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Mount Sinai School District

It was the 21st edition of the coveted “Battle of the Educators,” where the Mount Sinai School District faculty squared off in an annual basketball game pitting the high school teachers against their middle and elementary school colleagues on Friday, March 3, at the Mount Sinai High School. 

Funds raised from gate admission, food and snacks and apparel sales supported the Mount Sinai Booster Club, with the proceeds going towards athletic scholarships awarded in June. 

The game took place in front of a near-capacity crowd, with attendance approaching pre-pandemic levels.

— Photos by Bill Landon

Al Kopcienski, right, with his great-grandson in a Miller Place Fire Department Ambulance. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Schwartz

Born 90 years ago this past Sunday, Al Kopcienski of Miller Place has led a life of uninterrupted service to his community.

Kopcienski’s sizable extended family flew in from around the country Oct. 22 to honor his life. On this joyous occasion, his daughter Elizabeth Schwartz thought it necessary to look back on her father’s life and reflect upon his achievements.

In an interview, Schwartz shared her father’s long commitment to the area. “My dad has been so invested in this community in a very quiet way,” she said. “The community needs to know. We need to remember people who are our unsung heroes.”

Kopcienski’s legacy of community service spans nearly a century. Among his many posts, he served as president of the Mount Sinai School District Board of Education, more than 60 years with the Port Jefferson Rotary Club, and the Miller Place Fire Department where he served as chief from 1967-68.

He lives by the Rotarian motto, “Service above self.” Schwartz said she and her siblings were also raised to follow this ethos.

“We were all raised — all eight of us — were raised with this mantra, ‘Service above self,’ that hard work is good work, that our job is to give to the community,” she said. “It is about community and not always about one person or self.”

Over the past nine decades, Kopcienski has witnessed firsthand the gradual transformation of the area. He said the little farming economy he once knew has gradually become a bustling environment.

“This area was a big farming area, and through the transition of years the farmers have disappeared,” he said. “The farming industry disappeared, and then the developers came in and started building houses.”

Despite the differences today from the undisturbed landscape Kopcienski knew growing up, he said young people can still derive vital lessons from his generation.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘rest means rust,’” he said, emphasizing the value of physical movement and manual labor. “The service industry is well organized and has well-paying positions.”

While on the Mount Sinai school board, Kopcienski pushed for expanding opportunities for students pursuing professional trades. While today, many may place higher education at a premium, he still sees the value of these alternative career paths.

“There was a local superintendent of schools that would say, ‘All my kids graduate and go on to college,’” Kopcienski said. “I said to him, ‘What about the poor kid that can’t go on to college? What about the kid who went to BOCES, a trade school, where he spent half the day at school and then learned a trade?’” He added, “One of the problems we have is that people don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

Even at 90 years old, Kopcienski is still getting his hands dirty today, driving the ambulance for the fire department. He said he receives his fair share of raised eyebrows when arriving on the scene of an emergency.

“They say, ‘That old man’s driving the ambulance?’” he joked. Schwartz interjected, adding, “He comes home and tells us about all of the old people he drives to the hospital. And I said, ‘The old people, like 20 years younger than you, Pop?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”

Despite the many changes he has observed over time, Kopcienski sees reason for hope. With 24 grandchildren, he now gets his chance to sit back, watch and follow the rising generation as it embarks on its path. 

Still, at 90, there appear to be no signs of rust or rest on this lifelong community servant.

On Friday, March 25, the faculties of Mount Sinai middle and elementary schools took on their high school counterparts in a fundraising basketball exhibition. Billed as ‘The Battle of the Educators,’ the purpose of the fundraiser was to benefit the school district’s Booster Club. Almost two years since the event last took place due to the pandemic, the 19th edition of this local tradition was held before an enthusiastic crowd. There were T-shirt sales, halftime shooting contests and fun to go all around.   

 — Photos by Bill Landon 

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Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Elaina Varriale has been named Mount Sinai High School’s class of 2021 valedictorian. 

