ISLIP TOWN

Local districts pushing for in-person learning

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When school districts across Suffolk County reopened in September, many announced they’d be operating under a hybrid model of learning to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The hybrid model combines face-toface instruction with online learning. This model reduces the number of students in a building at one time by rotating some students to virtual learning.

But some officials feel that online learning is not sufficient for their children and could impact developmental skills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said remote learning was a poor substitute compared to in-person learning in a classroom. During a press conference Feb. 19, Cuomo urged school districts across the state to get students back to in-person classes five days a week, and said the vaccination of teachers, who are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, is crucial.

With the county’s coronavirus positivity rate lingering below 3 percent, many parents are wondering: will my child return to the classroom full-time this season?

The Islip Bulletin took a closer look at how each district is operating and what the future holds for learning.

ISLIP UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT

Superintendent Ellen Semel said when superintendents were asked to put together reopening plans last July, the district followed the guidance from New York State Department of Education and the Suffolk County Department of Health.

As a result, the district offered four options to the community: remote instruction at the elementary level (grades K-5); in-school instruction at the elementary level, five days a week; remote instruction at the secondary level (grades 6-12); and hybrid instruction at the secondary level.

For hybrid instruction, students were split into two cohorts, purple and gold, which attended classes in-person on varying days. Each cohort attended school on alternating Wednesdays and siblings were placed into the same cohort.

All students were masked in school and desks were placed 6 feet apart, Semel said. In some classrooms, polycarbonate guards were put in place. Polycarbonate shields were also installed in all cafeterias.

Semel said students have reached out to teachers and administrators asking to return to school “as soon as possible.”

“Many are having social and emotional challenges,” she said. “Despite the best efforts of our trauma teams, nothing takes the place of live interaction. In addition, many of our students are struggling with their studies.”

The state monitors COVID-19 cases in Islip Town and across the state through the COVID-19 Report Card. The online tracker, launched last year, displays the cumulative number of cases since each district began the 2020-2021 academic year.

In the district, approximately 132 total onand offsite students, teachers and staff have tested positive for coronavirus since the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. Of those, 82 were students, according to state data.

“We have carefully tracked and monitored the numbers of cases in our students and in our staff. For the past four weeks, cases have been minimal and remained stable,” Semel said.

If cases continue to remain consistently low, Semel said, grades 6, 9 and 12 will be brought back to a fiveday-a-week schedule.

Meanwhile, the district is reconfiguring its dining rooms and repositioning desks in classes.

“Our students need to be in school,” Semel said. “They will continue to remain masked, and we will continue our efforts with social distancing and hand hygiene.”

BAY SHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT

Superintendent Joseph Bond said the district has been working since the summer to provide “as effective a learning environment as possible for our students given the constraints placed on us by COVID-19.”

Five months into the academic year, Bond said, the district has been able to provide continuity of learning while following the protocols laid out by NYSED.

According to state data, a total 300 on- and off-site students, teachers and staff have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. Over half of the positive cases were found in students.

“We are proud to have been able to handle the COVID-19 cases we have faced without having to close buildings and without seeing significant evidence of spread within our buildings,” Bond said.

Bond, who recently announced his retirement, said that plans are in the works to expand in-person offerings on the secondary level and an announcement will be forthcoming.

During a Feb. 24 board of education meeting, board president Susan Gargan said the district has received inquiries regarding plans to bring students back. At that time, Gargan said Bay Shore aims to formally announce the plans by Friday, March 5.

WEST ISLIP UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT

West Islip, which houses approximately 4,098 students according to NYSED, has its K-8 attending classes in-person full-time.

Students in grades 9-12 are engaged in a hybrid model, but a West Islip representative stated that the district is “seeking to transition to full-time in-person instruction for its high school students every day within the near future.”

In an interview last fall, superintendent Bernadette Burns said the district aims to bring students back to in-person learning as soon as possible.

State data showed that since the beginning of the academic year, approximately 280 students, teachers and staff both on and off site, have tested positive for the virus.

EAST ISLIP SCHOOL DISTRICT

In East Islip, students in grades K-5 returned to five day-per-week in-person instruction. Students grades 6-12 have been learning using a hybrid model, and attend courses in-person based on two cohort groups, according to the district website. 

High school cohorts were consolidated in February and some East Islip High Schoolers have  returned to full-time in-person instruction.

In the district, approximately 187 on- and off-site students, teachers and staff have tested positive for coronavirus since the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. Of those, 156 were students, according to state data.

East Islip officials did not return a request for comment.

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