Editorial: Inauspicious start to new school year as districts try to navigate COVID-19

Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend were a roller coaster for students and parents in both the Riverhead and Southold school districts. 

Both sent notes to students’ families that COVID-19, which has dramatically altered so many lives since the winter, had struck again. In Aquebogue two elementary school students, who are siblings, had tested positive for the virus. And in Southold, two employees had tested positive.

The news erupted as school was about to begin in Southold and had already started in Riverhead.

Sunday evening, after the Aquebogue students were diagnosed, Riverhead interim district superintendent Christine Tona sent an email to parents that students and teachers who were in the cohorts with them during the first two days of school last week must quarantine for the mandated 14 days. The rooms the affected students occupied on those days were shuttered for cleaning.

So now, after what seemed like a chance for a fresh start, many Aquebogue students are back at home, in front of their tablets, trying to learn remotely.

This is not what anyone wanted to happen after so many months of worry about what the school year would bring. 

For parents and students in Southold, Monday began with an email from Superintendent Anthony Mauro saying that two district employees had tested positive for COVID-19. 

By 5:30 that evening, a second note informed parents that students would not return to school on Tuesday, as planned, that the first day of school would instead be Wednesday, Sept. 9, and that in-person learning would not begin until Sept. 18.

This is how Mr. Mauro put the bad news: “On Sept. 14, students will begin distance learning, the schedule for which will be shared in the coming days. On Friday, Sept. 18, students, faculty and staff will return to in-person school.”

The school year ended last spring on a bad, and somewhat chaotic, note, with schools shuttered for months and students and teachers doing remote learning, most for the first time. The 2020 school year is not off to a much more hopeful or positive start.

For parents trying to keep their children’s education front and center while doing their jobs, either from home or in the workplace, these developments are not welcome news.

And no one can say with certainty with lies ahead.