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Port Jefferson School District

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The Port Jefferson school board voted Tuesday to start its 4-person in person learning schedule Jan. 11 next year. Photo from meeting video

In its Nov. 10 meeting, the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education decided to open up the middle and high schools for more in-person learning starting in January, though plans may be complicated by rising infection rates.

The board voted 4-3 against a plan to start rolling in students on a staggered, weekly basis Dec. 8. The board then voted 5-2 to have all students in grades six through 12 start back Jan. 11. Trustees Rene Tidwell and Ryan Walker both voted “no” on the plan.

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said this would also mandate the installation of desk shields. The district already authorized the purchase of desk shields at $135,000. Those shields are expected sometime around the third week of November. In addition, ICT students will begin four-day instruction immediately.

In this plan, Mondays would remain a remote-learning day with office hours and asynchronous instruction. Tuesday through Friday would then become in-person for all students. Desks and desk shields would be sanitized at the end of each school day, and then on Mondays any lingering haze left from the sanitizer would be removed.

“We got a lot of parent feedback as to why 11th-graders should be in as it helps their college careers, why middle school students should be in — we recognize that all students benefit from in-person learning,” the superintendent said. “The how and the when is something we’re having a lot of discussion on.”

She said it would take from five to 10 days to install all desk shields in the two schools.

A survey of 513 parents in the district revealed that just over 88% said they would like to send their child to four days of instruction. Another 7%, or about 36 families, said they were using the full remote option and would continue that way.

In that same survey, 65% of parents said they would like to see students go to four days as soon as possible. While other families wished the district to start this plan in January or February, a little over 10 percent, or about 56 families, said they wished the school to continue with the hybrid model.

Almost 60% of parents surveyed want children to return all at once, while another 24% want kids phased in with smaller groups.

Students were similarly polled, and most, just over 67%, also wanted to be back in school four days a week, though only 42% said it should be as soon as possible.

While most school staff would like to see children back in school for more days, just a little over 50% of the 94 surveyed want to see students brought in with staggered groups.

A representative from the Port Jefferson Teachers’ Association also spoke at the meeting, asking the district to bring in experts from local hospitals when considering reopening, and mentioned the district would gain little if it brought back students after Thanksgiving, as it would only be a limited number of days before Christmas.

“Overwhelmingly, our staff want our kids back in the building — they want them back four days a week,” the superintendent said. “The biggest question becomes how and when.”

Tidwell expressed some concerns over how well students will be protected by the desk shields, noting that they do not necessarily stop all of the aerosolized virus. She said it’s likely to also see upticks in cases after the holidays, and the district should hold off until after December or after the holidays.

“We can’t ignore what’s happening in Suffolk County,” she said.

Currently, the infection rate in New York has breached 3%, higher than any other time it’s been in the past few months. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has said the jump in infections may be because of Halloween, but state officials also blame restaurants that sell alcohol, gyms and home gatherings. New restrictions are already in place.

Walker said he trusts the administration to do what needs to be done, but the board would have to be conscientious before the decided date. He said he would like to see the school district go ahead with these plans.

“My position really hasn’t changed,” he said. “When we come up with a date, we look at the data immediately preceding that date to see if it’s safe. If we don’t think it’s safe, we’re not going to go ahead with it. What I worry about though, if we do decide on a date, if nothing changes from where it is currently … are we then going to push the pause button again and again and again? If you’re not secure in sending your kids in now, I don’t think possibly you’re ever going to be secure in bringing in your kids.”

Board vice president, Tracy Zamek, said the toll of keeping kids in this current model is doing harm.

“Our kids are not doing well, in my opinion,” she said. “If the school is ready and the numbers are OK, then we need to get the kids back in.”

Assistant superintendent, Christine Austen, said the schools’ social workers are working on reports for how students are currently doing.

Schmettan said other districts in the area have set dates and then pushed back those dates, and they could do the same thing.

“The really difficult part, we can set that date for whatever the date may be but infection rates, closures — things are going to change,” she said. “Regardless of whatever benchmark or milestone we shoot for, there is a possibility it is diverted.”

The state just announced they will be cancelling the Jan. Regents exams. File photo

State officials said the January 2021 Regents exams will be canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Announced last week, state Interim Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa, along with her administration, said they were canceling the exams at the start of next year. The decision will apply to all Regents exams that had been scheduled for Jan. 26 through Jan. 29.

