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Riverhead schools considering mix of in-person, remote learning in September

Nothing is final yet, but Riverhead Central School District officials are considering a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for school reopening in September.

“We are planning for school to be open in September. However, we anticipate that this will be with social distancing,” interim superintendent Christine Tona said during a virtual Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

“Because of our strong enrollment numbers, we will not be able to have every child attend school every day,” Ms. Tona added.

The COVID-19 transmission rate has remained at around 1% in recent weeks, a metric that must remain below 5% for a 14-day average in order for schools to reopen, according to guidance issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last week, the state education department released a series of guidelines to assist districts as they formulate reopening plans.

The governor said more announcements will follow in the first week of August.

“We recognize that there is no substitute for in-person learning,” Ms. Tona said Tuesday, adding that health and safety of students and staff is paramount, as is in-person contact.

She also said that the district would provide an option for families who wish to keep their children home if they uncomfortable with their returning to school.

A district task force made up of administrators, teachers, staff members and parents is currently working on reopening plans, which must be submitted to the state education department by July 31. Those plans will also be posted on the district website, Ms. Tona said.

In addition to the guidelines released by state officials, task force decisions are also taking into account responses to a community survey on reopening school. The survey received 1,575 responses and 55% of respondents reported being “very concerned” about their children being exposed to COVID-19 at school. The majority of respondents — 59% — said they are comfortable sending their children back to school with proper precautions in place, while 31% were unsure. Ten percent of those surveyed said they would not be comfortable sending their children back to school this fall.

Respondents were split over whether to allow their children to ride on a school bus: 33% said they definitely would, 23% would not and 36% were unsure.

More than half the respondents said they would not need assistance with childcare in the event that children aren’t in school full time, while 19% would need assistance with arranging childcare.

The survey is available to fill out online on the district website.

An additional family survey will be sent out next month, Ms. Tona said.

In a statement read during Tuesday’s meeting, teachers union president Greg Wallace said educators would love to return to the pre-pandemic model of education as soon as it’s feasible. 

“Our No. 1 objective will be to advocate for the best learning conditions for our students during this crisis, with the largest emphasis placed on maintaining health and safety of all stakeholders,” Mr. Wallace’s statement read.