Education

Mattituck switches school reopening plan; K-8 will now be hybrid

Plans for Mattituck students in grades K-8 to return to class in-person full time this fall appear to no longer be feasible.

In a letter to parents Sunday night, superintendent Jill Gierasch announced that due to space restrictions, all students will return to school in split sessions in September.

The district was originally preparing for K-8 students to return to class five days a week and instituting a hybrid model for high school students. All K-12 students will now be split into two groups according to their last names: A-L, M-Z, and will either attend Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays and alternating Fridays.

“Our hearts sank for many reasons this weekend when we had to make the final call … we know what it means for our children and our families.”

Jill Gierasch

Officials said the decision was made based on updated guidance issued by the state regarding social distancing in classrooms. The rules now state that six-foot distance must be maintained between the edges of each desk. Previously, districts interpreted the guidance as measuring from child to child or chair to chair.

“While this may not seem like a significant change, it actually causes almost all classrooms to lose an entire row, approximately 4 desks,” Ms. Gierasch wrote to families. “We planned for class sizes of around 15 with schedule adjustments, building reconfiguration, and adding teachers. Taking a row out or four students, even with the prior adjustments makes it impossible to meet the regulations for K-8 in person instruction, every day.”

She said that since learning about the updated guidance last week, officials worked to reconfigure classrooms that had already been stripped of bookshelves, teacher desks, cabinets and other furniture in order to meet the requirements with no luck.

“Our hearts sank for many reasons this weekend when we had to make the final call … we know what it means for our children and our families,” Ms. Gierasch wrote. In a statement Monday, the superintendent described the recent development as devastating.

“We had planned to fully return students to school and share our parents’ frustration. The health and safety of our students and staff are the driving forces behind all of our decisions regarding the reopening of our schools. We are working to create the safest environment for our students and staff, and we look forward to welcoming them as they return to school in September,” the statement read.

The news blindsided parents who have just three weeks to come up with a plan.

“It’s definitely a blow to parents who were happy with the original reopening plan,” said Lauren Gilbert of Mattituck. She has two sons entering fourth and seventh grade who are impacted by the change. “If there’s anything we’ve learned throughout [the pandemic] it’s that things can change in an instant. Parents as well as the school have been kept on their toes as the goalposts are constantly changing,” she said.

She was quick to note that administrators and teachers want to be back in school full time just as much as parents and students. “They worked endlessly to try and make in person learning work. This is a huge setback for not only parents, but also the school,” Ms. Gilbert noted.

Kerri Chituk of Mattituck said she was disappointed her children won’t be able to return to school full time. “I was looking forward to the kids being taught in classrooms, by an actual teacher,” Ms. Chituk said, explaining the challenges and meltdowns felt last spring as she navigated the world of distance learning with a kindergartener and second grader at home.

She feels the district is doing the best they can despite all of the guidelines in place. “It’s just frustrating for everyone that just when they think they have things figured out and have a good, safe plan in place…they need to rework plans.”

While currently able to stay home with her boys, Ms. Gilbert feels for parents who may not have family to watch their kids and the financial implications child care may pose to families. And while not ideal, she said she was impressed with the district’s distance learning model used last spring. 

“There is no ideal situation,” Ms. Gilbert concluded. “We can all get through this, and need to get through this for the kids, as long as we work together.”

District officials said that children will be sent home with instructional materials to aid in their distance learning and class sizes may be reduced in order to provide more individualized attention.

The first of three virtual parent information sessions was held Monday morning to discuss reopening for junior/senior high school students.

Two additional sessions are planned for Tuesday, Aug. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for elementary parents and a joint family session will be held Wednesday, Aug. 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The sessions are being conducted through the Webex platform and district officials noted that the app must be downloaded in order to participate.

More information on the meeting sessions can be found on the district website at www.mufsd.com