Read the full September 2020 issue of The Cougar Crier here:
By Jake Arlia
On August 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that our state––a former epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak––would permit in-person instruction in schools from the start of the new academic year. Touting our low infection rate, the governor assured New Yorkers that “[i]f anyone can open schools, we can open schools.”
As per Cuomo’s orders, Kennedy will hold classes in person so long as the daily rate of new COVID cases in Nassau County remains below five percent over a fourteen-day average.
Most BMCHSD parents were pleased with this news. According to a districtwide survey, 81% were in favor of full-time in-person learning for their children.
Superintendent John DeTommaso acknowledged students’ and parents’ eagerness for a full return while also expressing the need to prioritize everyone’s safety and well-being in the BMCHSD community. He wrote, “With Governor Cuomo’s decision, the district now has the approval to move towards [our goal of full-time in-person learning], but BMCHSD has made the thoughtful decision to do so in the safest and smartest way possible for students, parents, and staff. Nothing we do is more important than that, and our ability to create the safest, healthiest environment for all who enter our buildings is paramount in our reopening decisions.” As such, the first two weeks of our school year have begun with a variation of the district’s state-approved hybrid model, which features a combination of remote and in-person learning. The capacity of students in each building has been cut in half by an alphabet divide.
For the first week of school (9/8 – 9/11), students with last names starting with “A” through “L” (Group A) attended in-person classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Students with last names beginning with “M” through “Z” (Group B) attended classes remotely via Google Meet. On Wednesday and Friday, Group B was in school while Group A logged on from home.
The second week of school (9/14 – 9/18) follows the regular blended learning model, in which Group A attends school in person on Mondays and Thursdays and learns remotely on Tuesdays and Fridays; conversely, Group B attends school in person on Tuesdays and Fridays and learns remotely on Mondays and Thursdays. For Wednesday, Mr. DeTommaso explained, “[All students] will attend live classes remotely from home as per the hybrid plan schedule. This will give students and staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with full class, live remote lessons, which may be necessary for the future. The administrative team will meet on this day to discuss our plans to either move forward with full in-person or to remain in the hybrid model. Parents will be notified of that decision on or before September 16th.”
Mr. Joe Innaco, Director of Administrative & Instructional Technology, is confident in our district’s ability to transition to different learning models in emergencies. “[There exist] external factors that may affect our BMCHSD educational community, such as COVID infection rates. Our district Instructional Technology vision of the Digital Age Learning environment is one that provides increased opportunities for students to take a more active role in their education regardless of the setting,” said Innaco.
Entering & Exiting the Building
All individuals must wear face coverings over their mouths and noses when they enter the building. The administrators have made it clear that refusal to wear a mask will not be tolerated. Students received Kennedy-themed cloth masks on their first day of in-person instruction, and those who forget to bring face coverings in the following days will be provided with disposable surgical masks. Gaiters and masks with breathing valves are not permitted forms of face coverings.
Students and staff enter the building in the same locations as usual, though everyone is expected to comply with new safety procedures at the arrival checkpoints. School officials have posted informational signs and physical distancing markers at these entrances.
Before the day begins, students and faculty must fill out an online health form on a district-controlled website. In addition to showing their ID cards to security, students and faculty must also display their smartphones with a completed questionnaire. There is a “color of the day” displayed on the site after the form is submitted successfully. Students who do not have smartphones are given a paper version to complete before entry.
All individuals who enter the building must take their temperatures at these arrival checkpoints as well. The utilization of wall-mounted thermometers makes this process quick and easy, and it requires no direct contact. If students arrive with self-reported COVID symptoms and/or a confirmed temperature above 100ºF, the school will contact their parents or guardians. Students will wait in a room on the first floor for their parents or guardians to pick them up.
Students who arrive and pass the safety checks before 7:20 A.M. proceed to the boys’ side of the gym, the girl’s side of the gym, or the auditorium. After waiting at these distancing centers, students head over to their first period classes.
Regular dismissal of students at the end of the day does not require any specific safety precautions. Everyone is expected to exit the building in an orderly fashion.
Classrooms, Hallways, & Bathrooms
Desks in all classrooms are positioned four to six feet apart from each other, with each desk encased in a transparent barrier.
Though custodians clean each classroom regularly, they do not do so between each period, as it takes approximately fifteen minutes to complete the sanitizing process. Depending on their comfort levels, students are welcome to clean their hands and desk area before taking their seats. Custodians have stocked all rooms with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and disposable gloves.
To minimize hallway traffic, students will not use lockers this year. With new staggered release times in place, students in physical education classes can leave one minute before the period ends. Students in lunchrooms are allowed to leave one and a half minutes before the period ends. In regular classrooms, teachers dismiss students one row or section at a time. Ultimately, the period lengths and time between classes remain the same, but no bell sounds to signify the beginning and end of classes.
District officials have placed directional arrows in all hallways and stairwells to keep traffic moving smoothly between periods. Restrooms are monitored consistently throughout the day to ensure that only two students are in a given bathroom at once. One boys’ restroom and one girls’ restroom is available on every floor at all times.
Gym, Lunch, & Mask Breaks
All physical education classes now follow an individualized fitness curriculum designed to limit person-to-person contact. Students do not have access to the locker room, and they do not have to change into gym clothes. Students have the opportunity to take off their face coverings during outdoor gym activities.
For lunch, students can still bring their food and order from outside vendors, and there is a grab-and-go cold lunch service for students who purchase food in school. To avoid exchanging coins and paper money, the school has invested in scanners for students to pay with their barcoded ID cards.
Both cafeterias are open to students during lunch periods, and the auxiliary gym is being used as a third lunchroom. All seats in these locations are distanced and barriered. Students are not required to wear masks as they are sitting and eating, and they may also have the chance to eat outdoors. Juniors and seniors are permitted to leave campus for lunch. Their temperatures are rechecked upon their return. Adults in the building are aware of the discomfort and distress some students may feel about having their faces covered for hours. As a result, there are supervised “mask breaks” in locations such as the courtyard and wellness center.
If Someone Tests Positive
The Nassau Department of Health will alert our administrators if someone in our building has tested positive for COVID-19. The school will shut down for forty-eight hours, and there will be an immediate transition to the remote learning schedule. Students who came in contact with the COVID-positive individual will be notified as soon as possible. Keeping track of assigned seating and attendance will aid in the contact tracing process.
Cautious Optimism from District Administrators
Members of our district’s administrative team have acknowledged the difficulties associated with the reopening process, but they hold a positive, hopeful outlook amid the controversy and uncertainty.
Ms. Cheryl Fontana, Director of Fine & Performing Arts and Adult Education, has a similar philosophy concerning our learning community’s adaptability, specifically, as it applies to art and music. “The beauty of art and music courses is that they are based on creativity! [Thinking] outside of the box is the norm…and what makes the courses so much fun. Our teachers and I have been working all summer to explore various curricular opportunities [in a virtual learning environment, and we hope] to maintain the integrity of as much of what will be taking place in the physical classroom as possible but also recognizing that it may be completed in an alternate, innovative manner,” said Fontana.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Mr. Michael Harrington said, “There have been so many challenges over the last five months, but I could not be more fortunate to be part of such a wonderful school district. We have worked together to develop plans, prepare our buildings, train our teachers and staff, and now it is time to bring students back. Whether students return in person or learn remotely, we want to make sure that we provide them with the best quality education and meet not only their academic needs but also their social and emotional needs as well. And most importantly, keep the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority.”
Read the full September 2020 issue of The Cougar Crier here: https://pub.lucidpress.com/2dc76ea0-6a63-4236-9967-74b6c44b81d5/#MRAgmgh-no~3.