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Riverhead Central School District unveiled an extensive plan for reopening school buildings to some in-person instruction, with staggered schedules, strict mask requirements and daily temperature checks among the changes the district is planning to bring students back to school safely this fall.

“We wish nothing more than to have all of our students in school every day, as we know that this is the best way to meet our students’ academic, physical, and social-emotional needs,” said Christine Tona, interim superintendent, in a letter to parents today. “However, due to the pandemic, we must follow the guidelines established by these agencies.”

Under the plan released today, Riverhead students will receive two days in-person instruction followed by either three or four days of virtual instruction, depending on their grade level.

Elementary school students will receive two days in-person instruction and three days of virtual instruction each week. Students will be divided into two groups, attending in-person classes on either Monday/Tuesdays or Thursday/Fridays. Both elementary student groups will receive virtual instruction on Wednesdays.

The schedule for the high school and middle school is slightly more complicated.

Because of the size of the student population, students in grades 7 through 12 will follow a six-day cycle, rather than a five-day cycle. They will be divided into three groups, with each receiving two days of classroom instruction followed by four days remote learning, at times interrupted by weekends. 

“Due to the size of our district’s student enrollment, the lack of space throughout the district, and the mandates regarding social distancing, this plan is our most viable option at this time,” Tona said in her letter.

The reopening plans establish extensive guidance for remote learning, whether in the event of another district-wide shutdown or for students receiving virtual instruction at home.

Teachers will interact remotely with every student at least twice a week over email, telephone or small group video conferencing. Teachers at the high school and middle school must also record a portion of their daily lesson and post it on Google Classroom before the end of the school day for students learning remotely.

Families may choose to opt in to a fully remote school year due to health or safety concerns. They must inform the school district of their decision in a survey that will be conducted in August.

The district is also working to ensure that every child has adequate access to technology and internet at home.

Next month, school officials will survey families on the status of their access to technology and provide devices to families who need them. Last spring, the district distributed more than 2,300 devices to local families, and it plans to purchase additional devices for the coming school year.

The district will also establish a centralized phone support service for families to call when they need assistance with technology, internet access and other COVID-19 safety questions.

The reopening plans also include strict requirements for masks. Face coverings will be required at all times on school property for both students and staff, with few exceptions.

Masks will be required indoors, outdoors and at classroom desks. Masks may only be removed during meal times or socially distanced “mask breaks,” which will be scheduled throughout the day. 

Masks will also be required on school buses. If a child is not wearing a mask when boarding a school bus, the bus driver will provide them with one. Students with a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask on the bus will not be required to do so, but must socially distance.

Social distancing will be required whenever possible across all school properties. Halls and stairwells will be clearly marked with directional lanes and signage. Desks in classrooms will be spaced according to the state’s guidelines.

Water fountains will be disabled, with the exception of bottle-filling stations. School buildings are being fitted with ventilation systems that either meet or exceed the state’s recommendations.

The reopening plans also provide guidance for cleaning procedures. 

Custodians will disinfect high-touch areas after each use and conduct daily deep cleanings of all nursing and isolation areas. Teachers are expected to disinfect their own classrooms throughout the day with wipes or cleaning solutions provided by the school. Classroom common spaces, desks, electronic devices and tables must be disinfected between each class.

Each building will also have a rapid response team ready to perform deep cleaning of spaces occupied by anyone that has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The plans do not include any information about quarantine procedures or closures should a student or teacher test positive.

“I understand this plan comes with many questions,” Tona said in an email this afternoon. She added that the district will release a question and answer document next week and schedule community Zoom meetings to discuss the reopening.

“It is truly my hope that we can come together as a community to build upon our strengths to provide the best education possible for our students of which the entire community can be proud,” Tona said.

The state will issue a decision approving or rejecting local school district plans, including Riverhead, next week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also expected to issue a decision on whether schools can hold in-person instruction in September or will need to begin with a fully remote plan.

The plan’s release comes three days after residents voted down the school district’s budget for a second time, requiring the district to live with a contingent budget that provides for about $2 million less revenue for operations.

The budget is also subject to reductions in state aid before the end of the current school year, depending on the state’s fiscal condition as it copes with the impacts of the COVID crisis. The reduced revenues will likely eliminate most sports, clubs and some electives in the coming school year, district officials said.

The district’s contingency budget, which will remain in effect after the second revote’s failure, was designed before New York’s coronavirus outbreak had begun in the spring. The budget therefore does not account for costs related to COVID-19 safety measures and requirements in the reopening plan.

The district will have to tap into its unrestricted reserves — about four percent of its budget — in order to pay for expenses not included in the budget. 

The district also has unspent funds from the 2019-2020 school year due to the spring shutdown, the amount of which will be determined and disclosed after the district closes its books for the school year. District officials said the unspent funds will be used to offset mid-year cuts in state aid that the governor warned could be as much as 20% of the aid allocated in the adopted state budget.

For the full re-entry plan, see the school district’s website.

Courtney Blasl contributed reporting.

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