Over the summer, the New York State Education Department canceled the June and August exams due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state’s Board of Regents, said the decision is only fair. 

“A lot of schools started at different times this year,” he said. “We started teaching all-remote, sometimes hybrid, Zoom classes, some in-person. How could you have one uniform test for all students?” 

According to Tilles, it is always difficult to have equity in a state uniform test. 

“Even without the pandemic, it’s inequitable because some schools have better resources and can attract certain types of teachers who have specialties that other schools don’t have,” he said. “So, the kids who are in high-needs districts are getting the same tests as students in the lowest-need schools in the state and compare those students to the other.”

Since there has been disparity in the way students have learned the last eight months, the board began thinking about how to handle the state testing early on in the year. It was officially announced on Nov. 5 that the tests would be canceled. 

“Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the health and well-being of our students and educators,” Rosa said in a statement. “We determined the January Regents exams could not be safely, equitably and fairly administered across the state given where the pandemic currently stands. We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other state assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation.”

And due to the cancellation, NYSED will propose modifications to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements at the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting. 

Dr. Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, said she also believes this was the right decision. 

“There are inequalities in different school districts and it wasnt creating a level playing field,” she said. 

One problem Quinn said she sees in the future is because of the January cancellation, students who planned on taking the English exam will be unable to. 

“A lot of our students take the English Regents in January,” she said. “If they end up giving it in June because they canceled in January, it’ll put the students at a disadvantage and will have to take it on top of their other exams.”

A representative from Three Village Central School District said the only Regents typically taken in January is the English exam, but now the students will have to take the exam in June.

“In the past, we have had a few students re-take a Regents examination in January to improve their score, but the number of students re-taking a Regents in January has been small,” the district said in a statement. “The impact is anticipated to be minimal.”

According to the statement sent out by NYSED, the modifications apply to all students who are completing a secondary-level course of study or makeup program in January and are scheduled to participate in one or more of the January 2021 Regents exams. 

“To ensure students are not adversely impacted by the cancellation of the exams, the department will ask the Board of Regents to adopt emergency regulations pertaining to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn diplomas, credentials and endorsements,” the statement said. “Under the proposed emergency regulations, students who are planning to take one or more Regents examinations during the January 2021 examination period at the conclusion of a course of study or makeup program shall be exempt from the requirements pertaining to passing such Regents examination to be issued a diploma.”

Other local districts said that due to the population size within their districts, the cancellation of the exam would not impact them. Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school representatives all said the decision does not affect their districts.

“There is little impact on our students in Port Jefferson, as we have very few students who take Regents exams in January during a non-COVID year,” Christine Austen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Port Jefferson School District, said. “Any student who was enrolled in a Regents-level course last year was exempted from taking the assessment and received Regents credit towards graduation as long as they passed the course for the year. Due to the low number of students who usually take the January Regents exams, it isn’t a concern at this time.”

No decisions have been made yet by the Board of Regents regarding the June and August 2021 exams or any other state assessment programs. 

This article has been amended to better clarify the Three Village School District’s statement on the Regents cancellation. 

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Port Jefferson middle and high schools will be closing Nov. 12 after a middle school student tested positive for COVID-19. Photo by Elana Glowatz

*Update* The Port Jefferson School District announced it was reopening the middle and high schools for Friday, Nov. 13 for in-person learning. 

“Since the positive case had not been in school since last week, we were fortunate that students and staff were not exposed and did not have to quarantine,” the district said in a message on its website. “As the holidays approach, please remain vigilant with social distancing, proper hand hygiene and masks. These mitigation strategies will keep our schools open for our students.”

The Port Jefferson School District is closing its middle and high schools for Thursday, Nov. 12 and going full remote for both buildings after officials announced a middle school student tested positive for COVID-19.

The district said in a notice to parents Wednesday that since the Suffolk County Department of health is closed due to Veterans Day, and the district is unable to yet talk to officials about starting contact tracing.

All staff and students will be doing remote work, and only a few clerical, custodial and administrators will be reporting into the buildings.

“Although the student has not been in school this week, we would like official information regarding exposures from the Department of Health,” the district said in its message.

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

School districts are letting their students know that it’s okay to be in touch with their feelings.

During this unprecedented and scary time, district officials across the North Shore said they immediately knew that they needed to buckle down and implement different mental programs to accommodate the changing landscape of education and the COVID-19 pandemic worry.

Jennifer Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration with Smithtown Central School District, said they started the school year with training for all staff members in social and emotional learning. 