Photo from MSSD

She said began getting involved with the school during her freshman year with the student government, staying in the club throughout her four years and serving as acting president during her senior year. Involved with both music and sports, she played volleyball and was a member of chamber orchestra. A member of the National Honor Society, she became held the title of secretary.

With an overall GPA well-above 104, she will be attending Cornell University in the fall, studying in the college of engineering. She plans on focusing mainly on chemical engineering. 

Elaina said she was surprised when she found out she was the class valedictorian. 

“I know how hard I’ve worked throughout the years, but I know that there are a lot of really great, hardworking people in my grade, my friends included, so I was a little surprised.”

She said the honor was rewarding. 

Before she leaves for university, Elaina will be working and spending as much time with her family and friends as possible. 

Paige Brauer was named as Mount Sinai High School’s salutatorian. While maintaining a 101.6 GPA, she participated in extracurriculars like Best Buddies, Athletes Helping Athletes, Peer Leaders, FACs, and played on varsity volleyball and varsity track. 

While not in school, Paige volunteered at a therapeutic horseback riding facility, as well as at Mather Hospital where she shadowed several different doctors. 

In the fall, she will be attending Georgetown University, studying human science and pre-med in hopes of going into surgery.

Photo from MSSD

“My family has played a huge role for pushing me to do my best,” she said. “I also love staying busy, so between work, volunteer, school, sports, and clubs, I always had something to be doing when I wasn’t hanging out with my friends. Staying focused on my end goals really helped me continuously push myself over the last four years.”

Paige said she was caught by surprise to find out she was going to be salutatorian.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It was such an honor and I couldn’t be happier.”

She said she’s planning on spending as much time with her friends before they all go away to school.

File photo

By Kimberly Brown

Karen Pitka and Paul Staudt are running Tuesday, May 18, for two available seats for a three-year term on the Mount Sinai School District Board of Education. 

Karen Pitka

Photo from Karen Pitka

Pitka has lived in Mount Sinai since 2011. Celebrating her 20th year as a fourth-grade teacher this fall, she is an educator in the school district. She has experience in teaching second and fifth grade, and spends her free time being director of the school’s drama club. 

Having the experience in teaching elementary school, Pitka also was the leader of her schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports team and has created presentations to faculty, staff and other Long Island educators about motivating and engaging elementary classroom practices.

When Pitka isn’t working, she spends time with her three children who are 7, 6 and 2 years old.

Having been recently nominated by the district administration and selected to serve on a standards committee for New York State educators, she is prepared to run for the school board.

“Being an elementary school teacher, I feel that I am well versed in what our children need,” she said, “All of our children have suffered greatly from the closure of the school in 2020 along with the hybrid learning plan into 2021. During these unprecedented times, I feel I will be able to offer the proper guidance as to what our students truly need due to being involved in it every day in my own classroom.”

Having young children in the community, Pitka has a vested interest in the well-being of all Mount Sinai students. She also feels having longevity in the district is important. 

Paul Staudt

Photo from Paul Staudt

Staudt, a heavy equipment technician for Komatsu America Corp, was born and raised in Mount Sinai. He has two children who are currently attending Mount Sinai schools. Both Staudt and his wife Krista have grown up in the same town and have been married for 19 years. 

After battling a very tough year with the pandemic, Staudt felt it was imperative to run for the school board. Despite the current BOE doing their best to work through the COVID-19 crisis, he believes he can offer a different perspective if elected. 

“Obviously over the last year, some issues and concerns have arisen from both the parents and teaching perspective,” he said. “There’s been a lot of issues with clarity. Their communication to the community, in my opinion, is outdated.” 

With a broad background of different jobs Staudt has accomplished throughout his life, he feels he is well rounded and will be able to aid the board in achieving transparency. 

“I am a nine-year military veteran, I have 23 years as a volunteer fireman, I am also a tradesman,” he said, “All of these things, coupled with my life in Mount Sinai, bring a different perspective to the board.”

Staudt said he feels the board needs more diversity: “I think that is what a school board needs, people of varying backgrounds with different perspectives. We, as a board, need to put our personal experiences together and use that to make decisions in the best interest of all of our children.”

