The Port Jefferson School District is exploring options for a distance learning program after an outcry from multiple parents who were concerned over the spread of COVID-19.
The district received multiple letters and petitions from parents demanding they have an option to have students learn from home instead of participating in either in-person or hybrid learning. Several letters read aloud to the board spoke of fears for elderly family members or people with health risks living in the same home, and the risk their kids may spread the virus if they attend school regularly. Many of these petitions were read at the school board’s Aug. 11 meeting.
According to the district’s survey of parents, 15 percent said they would not return their students to in-person instruction. Of those, 97 percent said they would be interested in a remote learning option.
The district said that parents of 95 students, most of whom were in elementary school, were interested in a remote option.
Of those who were concerned about kids returning, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Christine Austen said the number one fear was concerns of social isolation.
A number of the options were costly, according to Austen, who said a full school year BOCES online program could cost approximately $1 million if it were supplied to all 95 students. Some parents did indicate they were willing to homeschool their child.
Every child will be granted a Chromebook, whether they are in school or be taking remote learning. Students will have synchronous instruction three days per week, with students in the middle and high school following their in-person schedule period by period. Students will have another two days of asynchronous instruction for assignments or projects or recorded videos. Teachers will be in the physical classroom every day. Students will also have daily check-ins to ensure attendance.
Austen said the plans for elementary students are still tentative, but plans are currently for them to be given about one hour of English and one hour of math in the morning. They will be given some time to meet with teachers before lunch, then later have time for social studies or science lessons. Teachers will host small group instruction for remote students at the end of the day.
The Google learning platform will be standard throughout the district, and teachers have been taking professional development to better use the platform.
Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district must work with teachers to conform with what their union contract allows them to do.
“Teachers have worked very hard this summer, a lot of these ideas come from the teachers,” said elementary Principal Tom Meehan. “Some of the ideas were really good, and I have to give them all the credit in the world.”
Still, the district said all plans are tentative, and more comments will be accepted up until the first day of school.
The district hosted meetings for elementary, middle and high schoolers and parents specifically about their kids’ return to schools. All videos are available from the district’s website. School is set to start Sept. 8.