When students go back to school across the East End this month, their days will look much different than they did before the pandemic caused schools to shut their doors in March.

School districts have been tweaking reopening plans throughout the month of August, as more details from New York State led to shifting schedules to accommodate safe social distancing, and, due to both this uncertainty and an abnormally late Labor Day, school reopening days are all over the map.

Most districts on the East End have adopted a hybrid teaching model for the fall, with students being placed in a cohort that attends classes in person a couple days a week, with online learning scheduled on days they are not in class. Students can also opt in to all-virtual programs at many schools.

On Aug. 13, the state Board of Education issued guidance that safe social distancing in classrooms requires student desks to be six feet apart from one another. Districts had previously made plans based on the actual students being six feet from one another.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, which had decided in mid-August to abandon fully in-person classes for elementary students because of the desk-to-desk requirement, was able to switch back to an all-in-person elementary schedule on Aug. 26.

“I recognize the last week must have been extremely stressful and challenging for families attempting to plan for childcare on alternate days, but the sooner I provided notice, the more time given to plan accordingly. said Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jill Gierasch in an Aug. 26 letter to parents. “This type of pre-planning may be indeed necessary down the road, at just a moment’s notice, including that of returning to full remote if the Governor shuts down Long Island schools (he has said this is one region) or a case breaks out locally and requires instituting alternate plans.”

Ms. Gierasch said the district received guidance from the state on Aug. 26 “relieving us of the edge of desk to edge of desk requirement.”

The district has purchased three-sided polycarbonate desk barriers for students in grades K-6, which are expected to arrive in mid-September. Mattituck-Cutchogue opens its doors to students on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The Riverhead Central School District, by far the largest on the East End with about 5,600 students, is running two cohorts of students, who attend in-person classes two days per week, in grades K-6 and working to keep siblings in the same cohort to make child care decisions easier for parents. In grades 7 through 12, Riverhead students are divided alphabetically into three cohorts. Riverhead Students are returning to classes before the Labor Day holiday, on Thursday, Sept. 3.

At districts throughout the region, students must wear masks on buses, and will be given a mask by their bus driver if they don’t have one. The districts will be doing contactless thermometer temperature checks and are urging parents to keep their kids home if they are sick. There will be isolation rooms for kids who get sick at school to wait to be picked up by a guardian. 

In Greenport, elementary students will attend in person, but high school students will have a hybrid schedule. Due to the difficulty of enforcing social distancing on buses, the district is advising high school students “to walk or for families that are able to drive their children to school.”

Greenport students return to school on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

In Sag Harbor, the elementary school has benefited from the district’s recent purchase of the former Stella Maris Catholic School, now the Sag Harbor Learning Center, and will be able to accommodate elementary students for all in-person learning. Pre-K and Kindergarten students will take classes at the Sag Harbor Learning Center, while grades 1-5 will meet in the Sag Harbor Elementary School, and grades 6 through 8 will meet in the Middle School, in cohort groups of no more than 12 students. High school students will attend on alternate days. Remote instruction will be offered to students with health concerns.

Sag Harbor students won’t be returning to class until Monday, Sept. 14.

In Riverhead, students must maintain 12 feet of social distancing during gym class, and gym teachers are reworking their curricula so no equipment is used during class.

New York State’s school reopening guidelines recommend 12 feet of social distancing in any activity involving singing, playing a wind instrument or aerobic activity, because respiratory droplets carry further under these conditions.

Students will be allowed brief “mask breaks” throughout the day, and administrators are urging parents to send their child with a clean mask, and an extra mask, every day. 

“It will be challenging but this is a temporary situation,” Riverhead Superintendent Christina Tona told parents on a reentry conference call in mid-August. “We hope it is very temporary.”               — BY

Editor’s Note: The print edition of this story went to press before Mattituck-Cutchogue returned to an all-in-person elementary schedule. This version of the story reflects the changes that have since been instituted by the district.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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