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in-person learning

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A proposed plan was introduced during the Nov. 24 board meeting to bring all students back to the classrooms full time. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

During the Nov. 24 Smithtown Central School District Board of Education meeting, which was held via Facebook Live, school board members addressed an aspirational timeline to have secondary students return to school in-person full time early next year.

Since September, middle and high school students have followed a hybrid schedule, while primary students returned to five-day, in-person classes in October. Superintendent Mark Secaur discussed the proposed plan, which is contingent on whether or not the district falls in any of the state-designated restricted yellow, orange and red zones. An area falls into one of these zones if deemed a micro-cluster due to higher infection rates than the state average.

During the meeting, Secaur said in order for schools to stay open, if the area falls in the state’s yellow zone or higher, at least 20% of students and staff would need to be tested for COVID-19.

The plan called, “The Path Towards a Full Return” includes a staggered return of secondary students to the classroom five days a week. The approach will allow the school to assess infection rates in the district and give them time to take items such as desks and other equipment out of storage.

Secaur said face coverings will still be required and mask breaks will be kept to a minimum and only when people are separated by 6 feet or more.

“We have always hoped to move toward a full return and have been consistent in sharing the parameters that could allow that to happen,” he said. “Our collective work has resulted in a safe school environment. We have complied with the expectations. All of us. And done all that is necessary to create an environment that is arguably safer than the general environment.”

He added that while there have been sporadic cases in the Smithtown school district, there has not been an outbreak.

The superintendent said the proposed plan allows for a three-week buffer between when students return from winter recess and the beginning of full-time, in-person instruction.

“With this buffer we will have a better grasp as to whether or not the virus is under control, both in and out of school settings,” Secaur said.

The superintendent added if the area is put in any of the zones, the plan will be put on hold . He added that everyone in the district needed to agree to make the sacrifices necessary.

“We must all be disciplined and make safe decisions for ourselves, our loved ones and those around us,” he said. “We know it is not easy. As Teddy Roosevelt stated, ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.’”

According to the proposed plan, students in grades 6, 9 and 12 will return Jan. 25; grades 7 and 10 Feb. 1; and grades 8 and 11 Feb. 8. A remote option will remain with live-streamed instruction and remote support.

Earlier this year, in response to hybrid learning, parents started up a Facebook group in support of all students returning to school full time. Members of Smithtown Parents Watchdog Group, formerly known as Open Up Branch Brook and Nesconset El, over the last few months have held about half-a-dozen rallies in front of the district’s administration building on Main Street and New York Avenue demanding their children be able to attend school in-person five days a week.

The members of the group were happy to hear the news during the virtual BOE meeting. In a message to TBR a few days later, the Facebook group’s founder Stacy Murphy applauded the parents’ stamina.

“We know that it’s because we never let up, and the parents who truly kept making their voices heard are what made a difference,” she said.