Board of Education approves purchase of face shields, allowing more students to return to school

Plastic face shields may pave the way for more Riverhead students to return to in-person learning.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Board of Education approved the purchase of two face shields for each student in grades 7-12, which will allow students to be in classrooms four days per week.

“It’s imperative we get these kids in,” Board of Education president Laurie Downs said after Tuesday’s vote. “I think it’s very exciting. It’s like the beginning of the year again.”

Under state guidelines, barriers are required in addition to face masks when students are not able to maintain six-foot social distancing in classrooms. According to Christopher Venator, an attorney for the school district, a lack of clear definitions has prompted other districts to interpret the use of barriers to include face shields. “It’s an open question whether that meets the spirit of the Department of Health regulations,” he explained.

Plastic desk barriers have already been implemented at the elementary level in order for students to return to five-day instruction earlier this year.

But district officials said plastic barriers would present a burden to middle and high students, who would either have to transport them from class to class or clean and sanitize them between each period.

In addition, the plastic barriers came in at a much lower cost—$5,400 for two shields per student—than the $80,000 projected cost of desk barriers. “That’s our best bet to get kids back in school,” board member Matthew Wallace said.

Students will still be required to wear a mask under the shield and would have the option to remain in hybrid instruction, in school for just two days per week, return for full days or remain fully remote.

Middle and high school teachers are still offering live, synchronous instruction and would continue that for their students who are fully remote. “It would give some flexibility if families don’t feel comfortable coming in four days,” interim superintendent Christine Tona said.

According to Ms. Tona, the district has approximately $923 remaining from over $900,000 in funds received as part of the CARES Act last year.

Additional federal aid could be on the way after Congress approved a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that will allocate approximately $126 billion for K-12 schools Wednesday.

Though she ultimately voted to support the expenditure, board member Susan Koukounas said she has some reservations about increasing in-person instruction time.

“Our case rate was over double Shoreham-Wading River and more than triple of Mattituck-Cutchogue,” she said.

The face shields are expected to be delivered within the next three weeks, with district officials planning to begin four-day, in-person instruction in April when students return from spring break.