Education

Greenport now offering virtual option for students

Greenport parents uncomfortable with the prospect of sending their children back to school in person next month will now have a fully virtual option.

Greenport Superintendent Marlon Small announced the change at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday. “[We are] working on how and what virtual learning will look like,” he said.

According to a reopening plan released earlier this month, the new school year will begin with a fully in-person model at the elementary level and hybrid model for secondary students.

Some parents pushed back against the plan for not including a virtual option for students who may not be ready to return to school in person. An Aug. 12 email to parents stated that students would only be set up for distance learning if they qualified for a medical exemption. “If you choose to keep your child home and do not have medical qualification, you will receive information on homeschooling your child,” the email said.

During Tuesday’s presentation, Mr. Small reported that  approximately 32 elementary students  have expressed interest in virtual learning and 29 secondary students, a number he said will likely change as parents make their decisions.

Alyssa Welch of Greenport said she’s planning to send her children back to school, but asked if parents will be able to reverse their decisions as they monitor the ongoing pandemic.

“We want to give parents that flexibility,” Mr. Small said, adding that the district will monitor the issue as circumstances and opt-in or -out numbers change.

Other parents said they’re still torn on making the difficult decision.

Mr. Small said district officials are meeting regularly to discuss how to support students who opt into the fully virtual method come September. “We will be responsive and make changes based on the feedback,” he assured.

The district’s 22-page plan, which was submitted to the state Aug. 7 after it was granted a one-week extension, was the subject of a discussion between district officials and a large contingent of Greenport teachers, who filled the auditorium Tuesday night, arguing that they had been left out of reopening discussions.

Lauren Kollen, vice president of the Greenport Teachers Association, criticized the plan, which she said ultimately did not take suggestions made by 13 GTA members serving on the reopening committee into consideration. She said the GTA was “extremely disheartened” that they were not given an opportunity to review the plan before it was made public.

“As stated by Gov. Cuomo, any reopening plan must have the support of not only parents but teachers as well,” Ms. Kollen said.

Greg Dlhopolsky, a teacher, coach and parent in the district, said that despite inclusion in those reopening meetings, “we haven’t exactly felt as though we’ve been heard.”

He acknowledged that the state mandated many of the guidelines. “But how that eventually manifests itself in the school should be something that teachers and parents here are involved in,” Mr. Dlhopolsky said.

Mr. Small reiterated that the reopening plan is a “living document” and asked for flexibility. “A lot of people are looking for hard and fast decisions,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are in uncharted territory.” 

The superintendent disputed claims that teachers’ concerns were left out. “With all due respect, I will not have a public debate with the GTA about [the reopening plan,]” Mr. Small said, adding that upcoming meetings scheduled with teachers are a more appropriate venue for that discussion.

Though Mr. Dlhopolsky agreed that adjustments will be needed, he called for plans to be better laid out. “At some point there are going to have to be some hard and fast protocols and procedures that are in place before school starts,” he said, pointing out that all attendees at Tuesday’s board meeting had their temperatures scanned before entering the auditorium. “How long is that going to take for [more than 100 elementary school students]?” he asked.

Cindy Bumble of Greenport asked for additional training before school begins, beyond a scheduled non-instructional conference day on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“That’s the only day you’re giving your staff to prepare for this,” she said of pandemic protocols that will be new for everyone entering the building on the first day of school, Wednesday, Sept. 9. 

“When the kids enter the building that first day, it’s going to be mayhem,” Ms. Bumble said.

In addition to procedural changes, many had questions about how the district will handle symptoms and positive cases of COVID-19.

Over the weekend, the district announced that a staff member tested positive. As a result, the custodial staff disinfected the school building while the staff member completes a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Mr. Small said the district will follow contact tracing protocols and report cases to the Suffolk County health department 

Maryann Wojcik said she was concerned when she got the emailed notification since she had worked in the building last week. “A lot of people I came in contact with didn’t have masks on,” she said.

Under the reopening guidelines, both students and staff members will be required to wear masks or face coverings, with mask breaks built into the school day.

Additional virtual parent forums on the reopening are scheduled for  Thursdays, Aug. 20 and 27.  For more information on those forums, visit gufsd.org.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ms. Bumble was an employee of the district. It has been updated.