Port Jefferson Middle School and Earl L. Vandermeulen High School had to go fully remote this week, after parents begged the district to allow their children back in four days a week.
Up until recently, the district had students come to the high school and middle school twice a week. Parents, concerned about how the lack of in-person learning would have on their children, began asking why the district would not add more days.
Jae Hartzell, a parent in the district, said she was one of a dozen who voiced their concerns.
“We really worked, and fought, and emailed, and studied, and provided stats, and really researched to make sure we were fighting for the right and safe thing to do,” she said.
And their wishes were granted at the latest board of education meeting on Jan. 8, when the board agreed on a vote to let middle and high schoolers back in four days a week.
But just two days later, on Sunday, Jan. 10, the district sent out a notification that the four days will not happen, and instead, those two groups would have to go remote.
The notice said that as of that day, there were 26 staff members, including teachers and teaching assistants, who are subject to quarantine due to COVID-19, for a variety of reasons related to their own health, in-school and out of school exposures, and positive family members.
It continued that after careful examination of the school’s schedules and their available substitute coverage, they determined they do not have the staff to cover the middle and high schools this week. That being said, grades 6-12 will go remote Jan. 12 through Jan. 15, with no change to the Monday, Jan. 11 schedule as this is an asynchronous remote day in the district’s hybrid schedule.
The notice did not affect the elementary school, which will still be open for in-person learning, and staff coverage for the district’s 8:1:1 special education students have not been affected, as the in-person class schedules for these students remains the same.
“As a parent, you see your child go from super happy and over the moon to be able to go back to school, and then flattened a bit with that disappointment,” Hartzell said. “We all have to understand this is very complex and complicated and we don’t have the information, but it’s disheartening.”
Port Jefferson School District Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district understands this is difficult news to hear after the highly anticipated return to four days per week of in-person instruction.
“This determination is only for the remainder of this week and we expect to begin this next phase of our reopening plan on Tuesday, Jan. 19 – as long as circumstances permit – when we look forward to having all of our students back in our classrooms,” she said.