“We’ve always privileged student and staff mental health and wellness, so we’re doing what we did in years past, just a lot more of it,” she said. 

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown has been including ongoing contact among school counselors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, teachers and other staff members to evaluate student and family needs for food, technology, mental health, counseling, and academic support.

Farther east in Rocky Point, Toni Mangogna, a social worker at Rocky Point High School, said they have been seeing an increase in student anxiety surrounding the pandemic. “Coming back to school is so different,” she said. “We’re trying to get our services out to as many students and families as we can.”

As part of their SEL programs, the district offers a virtual classroom that students can access at home or while in school to request an appointment with a school counselor or psychologist. 

“It’s a great option for kids who are working from home,” she said. “I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

The virtual office also offers breathing exercises and tips for practicing mindfulness. Mangogna said she sees students sharing the services with their family and friends. 

“These students are really in touch with their feelings,” she said. “If we can make that connection with parents and students, I think we’re really making a difference.”

The Rocky Point social worker added that while the kids are stressed, parents are seeking help, too. 

“Parents have anxiety,” she said. “It’s difficult for parents to be that support for students when they’re having their own struggles and anxiety.” 

Her colleagues have been working to help and refer parents to local psychologists. 

“Because we don’t have that face-to-face opportunity anymore, it increases wanting to talk to social workers,” she said. “Just to have somebody in front of them that can validate that feeling. I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

Dr. Robert Neidig, principal at Port Jefferson Middle School, said they are implementing different programs specific to his and the high school’s students. 

“At the middle school, we have a wellness and mental health curriculum with different types of activities students can do,” he said. 

Dr. Robert Neidig, the PJ Middle School Principal, talked about the different programs the district implemented for student’s mental health. Photo from PJSD

Neidig said they’ve had the program for a while, but during the COVID crisis, they “suped it up and since implemented character education lessons.” Since September, they hired a full-time psychologist for the middle school and the high school.

“During this time, it’s taken on new meaning,” he said. “Stress levels, anxiousness — we’re all feeling the effects of it. We’re trying to do the very best we can.”

He added that every teach is going above and beyond to make sure their students are doing alright.

“It doesn’t matter if you walk into a health class, an English class or math class,” he said. “Teachers are taking the time to check in students they understand if kids aren’t there mentally, the learning will be lost.”

Three Village Central School District’s executive director of Student and Community Services Erin Connolly said they also implemented a virtual program to continue and promote SEL. 

“Our district really values mental health,” she said. “We have been working on return to school protocol and mental health plan for students and family for pre-k through grade 12.” 

Their three-tier plan has a strong emphasis on supporting the district’s staff. 

“By supporting them, we’re supporting the students,” she added. “It’s a dynamic plan.”

Dr. Alison Herrschaft, a social worker at Three Village, said that early on in the school year, counselors and social work staff met with each and every student in the school. 

“By doing that, it gave those kids the opportunity to put a face to the staff who can help,” she said. “They’re more likely to seek out help if they’re really struggling and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay.”

By integrating themselves more into the hallways and classrooms, Herrschaft said the kids who might not have been aware of the staff before, now see these staff as “rock stars.”

“We wanted to normalize asking for help,” she said. “It’s accessible to anyone who needs it.”

Although Three Village buckled down during the pandemic to make mental health more available, they won’t stop their program even if a second wave hits. 

“A big goal with the plans we developed is if we had to go remote again, based on numbers, our SEL plans will continue while we’re out,” Connolly said. “It was really important to have a seamless transition so that doesn’t change, and it still gives kids points of contact if they’re home again, they’ll be well-versed.”

*Update* On Sunday, the Port Jefferson School District updated parents saying that after the middle school student was determined as positive for COVID, the Department of Health has quarantined a number of other students and staff who were determined to be in contact with the individual. All the individuals have been notified by the district.

The Department of health has determined students are cleared to return to the building on Monday. Staff not made to quarantine are supposed to report Monday as well as the students scheduled to be in school for learning that day. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing,” said Superintendent Jessica Schmettan in a letter to parents. “The community needs to remain vigilant to avoid closures in the future.”

Original Story

The evening of Friday, Sept. 18, both the Rocky Point and Port Jefferson school districts reported positive COVID cases among a single student each.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien wrote in a letter to parents Sept. 18 that a student at the high school had tested positive for COVID-19. The district said they were in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health, and “all appropriate areas are being cleaned and disinfected over the weekend.” The school is planned to reopen Monday to follow the school’s hybrid schedule.