As the school district makes the transition from online meetings to in-person, Staudt hopes the same amount of people who have been attending the online meetings will translate into coming down for the actual board meetings. 

“I’ve been around a long time, I grew up in this town, so to be able to step into this role and be able to look at things through a different lens is something you need to have on a board,” he said. 


The school budget and board of education votes take place Tuesday, May 18, at the Mount Sinai Elementary School back gym at 118 North Country Road, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai Union Free School District recently changed its phase two reopening plan, tasking some teachers to work directly with remote students and by easing in-person students back into its halls. 

As of Oct. 19, grades K-4 added Wednesdays back into an in-person, weekly schedule making attendance at school five days a week. 

In a letter to the community posted on the school district’s website, Rob Catlin, principal of Mount Sinai Elementary, said this change will help make things more normal. 

“This is a win-win for all of our students, both in-person and remote, as we are able to ensure all of our students get the maximum amount of instruction we are able to offer,” he wrote. 

Catlin wrote in-person students will not have much of a change on a daily basis, except for the possibility of a different P.E., art or music teacher adjust with the schedule. The district added two teachers to help support its remote students, and who will be working solely as remote teachers. Starting Monday, teachers Emily Bellacera (for K-2) and Kaylee Foley (for 3-4) will be teaching live every day for at least one hour with remote students through Google Classroom.

“Each teacher will provide at least 60 minutes a day of live instruction for our students working remotely,” he said. “This will also allow the remote kids to have a true classroom of friends and classmates. Currently each teacher was working with 1-to-3 students at a time on Wednesdays. I felt this was isolating for our remote kids who need socialization more than ever being at home.”

With the new remote program, remote students will have live Google Meet sessions with seven to 15 other kids. 

Catlin noted though switching to a new teacher is not ideal, current teachers will be in contact with the remote teachers to ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved. 

“While switching teachers is not an ideal plan the end result will be a better experience and more enriching academic program for all,” he said. 

The website stated middle school students were going to experience a similar change. Remote learners in grades 5 and 6 started with their new remote instructors on Oct. 19. In-person fifth and sixth graders started attending school all five days. 

Students in grades 7 and 8 will have remote instructional day through Google Classroom every Wednesday starting Oct. 21 and will follow their period buy period schedule. Attendance will be taken in the homeroom and first period class for the day. 

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the district initially anticipated that grades 7-12 would be back to school five days a week on a rotating schedule, but last week he and they decided to halt the reopening plan until Nov. 18.

“We knew it was going to change as we went along,” he said. “After speaking to a dozen superintendents in our area, everyone is evolving and adjusting.”

He stated the reasons to delay are so they can closely watch and see if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase, and that the middle and high school buildings don’t have as much room to repurpose. 

“If you had all the kids in, and divided the class in half, then for social distancing you would need almost double the class space,” he said. 

So, they decided to wait until the end of
the quarter.

Currently Wednesday provides a break between the two cohorts, and an additional day for cleaning and sanitation.

To accommodate a transition, remote learning will be available to all students, not just ones deemed as remote, and attendance is required.

As of Oct. 19, two teachers and zero students in the high school tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 14 days. Overall, a combined five individuals have tested positive in the district since the start of schools in September.

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Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced Thursday afternoon in a call to parents that the entire campus would be closed Friday, Sept. 25 after a high school student tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mount Sinai High School Student was in cohort A, which goes to in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, according to school board trustee Ed Law in a post to social media. The student has siblings in both the elementary and middle schools, so the district announced it was being cautious and closing all schools for Friday.

All students will be using remote learning that day. 

On Monday schools will be closed in observance of Yom Kippor. The district said students are planned to return to school Tuesday, Sept. 29.


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Parents said their kids would be losing out on many days of instruction with Mount Sinai’s current plans. They also questioned the district’s bus and distancing strategies. Photo by Kyle Barr

As the impending start to the school year closes in, some parents in districts like Mount Sinai are trying to close what they perceive as gaps in schools’ upcoming learning programs.

