SWR’s reopening plan for in-person instruction includes using Briarcliff School

The Shoreham-Wading River School District plans to reopen the shuttered Briarcliff School in Shoreham to increase the district’s capacity as part of its plan for all students to return to in-person learning in September.

Superintendent Gerard Poole outlined a “broad framework” for reopening during a special Board of Education meeting Thursday night, discussing how the district can meet all the necessary guidelines, such as social distancing, to allow students to return to classrooms. The plan will likely be finalized at another BOE meeting Tuesday before the deadline to submit it to New York State on July 31.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce during the first week of August whether schools can resume in September.

“I think the opportunity is there for us and having every student in school daily is absolutely the best possible option for our students academically and for their social and emotional well being,” Mr. Poole said.

Districts received lengthy guidelines last week from the State Departments of Health and Education to help them formulate reopening plans that include models for in-person, distance learning and a hybrid model. Mr. Poole said to create enough space for social distancing in classrooms, reopening Briarcliff for kindergarten students would be required.

“I say that with a smile because it wasn’t too long ago we weren’t using Briarcliff and it was not needed for educational purposes in the school district,” he said.

He said without reopening Briarcliff, Miller Avenue School would not have enough space to accommodate social distancing.

The costs associated with reconfiguring instructional spaces throughout the district and reopening Briarcliff totals $1.439 million. The bulk of that cost is toward reopening Briarcliff, which is $992,000. That includes a $637,000 price tag for renovation costs. The remaining costs for equipment, such as smart boards, utilities and custodial positions.

He said everything of value that had been in the building was used a cost-saving measure in other buildings over the past few years.

Briarcliff closed in 2014 when administrators cited declining enrollment throughout the district. Last year, district officials announced the historic building would go up for sale.

“This is an emergency, this is unprecedented,” Mr. Poole said.

To fund the $1.439 million, Mr. Poole said the district would use its unappropriated fund balance, which is set aside for “unanticipated, emergency contingent needs.” The fund currently has just over $3 million.

“We are recommending we access the emergency rainy day fund,” Mr. Poole said.

The Board of Education must authorize the spending.

SWR plans to maximize classroom space by using large areas like gyms, libraries and cafeterias for instructional space. Mr. Poole’s presentation even showed a breakdown of square footage in classrooms that were used to calculate a maximum number of people, including students and teachers.

“Early primary students need space, especially right now,” Mr. Poole said. “Opening up Briarcliff absolutely opens up Miller Avenue for first and second graders.”

Students will be required to wear face coverings when in common areas and when on buses. Mr. Poole said students would all be spaced six feet apart during instruction, so at that point regulations do not require a face covering. Guidelines do require 12-foot distancing for more strenuous activities such as band rehearsals and chorus, Mr. Poole said.

One way the district plans to open more space is by removing walls between classrooms in the middle school and high school. Mr. Poole said a total of 15 classrooms are in the process of having walls removed.

Watch the full presentation from Thursday night’s meeting here.