“As per the Suffolk County Department of Health, the individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 was last in the building Thursday, Sept. 17 and will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days after a negative test result has been provided to the district,” the school’s statement read.

The district is assisting the county DOH in contact tracing. Those contacted by the DOH will need to remain quarantined for 14 days from last exposure to the individual.

PJSD

Following another case Monday where Port Jefferson School District officials said an elementary student had tested positive, the district again sent a message to parents Friday saying that, after dismissal, the district was notified a middle school student had tested positive.

“We have been in contact with the Department of Health and have begun contact tracing procedures,” the district said in its notice to parents. “Students or staff members that were in contact with this student will receive a separate correspondence and a possible quarantine from the Department of Health.”

The district asked that people be mindful of their interactions with people as the investigation by the DOH is ongoing. The district said it will update parents of any further details once they recieve more guidance from the department of health.

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State Dashboard Shows Comsewogue HS With Two Positive Tests, But District Says Not to Worry

PJSD said the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School has been temporarily closed and all students moved online after on student was tested positive. Photo from Google maps

*Update* The night of Sept. 16, Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan released a follow up letter about the student who was confirmed positive. She said the elementary school was “thoroughly” cleaned after the district received the news. The New York State Department of Health interviewed the family and district, and has since advised the district that classrooms are cleared to reopen, saying the student was not infectious while on school grounds.

Students who had close contact with the student have been contacted, and contact tracing is underway. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing, the use of masks, and proper hygiene,” Schmettan said in the letter. “The community needs to remain vigilant in order to avoid closures in the future.”

Original story:

Parents in the Port Jefferson School District received a message Wednesday morning saying a student was tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School would be closed for the meantime.

“This morning the Port Jefferson School District was notified that a student at the elementary school tested positive for COVID-19,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan wrote in a message to district parents shared with TBR News Media. “Following our procedures and protocols and guidance from the [New York State] Department of Health, the elementary school is closed today for distance learning.”

The district added they will be conducting contact tracing and disinfecting the elementary school. Parents will be updated as the situation develops.

As of Sept. 15, Comsewogue High School has been listed by the New York State dashboard as having two positive cases in the Comsewogue High School. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn described the situation as two siblings who had tested positive for COVID in another country, though she said the name of the country was not released for fear of the students being outed to their peers. They were cleared by the New York State Department of Health to come back to school, though while in school another test taken in the states came back positive.

Quinn said the Department of Health was aware of the situation, and health officials told the district the two students were likely positive because of the viral load still in the body, though they were not infectious. Both students have volunteered to stay home in the mean time.

 

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Andi Fortier and James Burke have, in only a few months, built a farm from scratch. Photo by Kyle Barr

Boots squelching in the morning dew of the roughly shorn grass in East Hampton, James Burke and Andie Fortier together know they have a long day ahead of them. 

James Burke prunes a grouping of sunflowers. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the land known for its mansions and rich flavoring from Southampton to Montauk, nothing comes easy to those who work the land. The farmers, both just 23 years old, have many vegetables to grow, their winter squash, the hot peppers, watermelons and many others in the small plot of land behind the restaurant they work for. After working a full day there, it’s over to another patch of land they farm in Amagansett where they grow produce for their stand at the Port Jefferson Farmers Market. They will be working from early morning until the sun kisses the horizon, but they will return to their small Amagansett apartment proud of what they’ve done, because everything they have, has been built with their own hands.

The pair effectively operate two small farms far out on the South Fork. One provides the food for a multitude of local restaurants, the other is for all their produce sold at the PJ Farmers Market, where they hold their stand as Sand and Soil Farm. 

To them, nurturing things, whether it’s any one plant or an entire garden and farm, is only natural.

“It’s really satisfying to see something from start to finish, from when you put a seed in the ground then take care of it and harvest from it — watching things come full circle,” Fortier said. 

Burke said he relishes watching the way customers react to their food. At their farmers market stand, customers come and say what they used the farm’s produce for. Others look for something they haven’t cooked with before, then they come back the following week and “they’re hooked on it,” Burke said. 

Getting Hooked on Produce

Starting a farm at a young age is certainly not common, especially for two people whose families have no recent history or experience with extensive agriculture.

