Shoreham-Wading River Central School District came out of the gate this week with the ambitious goal to bring every kid back in school every day safely while still meeting state health standards.
The New York State Education Department has released reopening guidelines for schools, while the state Department of Health issued guidance on July 13. The district has released two videos on its website and Facebook page explaining new plans in greater detail.
“I think the opportunity is there for us and, having students in school every day is the best possible option for our students academically and for their social and emotional well-being,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole.
One of the big reveals of SWR’s special meeting July 23 discussing reopening was the district’s plans to reopen the former Briarcliff Elementary School for kindergarten. The district had been in the process of selling the building for the past year. The district said without using Briarcliff, Miller Avenue elementary school would be at or near max occupancy for social distancing and would lack an isolation room for symptomatic students.
However, reopening the old building in Shoreham, along with reconfiguring existing buildings for all students to come in, could come with a hefty price tag of $1,439,000. Reopening Briarcliff for one year could cost approximately $992,000. It will also require clerical, health, administrative and other staff to move over to the old kindergarten building.
To pay these costs, the school board would have to vote to authorize nearly half of the district’s unassigned fund balance, which currently has $3,086,000 in its coffers.
These plans to keep kids socially distanced at 6 feet and still learning would also mandate the district use all available space for instruction, including gyms, libraries, all-purpose rooms and cafeterias. School officials said this was calculated by measuring the space within different rooms compared with square footage that supported 6-foot separation.
Officials were adamant that utilizing every inch of space would allow all students to be in school to learn Monday through Friday, though each room’s class size would be significantly smaller. A regular sized room in Miller Avenue could have around 12 students or 14 in Wading River. The district also said it could have an average of 11 students in the middle school or around 15 on average in the high school, though using both those buildings would mandate removing walls to create larger rooms. Many of the walls in both the middle and high schools are paneled that can be taken down.
“In order to do this well, Briarcliff would be a part of those plans,” Poole said. “I am going to repeat it is possible with Briarcliff and the use of multiple-instructional spaces, it is possible to have all our students sit in classrooms, at a desk, learning spaced out by 6 feet of separation inside of school every day.”
Students will return to school Sept. 3 for an “orientation day.” Though students will be back during the day, some extracurriculars will look different than before. Those taking band will need to be spaced 12 feet apart for all practices and will require multiple periods. Theater will be postponed or potentially adapted in a virtual way.
Otherwise, students are expected to wear masks in common areas such as entryways and hallways. Masks will be provided to those who don’t have them. The school will put visual aids down on floors to illustrate traffic flow in hallways and promote social distancing. Otherwise, shared equipment will be limited and visitors are limited in all school buildings.
“One can imagine when the school year starts we will have to take some time, make sure everyone knows how to move around the building,” Poole said. “That can happen within a smaller class size.”
Transportation may be the most difficult aspect schools are dealing with, but Poole said SWR plans to have buses disinfected daily and only siblings are allowed to sit together. Parents are encouraged to drop and pick up students themselves.
Considering there still could be a drop in state aid sometime later in the year, the district said there are contingent salary funds for things like elementary tutors or teaching coaches can be redirected for health and custodial aids.
“We will be maximizing the use of contingent salary funds,” Poole said.
Videos of the latest board meetings and more details about reopening plans can be found on the district’s Facebook page.
More school districts will be releasing their reopening plans in the coming days. Check back at tbrnewsmedia.com for the latest reopening plans.