Southold School District preparing for reopening

As the school year ends, the focus in the Southold School District is shifting from distance learning to planning for an eventual return to school buildings.

During a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg gave a brief presentation about preliminary plans that are being discussed among a 28-member reopening committee. 

The members are drawn from the district’s existing safety committee and also includes school nurses, teachers, administrators, clerical support, board members, parents as well as Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley, he said.

The group, which has met three times since May, plans on holding one more virtual meeting this month before issuing an initial set of recommendations. The district must also await further guidelines from the state Education Department.

“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves to start taking action on certain things without knowing what’s going to be expected, which is subject to change,” Mr. Gamberg said.

As a committee, there are several areas of focus being discussed, including staff training, student instructional gaps, mental health for students and staff, financial impacts, clear communication and stockpiling of necessary supplies including face masks, shields, hand sanitizer, soap, gloves, and other equipment.

“The idea is we don’t want to wait until the last minute. We have some funds available now before the close of the year — it makes sense to order [some of] these things,” Mr. Gamberg said. 

Board president Paulette Ofrias agreed that excess funds may help offset some of these costs.

“We know how painful next year could be,” she said.

With the next school year on the horizon, several board members said their top concerns are academic gaps.

“I’m most interested in making sure we know how those are going to be assessed, especially at those younger levels,” said board member Judi Fouchet. “Younger children are very attached to teaching, with teachers in the classroom and getting immediate feedback and all of those things.”

Board member Scott Latham said he’s especially concerned for English Language Learners and other populations with special needs.

“They’ve made progress and then they go home to a house that doesn’t speak English,” Mr. Latham said. “I just want them to be as successful as they can.”

Mr. Gamberg said all of these issues are being considered. “Even in a normal summer, there are concerns,” he said. “And now we have three or four months plus summer before you get back into the routine.”

Ms. Ofrias asked if a spike in enrollment is possible as some New York City residents take up permanent housing in the area. District officials said there has been an uptick in interest.

“People have taken packets,” Mr. Gamberg said, adding that it may be too soon to tell. “We have anecdotal info that I hear, informally. Generally speaking there was an exodus from the city, whether that’s the South Fork, North Fork or out of state. You’re seeing that already, but we don’t have any numbers.”