The pair are both 2015 graduates of Port Jefferson high school, though it would have been hard for either of them to say five years later they would find themselves knees in the dirt and their hands in the earth.

Andie Fortier and James Burke stand with their boss talking about what comes next for the garden in East Hampton. Photo by Kyle Barr

In high school, Burke was engendered to environmental issues. Later, when attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he started working at an urban farm, which helped grow local products in the so-called food deserts, or the places in poorer urban areas that have no local access to a supermarket or any kind of fresh food. Coming back to Long Island, he knew that’s something he would want to continue but on a larger scale.

Fortier, like her father Andrew, was interested in music but did enjoy working with her father outside in his carpentry business. After graduating with Burke in 2015 she went to The New School in New York City to study theater. Missing wide open spaces and looking to find work she could really enjoy, she returned to Long Island and “fell into” the agriculture industry more on the education and market side of things. Gradually, she grew to love the farmer’s life. 

“If you had asked me in high school if James and I would own a farm together, I would have said, ‘What are you talking about?’” she said.

The two worked at Amber Waves Farm Market & Kitchen in Amagansett for just a few years when in 2019 the owners of the Nick and Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton asked for somebody to clean up the establishment’s backyard garden. The person who previously worked that patch of land up and left one day without a word, and over months the half an acre became overgrown with weeds that reached up to chest height. 

“It was kind of a blank canvas, so we just started seeding,” Fortier said. “It’s just grown and grown over the past couple of months.”

Practically by themselves, Fortier and Burke transformed it into a thriving garden, adding more onto it since they started handling it full time last September. 

So much has been built by hand. Using excess wood found in a pile on the property, the pair built a 10-foot wide toolshed. Elsewhere in the garden, they found old half-moon metal rails buried in the weeds, and taking those they constructed their own greenhouse. The only items of those two projects they purchased was the roof for the shed and the canvas for the greenhouse.

During the winter months, especially at the edge of March during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two had to keep seedlings warm in the greenhouse though they lacked a space heater. That’s when the pair started to get innovative, where they buried crockpots in the ground to keep the seeds warm at 75 degrees before being taken out in the mornings to receive light. 

“We had to work with what we got,” Burke said. “We had to get creative.”

Growing Something New

The work was enough to keep anybody busy, but the pair wanted something more, something they could call their own. Working with the Peconic Land Trust’s Farms for the Future Initiative, a program that aims to protect land that could be potentially developed and keep it for agriculture, they hit the books, literally. The PJ natives trawled through pages at the local library along with online articles about how they would set everything up — from creating a business plan, to figuring out how many seeds they would need to buy, to what equipment they would need at the start. In Amagansett, they managed to procure a 1-acre plot of land, a piece of a larger property owned by the Peconic Land Trust where portions are run by a number of other small-scale farmers. They moved in this March.

Andie Fortier and James Burke at the garden they practically hand built in East Hampton. Photo by Kyle Barr

Through a winding dirt road cutting through fields, Fortier’s well-used van bounces along the uneven path until they reach their little patch of dirt in the northwest corner of the property, a place bursting with sunflowers, tomatoes, Malabar spinach and daikon radishes.

They didn’t have anything to start. They didn’t have a tractor or any heavy machinery to speak of, knowing that would be the biggest expense for any farm starting out. When plants needed water, they filled up a giant tub at home, stuck it in the back of a trailer and lugged the gallons down to the parched land in the spring and early summer when there was very little rain. So much of the heavy lifting was done by hand, and it was especially hard at first digging in each trough and seeding every ridge. The young farmers finally got an irrigation system going in early July, but they had to come up with solutions on the fly, like netting around the tomatoes to protect them from crows. 

The families of the PJ natives have also noticed just how much the two care for their new farm. The Burkes and Fortiers often come out on Saturday to help with harvest and packing, getting everything loaded into vehicles so the two can set up their stand at the Port Jefferson Farmers Market on Sundays. During the pandemic, such escapades to the pastoral landscape were especially nice getaways for the families being stuck quarantined in their homes.

Burke’s sister Kyleen Burke said in an email that she was amazed, too, at the innovative means through which the pair have created so much from so little.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised that James has made his own way, but it is still amazing to see what he and Andie have been able to do and how quickly they have made the farm grow,” she said.

Now with summer starting to wrap up, the verdant field and garden are now what they have to show for their work. When they speak of their bounty, it’s with a sort of reverence one could reserve for one’s children. The two have even sectioned off a small part of their apartment where they keep vegetables in with the air conditioning on to help them avoid the oppressive heat of the late summer. They are still working out the logistics of owning a walk-in cooler.