Mount Sinai school district Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said their reopening plan is a “living document” that will change with time. File photo by Kevin Redding

A small group of Mount Sinai residents consisting of parents and a few of their children protested at the school campus entrance on Route 25A Monday, Aug. 31, arguing their school district’s current reopening plans could lose students days’ worth of instruction time. Meanwhile, district officials allege plans will likely change in the future, and they are doing their best to move to a system for five-day full-time instruction for elementary students and more in-school days for secondary students.

Elle Bee, who has three students in the district — a kindergartener, elementary and middle schooler — said the district has not been communicative enough with her and other parents about their concerns, especially over what the district plans for Wednesdays. They also claimed that their questions and concerns have not been fully answered by the school administration.

“We want actual distance learning,” Bee said. “We would like to return to four days or five days in school.”

Current district plans have all students out of school on Wednesdays in order for the custodians to fully sanitize each building. Teachers will be using that time to communicate with students, especially the 50-odd children per building that will be learning remotely full time, though students will still be required to log on to the school’s Google Classroom. Parents at the small protest said that if this standard lasted all year it would result in students losing upward of 40 days of learning, which would be less than New York State requirements for the total number of instruction days of 140. 

Kevin Mathers, who has a seventh-grader in the middle school, said he finds it absurd that the district will not even attempt at least a true remote experience on Wednesday.

“Any plan that includes not teaching on Wednesdays is a nonstarter,” he said.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in a phone interview there will be some instruction on Wednesdays. Teachers are going to be constructing videos and lessons for both that day and for all remote days. Instructors are also supposed to touch base with all the remote students whose parents chose to keep them at home. Teachers, he said, are working at the max extent that their contracts call for, and that they hope by the end of September they will be able to change it to include Wednesdays for full instruction in the elementary school and in cohorts in the high school.

“When teachers teach four days a week, when are they going to do that remote learning and ask each student, ‘How are you doing?’” the superintendent said. “When can parents reach [teachers] and visit teachers during office hours? That’s what Wednesdays are for.”

Still, this isn’t enough for the parents who stood along Route 25A. Some parents asked why the district wasn’t mandating that every teacher livestream their classes. 

Brosdal said there were concerns amongst teachers, based on previous news reports, that people could break onto these livestreams and harass both students and the teachers. Though the district is installing around 160 cameras in classrooms for the purpose of broadcasting lessons for those either creating videos or, in some cases, livestreams.

Parents also complained about plans for students on buses. They said they were originally told buses would be at 50% capacity and only siblings could sit on the same seats. They argue this was changed to now allow up to 44 seats with even nonfamily members sitting together.

“They’re going to have to wear masks full time, even with guards around their desks, so how are you shoving them onto buses like sardines in a can?” Bee said.

Parents said they had lingering questions on how students receiving special education would get what they needed. Photo by Kyle Barr

Brosdal confirmed that buses could be at more than 50%  capacity, though it’s all dependent on how students are either dropped off by their parents or walk to school. The district is limited in the number of buses their contracted company First Student has, and that it would cost the district upward of $80- to $90,000 to request that even one new one be built. Still, he is confident that buses wouldn’t be at far less than their max capacity.

Some parents were especially concerned with their students receiving special education. Alexandria Hoehl said she had four children in Mount Sinai who receive special services in the district, and she was concerned they would not get the five days of one-on-one attention they need.

My kids “are going to miss more class time when they’re in school to meet the needs of their services they get — like physical therapy, occupational therapy — which are now being squeezed into a shortened amount of time,” she said. “With my oldest, with only being in school two days, they’re going to try and fit five days of services into two days.”

Brosdal said the school is required to follow each special needs student’s individualized education program. The special-ed students will be receiving teaching four days a week and remote learning one day a week, according to the district’s plan.

Though the superintendent said he wants as much in-school instruction as possible, the problem, he said, is space, especially concerning the high school. With 800 students plus staff, the superintendent said it would be impossible to have all students learning in person four days a week and keep them distanced as required by New York State. 

