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.