expressions. There is only mention of face masks, however, in the health and safety section of the plan. Masks will be worn at all times, except during mask breaks. 

The East Williston school district sent out two surveys to get feedback from parents on their thoughts for the upcoming semester. Two versions of in-person learning were created by the district. One calls for grades kindergarten through seven to attend school five days per week while the Wheatley School would use a hybrid learning model, splitting the high school into cohorts which alternate days.

The one the district chose, however, was to have all students back in school five days a week, with the Wheatley School reducing its program offerings slightly in order to reallocate staff. Spaces such as the gymnasium and auditorium will be used as class space. 

The principals of East Williston put an emphasis on student mental health. North Side Elementary Principal James Bloomgarden has formed a Social and Emotional Learning Task Force to address the issue in his school. Christine Dragone, principal of Willets Road School, expressed similar concerns last week. 

“Middle-Schoolers, on any given day, are struggling with social and emotional connections, ability to self-regulate and manage and now you add a global pandemic and the fact they have to go back to school in a few months and I think we’ve got some work to do,” Dragone said. 

The Herricks school district put out a 100-page plan saying its elementary students, grades kindergarten through five, will attend fully in-person classes to begin the year while the secondary schools will be split into cohorts and attend every other day.

In the event that schools are forced to transition to fully remote learning, the daily schedule would remain the same and classes would be held through Google Meet or Infinite Campus. 

At the middle school and high school, the student populations will be split in half alphabetically by last name. Siblings will be kept in the same cohort. 

“The School District considers in-person services a priority for our youngest and high needs students,” the plan said. 

Students might make use of technology even when they are in school in order to gain familiarity with the online tools. 

The plan has methods for physical education to be held in all of the learning situations. If phys ed is held in person, 12 feet of distance will be maintained in all directions. The teacher will use a microphone and speaker when giving instructions to students and all activities will require no physical contact or proximity to other students.

Under remote learning, phys ed will be held over Google Meet and ensure that activities can be completed at home. In the hybrid model, the teachers will assign tasks for at-home completion and then have them “apply the knowledge gained in the school setting.” 

All districts will continue to provide special education and continue with services to assist students who do not speak English as a first language. Individualized Education Programs will continue to be provided and upheld. 

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has delayed the start of the fall sports season to Sept. 21 and canceled all state and regional championships. It is also encouraging all games to be scheduled so as to reduce travel and distance. East Williston Athletic Director Michael Scaturro said last week that although the Long Island sports championships are canceled, there remains a possibility that a Nassau County playoff of some sort could be put together for some sports. 

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