The high school, he added, is also very problematic when students have to move from one classroom to another between periods, as the school is designed so several hallways are linked by one larger hallway. Looking at pictures from schools out of state with kids flooded into hallways with minimal distancing, as well as news like SUNY Oneonta’s recent shutdown because of escalating COVID-19 cases on campus, Brosdal said the district needs to be careful if it ever wants to open up more broadly.

But for some parents, the possibility that things could change in a month’s time is not enough reassurance. Bee said that the virus infection rate in New York remains low, but “it’s never going to be zero — why shouldn’t we start off now and pull it back if the numbers increase, if they increase, because we simply don’t know.”

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Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal. File Photo by Kyle Barr

While some districts came out with their reopening plans last month, parents across the North Shore sent letters and petitions to district officials demanding to have some kind of distance learning option. 

Several weeks later, school officials have come out with details about some of these initiatives. A few are hosting efforts in house, while others are offering the option of using a BOCES-run program.

Rocky Point

Rocky Point Union Free School District will offer a five-day 100% remote model for K-5 students after parents in the area pleaded to at least have the option. 

The district already presented its plans to have elementary students in school full time. In a letter posted to the district website Aug. 14, Rocky Point describes the distance program as a blend of synchronous or asynchronous learning. This will either be handled by Rocky Point staff or through enrollment in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Online Elementary Program, which will include students from other districts as well. Schedules will align with what they would be doing if they were in-person, though parents need to commit to distance program for the full school year, September 2020 through June 2021. 

Parents must fill out a form that is available on the district website by 3 p.m. Aug. 20.

The district was also set to unveil plans for a remote option for students in grades 6-12 Wednesday, Aug. 19, but those plans were not available by press time.

Miller Place

In a letter to parents Aug. 12, the Miller Place School District showed off its plans for remote instruction for K-5 and 6th grade students. The district does not currently have plans to offer a full remote option for students in grades 7 through 12, and their model remains hybrid-only.

The district will offer students who enroll in the remote learning program live instruction five days a week, with days lasting between five and five and a half hours each day. Instruction will also include the normal set of English, math, writing, physical education, art, music and social and emotional learning.

Parents will need to commit to this option for the entire school year running from September 2020 through June 2021. Students cannot choose to reenter the normal 5-day schedule if parents choose this option.

Students will also either be assigned district staff or be enrolled in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Online Elementary Program in a cohort of students which will likely include kids from other districts.

Parents should have already emailed district personnel in order to access the program. Parents with questions can email [email protected] for more information.

The district said it is unable to offer a remote program at the middle and high school level, as they said they do not have the resources to mirror the new course offerings with a remote program. The district also claimed it does not have the legal authority to livestream classes to students at home, saying that cameras are not allowed in classrooms during instruction.

“From a legal standpoint, it is considered discriminatory, and not equitable, to offer courses to in-school students and not have those same courses available to remote learning students,” the district said in its statement. “The district is not willing to reduce or eliminate course offerings, including electives, for in-school students, in order to accommodate families requesting remote learning for non-vulnerable students.” 

Mount Sinai

The Mount Sinai school board has said its intent to allow parents to participate in a full-time remote program. The district is planning to have a remote instructional model for all grades K-12, and parents must sign an intent form available on the district website if they intend to full remote instruction.

The district plans to use Google Classroom as the main platform for remote learning. Attendance will be taken daily through the platform. 

“Parents should be aware that if they choose to opt-out their child from attending in September, the window for returning to school would open in January, the beginning of the second semester,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in the Q&A available on the district’s website.

For elementary students who participate in remote learning, there will be videos recorded by their designated classroom teacher posted four days per week on the teacher’s Google Classroom page. Students will have the opportunity to interact with their teacher on Wednesdays when the students participating in in-person instruction are not in session. Teachers will also be available via email throughout the week to answer questions. Students will be given the same workbooks as their in-person counterparts and will be offered physical education, art and music content one day a week Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

For remote students in the middle and high schools, teachers will post videos and other assignments to Google Classroom in line with schedules as if they were in school.

