Schools may amend calendars, state exams canceled

As school districts try to keep up with developments surrounding the coronavirus crisis, some districts on the North Fork may amend their school calendars, which have been disrupted by the outbreak.

In a letter posted to the district website Friday, Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jill Gierasch said that even if schools are directed to close until April 1, she would likely direct educators to continue digital learning through Thursday, April 2.

“My plan is to have the BOE approve a change to our calendar. Monday, April 13 was originally scheduled as a spring recess day. I am recommending changing this to Friday, April 3,” Ms. Gierasch wrote in the memo. “As well, my intent is to allow students, teachers, and staff to take advantage of spring recess,” she said, which is scheduled for April 6-10.

She said that to date, she has not received guidance or confirmation of the changes from the New York State Education Department and the district’s Board of Education would need to approve the calendar change.

Additionally, the district is surveying first responders to gauge interest in child care services throughout the ongoing crisis. The program will tentatively begin on Tuesday, March 24, at Cutchogue East Elementary School, according to a post on the district website. It will be managed by Champions, the district’s before and after care provider, and run Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Interested first responders can access the survey until Sunday, March 22, at 10 a.m. or email Gretchen Chapman at [email protected] for more information.

Riverhead officials announced Saturday that due to the outbreak, they would likely be seeking BOE approval to amend the school calendar to have spring break March 26-31, instead of April 6-10. School would still remain closed April 10 in observance of Good Friday, officials said.

Southold and Greenport school districts also have spring break tentatively scheduled for April 6-10, but it’s unclear what will happen there. Superintendent David Gamberg said in an interview Saturday that he and other district officials would be taking a closer look at the school calendar in the near future. “At this point it is a little uncertain,” he said.

Mr. Gamberg posted a video message to check-in with students online Friday. “We are facing a challenge that no one expected,” he said, reassuring students and parents that school officials are working together to provide education and other resources throughout the community.

Spring break isn’t the only change that will impact students.

State education officials announced Friday that they will suspend all elementary and intermediate level State assessments for the remainder of the school year.

In a press release issued by the state education department, officials said the unprecedented decisions are tied to the school closures happening throughout the region and that the NYSED has applied for federal waivers for testing, accountability and reporting requirements. 

“It is most important that during the time of closure, schools are able to continue to focus their efforts toward local school and community needs, as they have been doing, and not be concerned about state assessments,” the notice, issued by Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Interim State Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe, read.

The tests, which were scheduled to take place in April, May and June, include the English language arts and math assessments for grades 3-8, fourth and eighth-grade science exam, English as a Second Language Achievement test for students K-12 and New York State Alternate Assessment for students with severe cognitive disabilities in Grades 3-8 and high school.

Mr. Gamberg applauded the decision—one he urged state officials to make in a letter sent to the NYSED Monday.

“How much are our students going to be in a position, given that this is a worldwide, global pandemic, that they should just come back and just pick off where they left off?” he said. “This is not just a snow storm where they miss a couple of days. It’s a once in a century occurrence.”

He is calling on state leaders to take the next step and suspend the rating system used to classify districts based on those assessment scores. “The entire accountability metric needs to be scrapped right now, certainly for this year,” he said.

Looking ahead to when students will eventually return to their physical classrooms, Mr. Gamberg said the path forward will be challenging. “We don’t have any script that we can look back to,” he said of the unprecedented nature of the virus outbreak. He said educators will have to be mindful of the myriad ways this pandemic is impacting students from mental health and wellness to financial hardships faced by their families.

The students, he said, are watching the adults and decision-makers. “They’re absorbing this and it’s impacting them,” he said. “We have to be aware of that.”