Mattituck unveils plan to bring back high school students full-time to classroom

Full-time, in-person learning will return for Mattituck High School students. COVID-19 permitting, of course.

Students in grades 9-12 will make a staggered return to the classroom for five days a week of instruction under a plan approved by the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education at its monthly meeting Thursday night.

The school district has been providing in-school instruction for students from kindergarten through eighth grade on a full-time basis while the high school students have been working within a hybrid model. Under the scenario outlined by the administration, the anticipated timeline for the full-time return of these students would be Nov. 23 for 10th- and 11th-graders, Nov. 30 for ninth-graders and Dec. 7 for 12th-graders. District officials noted that changes in reported COVID-19 cases could alter plans.

A district survey of parents of students in grades 9-12 conducted two weeks ago found 78% percent of them in favor of full in-person learning compared to 22% who prefer the hybrid system.

Currently, about 400 students attend the school on a given day. The addition of the grades 9-12 students would raise that number to 600, said high school principal Shawn Petretti. “It’s still only about a third of this facility’s capacity,” he said.

Parents are being given the option of having their children participate in livestreamed remote learning five days a week for core classes such as English, math, science and social studies. Those students would be permitted to join in the full in-school instruction at the start of the third and fourth quarters in February and April, said officials.

District officials said safety measures had given them the confidence to consider the proposal.

“When you look at, you know, the safety protocols that we have put in place, a lot of safety protocols are really the reason why we are considering bringing back the 9 through 12, and the students following the safety protocols,” superintendent Jill Gierasch said before the vote. “That’s really a big component of all of this.”

Mr. Petretti, referring to things such as temperature checks upon entering the school building and one-way stairwells, said: “The students here at the junior and senior high school have been incredibly cooperative. I think they understand the importance of the safety protocols that have been put in place and they really have been helping it to run smoothly.”

Desk barriers are being installed for mask-wearing students and an improved, antimicrobial surface protectant has been purchased for all of the district’s schools. The product is said to create a microstatic coating on both porous and non-porous surfaces, inhibiting growth of bacteria, fungi, mold and the like.

When it came time for the vote on what one trustee called a “thoughtful and thorough” plan during the livestreamed meeting, not a single voice in opposition was heard.

That, of course, doesn’t mean there are mixed feelings about the change, which comes at a time when positive COVID-19 tests are on the rise on Long Island. One of the concerns the district heard from parents was the possibility that bringing the high school students back full-time raises the potential for the school being closed because of an outbreak.

Mr. Petretti said teachers are reporting that “the level of engagement for students at home [during remote learning] is beginning to drop … and that’s concerning.”

After the vote, Ms. Gierasch said: “I know some parents are very frustrated, but I can’t thank them enough for the respect that they have shown us and really trusting us that this is the way we needed to do this at this point in time, but it’s during these difficult times that we grow closer together, looking at our setbacks and opportunities, and there are many opportunities, very bright spots in some dark times.”

One of those bright spots is senior Jillian Tuthill, who was presented with a certificate for being a National Merit Scholarship Program commended student.

“Everything is kind of day by day, you know,” she said, speaking of her school experience. “I think everyone here has been experiencing that as well, taking it by the hour, seeing what’s going to happen next, but I think it’s really admirable that we’re all coming together as a community to figure everything out and do the best that we can. I think it’s going really great for Mattituck, and I’m glad to be a part of this community.”

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