East Williston School District unveils plan to reopen in-person classes in the fall

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East Williston Superintendent Elaine Kanas, left, and board of education president Mark Kamberg, pictured in 2019, put forth a plan to have all students in school, pending approval by the governor. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

The long-awaited plan for the upcoming school year was unveiled for the East Williston School District Wednesday night as the Board of Education, school principals and administrators told a crowd of a few in-person parents and a zoom crowd of over 200 that they plan to bring all students back to in-person classes in the fall.

The district reviewed the plan with those in attendance ahead of submitting it to the governor Friday, and will await his decision on whether schools will be allowed to reopen at all.

Superintendent Elaine Kanas sent two surveys out to parents in the last week, detailing three possible plans for reopening.

In all three, grades K-7 would be brought back into in-person classes.

One plan featured grades 8-12 having three days of classes online, one day of classes in person and one day of working with guidance counselors and other professionals online. Another featured the upper grades being split into cohorts and alternating days in class, with homework being given for them to do on days out of school.

The third plan was to bring all students back to class five days per week, but with some classes being cut from the program so as to reorganize staff and allow for additional space in the school for classes.

After Wednesday, it was evident that the plan being submitted most closely aligns with the third proposed plan.

Although the administration believes in-person classes are the most effective for the coming year, there will be an option for families to have a child stick with purely online classes if they, or someone they live with, may be vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. The district is prepared to switch to partially or fully remote classes at any given time, if they must.

Parents will be required to attest to their child’s healthily status daily and answer a screening survey that says their child does not have a temperature of above 100 degrees.

If a student becomes sick in school, they will be sent to the nurse. If the nurse suspects COVID-19, the child will be isolated and monitored and a guardian will be asked to pick the child up and seek a medical evaluation, according to the plan.

If a child is sent home, students that were in that child’s classroom will be vacated and the room will be cleaned.

Each principal of the three schools stepped up to the microphone to present specifics on what school will look like at their respective schools in the fall.

The three schools shared similarities in some aspects of their plans.

All said six feet of space will be kept between students at all times, for instance. The three principals also expressed a need for student’s mental wellbeing to be checked into, given that the measures in place can be stress and anxiety-inducing.

North Side Elementary principal James Bloomgarden said his school put together a Social and Emotional Learning Task Force that has been working on ways to support mental health.

A survey will be sent out to North Side families prior to school beginning that will gain insight on how parents and children feel about a return to in-person classes and mental health strategies will be implemented in classrooms.

Students will stay within their “classroom cohorts” as much as possible during the day and the cafeteria, gym and auditorium will be used as classroom space.

Lunches will be eaten in classrooms and when classes go out for recess, they will be assigned to a specific space, which will rotate.

Students will be cycling through certain classes, such as art and physical education, in two and a half week periods. One of the reasons for this is constraints when it comes to classroom size.

“Those of you who have been to North Side know that our quirky 105-year-old building doesn’t have uniform classroom sizes,” Bloomgarden said.

Willets Road School principal Christine Dragone said her school of fifth through seventh graders will also follow the cohort model as much possible, with students sticking with their homeroom class throughout the day.

Dragone as well put an emphasis on the need to address students’ mental wellbeing.

“Middle-schoolers on any given day are struggling with social and emotional connections, ability to self regulate and manage and now you add on a global pandemic and the fact they have to go back to school in a few months and I think we’ve got some work to do,” Dragone said.

Dragone plans to increase the amount of time spent outside during instruction and to allow for masks breaks and space. Students will also have a “wellness period” added to their day to address wellbeing. Teachers and counselors will work to address the needs of students during this time.

Dr. Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School, said that classes will be held in-person but that in order to reduce class sizes, some electives will be eliminated and staff will be reorganized.

Among the classes to be removed are Spanish conservation, fashion design and illustration and media arts. But Feeney believes most students will be able to maintain their regular schedules.

Most clubs at Wheatley will be able to meet in person after school, according to the plan. Some, such as the jazz band and Wheatley Theater Company, may have to be modified.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has said that the fall athletic season may begin on Sept. 21.

Regional and state finals have been cancelled. Director of Athletics Michael Scaturro said that means the Long Island championships will not happen this year. He hopes to have some sort of championship within Nassau County but it remains to be seen if that can happen.

Special education, including 504 plans and IEPs will continue to be provided but may differ slightly in how they are administered, according to the plan. One example of this provided in the plan is that service may be held in the classroom as opposed to the “therapy room.”

Special education will continue to be provided if the district has to pivot to online learning. The plan states that “reasonable modifications will be made based on individual student needs,” in that event.

The plan will be submitted to Governor Andrew Cuomo Friday and he will make a decision on whether or not any schools will be allowed to return to in-person classes next week.

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