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Oysterponds Elementary proactively moving to distance learning for holiday season

As some schools across Long Island move to full-time in-person learning, at least one is proactively headed in the opposite direction.

The Oysterponds Board of Education voted unanimously last week to practice distance learning from the Thanksgiving recess to the new year. The pre-K through sixth grade elementary school in Orient had been open for full-time in person instruction this school year.

“It’s being proactive,” Superintendent Richard Malone said of the measure. “The easiest thing would be just to continue what we’re doing.”

But the board, and a large segment of parents, agreed that with students visiting families and taking part in social gatherings over the holiday season, the best thing for the health and safety of the school population was to close the building.

The plan was first discussed in October and the parents of the school’s 106 students from East Marion and Orient were surveyed. The results were a mixed bag, according to Mr. Malone.

About 40 percent of all parents said they wished to move to distance learning, 31 percent wanted to stay the course with in-person learning and 28 percent said they were undecided.

Mr. Malone said he believes the school board’s decision was made easier by how much students and staff have acclimated to using technology while on campus to limit how many students are in a classroom at a time.

“The kids are quite comfortable and proficient with their iPads,” he said.

It’s a big difference, the superintendent said of how the school community is adjusting to learning without being physically in front of a teacher. He likened last school year, when all New York State schools were forced into distance learning overnight, to “changing the tire while the car is still moving.”

The time they’ve now had to adjust is paying off, Mr. Malone said.

“The kids, families and staff feel much more comfortable,” he said.

Formally, last week’s action by the board modified the school calendar to schedule the school days from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23 as distance learning days. In-person instruction is currently scheduled to resume Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

Coincidentally, Oysterponds also had its first confirmed student case of COVID-19 on Friday, three days after the calendar change. The students in that one class began distance learning Monday.