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Freeport School district lays out reopening plan

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At a July 29 Board of Education meeting, officials decided that the Freeport School District would be unable to fully accommodate in-person classes this fall, even if Gov. Andrew Cuomo were to decide schools are to reopen in September.

The governor is expected to announce whether schools will reopen for in-person classes in the coming days.

“Based on our building capacities and our enrollment, we will not be able to bring back all our students while adhering to the state’s guidance and regulations,” said Glori Engel, the district’s English Language Arts director. 

In a 71-page reopening plan, district officials outlined how students would return to classes through a hybrid-instruction model, for which students would be split into two groups and attend in-person classes on alternating school days.   

Half the students would come to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

When not in school, students would take classes through the district’s distance-learning platforms like Google Classroom and Google Meets. The online classes would include up to three hours of live instruction with fellow students.  

Fridays would also be distance-learning days for all students to catch up on work and meet with their teachers online, individually or in small groups. Staff would undergo training and personal development on Fridays. 

While school days are set to begin at 7:30 a.m., as usual, district officials are discussing moving the start time to 8:30 a.m. and allowing late students some leeway.   

The district would allow special-needs, English as a Second Language, kindergarten and first-grade students to attend school four days a week to provide greater in-person instruction.  

District officials also plan to evaluate where students left off in their learning in June to ensure no one falls behind.

Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said he preferred schools to remain closed a while longer to combat the pandemic, but he noted the district would be ready for in-person instruction should the state require it. 

“Freeport is ready to welcome back our students,” Kuncham said, “but if the district needs to be closed, we are fully prepared for remote learning.”

Salvatore Carambia, the district’s new superintendent for business, explained that students and staff would have to complete daily self-health checks before coming to school, if in-person classes are required. 

Those entering the school would have their wrists scanned to check their temperature, and masks and other PPE equipment would be available throughout the district. 

“Our buildings will be cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, and we’ll be encouraging good hygiene to all students,” Carambia said. 

He said health signs would be placed throughout the schools, and students would be urged to eat only their own food and use water bottle-refilling stations rather than water fountains.

Carambia added that students would need to wear masks while on the bus, and that buses would be cleaned in the mornings, in between runs and at the end of the day. 

The district will continue its “Grab & Go” meal program, for which breakfast and lunch can be picked up in the morning at Freeport High School or New Visions Elementary School.    

Kuncham said that if parents and guardians are uncomfortable sending their children to school, they will be able to request that they attend distance-learning classes only. A form was sent to the community giving parents the option and must be returned to the district as soon as possible.   

District officials will continue to meet with staff, administrators and residents for further input on how the schools can prepare for possible reopening. 

“There’s going to be more challenges in the months ahead, so please be a partner with us,” School Board Trustee Gaby Castillo said. “We’re all on the same team, and we all want good outcomes and opportunities for our children.” 

He said a region must be in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols, and the daily average infection rate must be 5 percent or lower over a 14-day period. Should there be a spike, a region with a seven-day average infection rate of 9 percent or higher would not be permitted to reopen schools.

“We will look at the data and make a decision based on science,” Cuomo said. “We want to keep the children as safe as possible. We will not use the children as guinea pigs.”

The next Freeport Board of Education meeting will be Aug. 26.