“Simply put, remote learning is not the same as in-person instruction and students must be actively engaged in learning when they are not in school,” the district’s remote learning document stated. “Teachers will make every effort to ensure that students are provided ‘live’ instruction as much as possible.” 

Teacher videos and assignments will be posted as soon as practicable when lessons take place, which the district said will “allow teachers to continue with the curriculum without interruptions.”

Shoreham-Wading River

The SWR school district has not released any plans for a remote option for students of any grade level. If a parent currently wishes to not have their students in school, then they must be unenrolled and instead be homeschooled.

The district has adopted a plan that would have every student in school five days a week for in-person instruction, all while meeting New York State Department of Health guidelines for distancing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. The district also plans to reopen the Briarcliffe school for kindergarten students. 

At the districts board of education meeting Aug. 18, Superintendent Gerard Poole related more details about how the district would take temperatures of students and allow them to board and exit buses without being in contact with other students. Poole also clarified that students will need to be wearing masks at all times unless in a setting where 6-feet distancing can be maintained.

The district does have a remote learning plan in place should the school need to close at any time during the school year.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O'Brien. File photo from Scott O'Brien

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Monday, Aug. 10 in a release that 107 school districts have not yet submitted their reopening plans to the state and have a Friday deadline to submit or face no in-person learning this fall. However, local districts claim they had already filed their plans and that the state had confirmed receipt.

The governor’s release stated that multiple school districts, including Rocky Point, Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Longwood and Middle Country had not sent their reopening plans yet. This is despite these districts having already presented plans on their websites for residents to peruse. 

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien said in a letter to parents that the district had indeed submitted its plan before the original deadline of July 31, and the state had confirmed receipt.

“We have contacted the New York State Department of Education regarding this matter and are working to ensure our district’s plans are in good standing, as was previously indicated, and that Rocky Point UFSD is removed from the list,” O’Brien said in the letter.

Comsewogue had already put its reopening information on its website before the July 31 deadline. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn confirmed they already had an email in-hand confirming the state received their plan. Quinn also said they asked that the state remove them from the list of 107 schools.

“We have contacted the New York State Education Department regarding this matter and resubmitted our district’s plans along with the original submission receipt,” the Comsewogue superintendent said.

In a statement, Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi said districts had not sent plans to the state Department of Health.

“The list of districts that didn’t file a plan with the state Department of Health is accurate,” Azzopardi said. “Despite clear guidance provided to these schools, which included a link to the DOH portal, some districts in follow-up calls said they filed with the State Education Department — which is not an executive agency — but didn’t file with DOH. Others filled out an affirmation certifying that they would be abiding by the state’s reopening guidance, but didn’t actually submit their plan, something many of these districts are now rectifying.”

Yet other district officials said it was still the state’s mistake. Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in an email that “the Department of Health made the error. We confirmed.”

“Like Rocky Point we received an email from the New York State Department Of Education confirming our submission on July 31,” Brosdal added. “This error unnecessarily upset the community. I immediately received concerned phone calls.”

As of Monday evening, New York State has not updated the list on its website.

Cuomo again restated that reopening plans depend on the willingness of both parents and teachers in communication with schools.

“The main arbiter here of whether a school district has an intelligent plan to reopen and whether people have confidence in that district’s plan — It’s going to be the parents and it’s going to be the teachers, and that requires discussion, and that’s going to be a dialogue,” the governor said in the release.

This comes amongst a host of questions that residents have flooded their districts about reopening plans. Parents in Rocky Point have started a Change.org petition for Rocky Point to create a distance learning option for parents who do not want their children in school. 

On Mount Sinai’s website, the district has released a short Q&A with Brosdal which said the school’s board of education “has agreed to provide remote learning to those parents who are reluctant to send their children to school at this time.” The district is asking all parents to submit to the district whether their child will be attending in September. The district will be putting up a new Q&A every week, according to its website.

“Parents should be aware that if they choose to opt-out their child from attending in September, the window for returning to school would open in January, the beginning of the second semester,” the superintendent said in the Q&A. “Although remote instruction will be provided, we still believe that nothing replaces in person instruction and interaction with a teacher.”