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Students return to Riverhead classrooms for in-person learning Thursday morning.

Schools will return to pre-COVID schedules, including arrival and dismissal times and bell transitions.

The district has adopted a reopening plan that officials say aims to keep students learning in-person despite the ongoing community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. Confirmed COVID cases, test positivity rates and hospitalizations in Suffolk have been steadily rising for the past six weeks, according to New York State Department of Health data.

Positive cases of COVID-19 have also been increasing among children residing in the Riverhead Central School District in the weeks before school begins Sep. 2. During the first week of August, three children aged 5-17 residing in the RCSD tested positive, according to state data. By the third week, seven children tested positive; over the past week, 13 children tested positive.

The state publishes lab-reported data for RCSD residents in that age group. Some of the children may attend private or charter schools or schools in other districts, rather than Riverhead public schools.

Yesterday, the district reported that a student on one of Riverhead’s sports teams has tested positive for COVID-19. Fall sports teams began practices this month.

Positive cases in Riverhead Town as a whole have also been increasing. There were 118 positive tests reported among Riverhead Town residents over the past two weeks, compared to 73 positives during the two weeks before that. Cases have also nearly doubled over the past two weeks in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, which are within the Riverhead Central School District. There were 32 positive tests among residents of those hamlets over the past two weeks, compared to 17 positive tests in the two weeks before, according to data reported by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

Riverhead’s school opening plan includes universal indoor masking for all students, teachers, staff and visitors, maintaining three feet of social distancing where possible and frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer. Six feet of social distancing is required during indoor physical education activity, music classes involving singing or wind instruments, and while eating lunch. Masks are required for bus transportation but not for outdoor activities.

All individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must remain in isolation for 10 days from the date of symptom onset or test date if asymptomatic, according to the opening plan.

The district will notify those who are identified as being in close contact and issue quarantine orders if applicable.

“Close contact” excludes students who were within three to six feet of an infected student if both students correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time.

District officials say universal masking will therefore help keep more students in classrooms for in-person instruction. The Centers for Disease Control recommended universal indoor masking earlier this month. The Suffolk County health department recommended that school districts in the county follow the CDC guidelines.

A split Riverhead school board voted to adopt the reopening plan, including the mask requirement, during its contentious Aug. 17 meeting, during which it heard two hours of public comments both against and in favor of an indoor mask requirement.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Aug. 23, just after taking office, she would immediately direct the State Department of Health to mandate universal indoor masking in all K-12 schools.

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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.