“It doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time,” Fortier said. “It’s a real start of life now, sleeping next to the tomatoes.”

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Assistant Superintendent Christine Austen broke down PJSD’s new distance learning option for parents. File photo

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.

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Port Jefferson Superintendent spoke at two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

Among three potential plans for reopening, the Port Jefferson School District has decided on a model that would have elementary students in full time and middle school and high school students splitting their week between in-class and online learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a decision by the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

At its July 29 meeting, school officials and board members heard of the three options the 68-member reopening committee has been working on the past several weeks. The presentation, shown by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Christine Austen, included a fully online standardized learning experience, a hybrid model and a full-time in-person experience. 

What the district has tentatively settled on could mean increased costs to the small district on the Sound. Having grades K through five in class all the time will mean extra costs in redesigning the classrooms, hiring extra teaching assistants and other such costs associated with keeping students distanced. Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said it could be an approximate $230,000 addition out of this year’s $44,739,855 2020-21 budget. That money,  according to Schmettan, would come from the district’s reserve fund balance.

Otherwise, students in the middle and high schools will have days of the week split between two days in school, one day at home being taught over the internet live with their regular teachers and two days of what amounts to classwork, or so-called “asynchronous learning,” also over the internet.  

Students will be broken up into two groups to be put on alternating schedules, purple and gray for students with last names A through L and M through Z. District officials said they would work to make sure each group was balanced.

Though some on the board asked about students wishing to be in class together with friends, Schmettan said the biggest issue was making sure siblings were in the same group, so as to not add extra difficulty with parents taking children to school. 

A student’s grade level will determine how many hours of asynchronous learning for each student. The district has come out with a one-to-one Chromebook program, and officials also said it will work to make sure those lacking access to stable internet connections can access the online portions of their schooling.

At the same time, students in special education and in English as a New Language in the elementary school would also be there full time. However, special education and ENL, among other extra help groups in the middle and high schools, will spend four days in school and one day at home for asynchronous learning, as better to comprehend what’s expected with online learning in case schools shut down again.

In a survey sent home to parents, school officials said 12 percent of parents have said they do not plan to send their kid into school in the fall, while another 13 said they need more info before making a decision. Also in the survey, 45 percent of parents said they were comfortable with their kids taking the bus to school. The rest said they were uncomfortable or unsure about having their children take the bus. 

The district plans to send out further surveys after Cuomo releases final guidelines to confirm which parents will be sending kids to schools and which aren’t. Port Jeff also plans to survey staff to confirm who is in line for when school starts up again Sept. 8.

In the case that a student or staff member does get sick, Austen said the district will work with New York State or Suffolk County contact tracers, though it will also be incumbent on the district itself to identify who was close to the person confirmed with COVID-19.

A previous version of this post shared the wrong name of Port Jeff’s assistant superintendent. This version corrects this error.

Port Jefferson School District hosts two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The members of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2020 received their diplomas in two separate, well-orchestrated ceremonies that signified the school’s 126th commencement exercises on Aug. 1.

The Pledge of Allegiance, led by Student Organization vice president Hana Ali, was followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Rachel Park. Both high school principal Eric Haruthunian and Student Organization president Dylan Dugourd welcomed everyone to the two morning events.

Congratulatory remarks and words of praise and inspiration were presented by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan and parent Richard Righi, father of graduating senior Katelynne Righi. Senior Class President James Marci presented the class gift fit for the current time and to honor the community: a donation to both Mather Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, noting that many of the students who grew up in the community were born at St. Charles.

The top two students, valedictorian Christine Iasso and salutatorian Kyle Onghai also addressed their fellow classmates, sharing memories, reflections on their primary education, grateful words to teachers and family members, and words of advice for their fellow graduates.

“We all have the power to make the changes needed to create the brightest future our generation can enjoy,” said Iasso, who encouraged her peers to appreciate the planet and one another as they will have the opportunity to affect the lives of all the people they will interact with in the future. The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis and Onghai will attend UCLA to major in mathematics.

Haruthunian then presented the Class of 2020 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before he called each student to the podium and, as is tradition, highlighted their high school careers and future plans. As they walked to the podium, they were handed their diplomas by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier. The Class of 2020 then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

Text by the Port Jefferson School District and verified by reporter.