The number of “no contact” students cited by Riverhead Central School District Trustee Chris Dorr at last week’s school board meeting does not square with data subsequently provided by the interim superintendent.

At the school board’s Oct. 13 meeting, Dorr advocated for dropping high school students from the district’s rolls if they have not been attending classes. He said he had information that teachers have had “no contact either in person or virtual” with more than 270 high school students.

“On the high school level, I received a spreadsheet from several teachers that went around two weeks ago asking for names of students — students they’ve had no contact with either in person or virtual. There were over 270 separate names on that list,” Dorr said during the board meeting.

“We’ve passed the 20 days,” Dorr said, apparently referring to the N.Y. State Education Department definition of a “dropout” as any student who has been absent for 20 consecutive, unexcused days.

“If we have students who have not attended, their attendance is zero, they should be dropped,” Dorr said.

Dropping such students would give the district more space at the high school and allow more flexibility for complying with social distancing requirements, he said. It might also allow the district an opportunity to “check addresses” if a student seeks to reregister, he said, apparently referring to a widely held, though unsubstantiated, belief among some community members that there are many students registered in the district who do not actually live within its borders.

Interim Superintendent Christine Tona told Dorr she had not seen such a large number of “no contact” high school students and would check with the high school principal.

In response to a follow-up request for additional information, Tona told RiverheadLOCAL Friday there were 79 high school students “who have not been attending or logging in to classes daily.” Those 79 students have not checked in for at least four classes.

The total of such students district-wide was 119, she said.

“The spreadsheet that was brought up at the board meeting included every student who has not checked in for at least one class,” Tona said.

“So, for example, a student who has been participating in six classes and not participating in one class would be on that list as well as a student who hasn’t been participating in any classes,” she said.

The interim superintendent said students who are not participating in one or two classes should not be considered as non-participants and dropped from the rolls.

The district has been working to address the situation, Tona said.

“The first step in the process outreach to families via email and phone calls home,” Tona said, utilizing both robocalls and personal calls. In some cases, the district is making home visits in order to reach the families and determine student status, she said.

Dorr said this morning the interim superintendent had provided clarification to the board and he understands that the spreadsheet he cited included students who have not been ‘missing’ from all classes.

He held firm to the idea that any student that has not come to school or logged in for virtual instruction for all classes should be dropped from the district’s rolls.

‘Fully remote’ 7-12 students up almost 70% since September

The number of students in grades 7-12 that have opted for “full remote” learning has swelled by nearly 70% in the six weeks since the start of the school year, according to data obtained from the district. As of Sept. 4, there were 469 students in grades 7-12 enrolled for full remote education — as opposed to the alternative hybrid model. By Oct. 16, there were 792. That number is 28% of the total enrollment in grades 7-12.

The increased number of full-remote students in grades 7-12 has made it possible for the district to offer more in-person instruction in those grades beginning in early November, Tona said at the board meeting. The 7-12 cohorts will be reduced from three cohorts to two cohorts, which will result in additional in-person instruction time.

More on plastic barriers for K-4 classrooms

The school board last week also voted 5-1, with Dorr dissenting, to approve the purchase of plastic barriers for student desks in the district’s four K-4 buildings. The barriers will allow K-4 students to attend school five days per week, since state rules allow students to be less than six feet apart in classrooms where desks are equipped with plastic barriers.

The barriers are made of 1/8-inch clear polycarbonate material, and are in three sections with handles and taped corners, Tona said Friday. They adhere to all NYSED fire- and shatter-resistance, she said. They will be attached to the students’ desks but can be removed.

The price tag for the new equipment in K-4 classrooms is $93,000, at least some portion of which will have to come from the district’s reserve fund, according to Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider. The cost of barriers for grades 5-6 would be an additional $25,000, but the board did not authorize that purchase last week.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.