Southold School District puts off full reopening until after holidays

The Southold School District is postponing discussions about expanding the amount of time students spend in classrooms until after the holiday season, Superintendent Anthony Mauro announced at last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Dr. Mauro said that as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across Suffolk County the timing is not right to discuss a change to the school schedule. Southold’s elementary students are currently in school full-time while those in grades 7-12 are learning under a hybrid model. Families also have the option of full-time virtual learning.

“There are clearly bad times to do this,” Dr. Mauro said. “You can tell what’s going on [with the virus]. It wouldn’t be prudent at this time.”

The announcement came after district parents were surveyed on a choice between returning all students to full time or sticking with the existing models. About two-thirds of the more than 250 parents who responded to the survey opted for full-time learning.

Dr. Mauro said putting off a decision on changing the models will not prevent the district from continuing to pursue a return to full-time in-person learning for all students. This also gives the schools more time to monitor the increase in cases and to await news on a vaccine, he said.

“We can continue planning and keep continue moving forward,” the superintendent said. “We’re not putting it off [indefinitely]. We’re just not doing it as quickly as we might have hoped.”

At a BOE meeting last month, school board member Scott Latham said he’d like the district to consider adding plastic barriers in classrooms to increase the safety of in-person learning. Last Wednesday, Dr. Mauro said too much has changed in the past several weeks.

High School senior Benjamin Ward also approached the board last week to ask if they’re concerned about micro-clusters and to ask how testing in schools might occur if this section of the county is designated as such. Dr. Mauro explained that Hampton Bays and Riverhead — where the highest number of recent cases have been reported — are currently participating in a testing pilot program.

Under current guidelines, students and staff are asked to be voluntarily tested with the goal of testing 20% of the school population every two weeks. Dr. Mauro said Southold is not close to hitting the threshold for the micro-cluster mandate, which is measured by the positive test rate in the surrounding community. He said it’s more likely a spike would lead to a shutdown of schools before the community was designated a micro-cluster.

The superintendent said, ultimately, county officials have been pleased with the way schools are managing the pandemic. Southold is one of just eight Suffolk County school districts with zero cases of COVID-19 since the school year began.

“The parameters schools have put in place have kept the spread out of school,” Dr. Mauro said.