Plainview-Old Bethpage school officials reveal reopening plans

By Derek Futterman

Separated by panes of plexiglass and with masks over their faces, members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education revealed the district’s reopening plan amid the Covid-19 pandemic for the 2020–21 academic year at a Sept. 2 meeting.

While students had not been physically in school since mid-March after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus, new district Superintendent Dr. Mary O’Meara assured all personnel that “everyone has been working around the clock… to make sure when our students walk through the doors, they will be prepared.”

O’Meara, who had previously served as the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, shared a presentation with information and data about the impending reopening.

“For the community, it’s important for you to know that 84 percent of our students will be returning to in-person instruction,” O’Meara said. “Of the 781 students requesting remote, 62 percent of the students reported that they are not comfortable right now, but it may not last the whole year.”

O’Meara elaborated on how students could be transitioned back to in-person learning, and urged parents to call their school’s principal if they had any questions or concerns about the process, and to transition their children from remote to in-person learning before the start of the school year. “We remain committed to bringing all students back; therefore, there are classrooms with seats for your child,” she said.

If the family of a student wishes to move their child back to in-person learning after the first day of classes on Sept. 8, there are four transition dates through Oct. 26 when the district will be able to accommodate the change, the first of which was Sept. 14. However, O’Meara communicated a message of urgency, saying, “With the infection rate remaining below 1 percent, we are encouraging parents to bring your students back as soon as you can.”

While the classroom setting will vary among students, O’Meara vowed that all pupils will still receive the high-quality, rigorous education that they have come to expect from the district. Additionally, O’Meara announced that all staff members took part in a health screening before confirming if they would report to their respective buildings before the first day of classes.

Christopher Donarummo, the district’s assistant superintendent for student services and safety, confirmed that the high schools and middle schools will operate on an alpha-based schedule, and students in kindergarten to sixth grade will report to school daily.

“During the first quarter and first trimester for our schools, we want to make sure there is a balance of the designated days in quarters and semesters,” Donarummo said. “We’ve posted a document clearly outlining everything we are doing [on pobschools.org].”

In accordance with the New York State Education Department’s stipulations for operation, all students and personnel will be required to wear face coverings while in school and maintain a social distance of at least six feet whenever possible. Plexiglass has been installed between desks, and all students must complete a health screening form and temperature check before arriving at school. To help publicize these changes, P.O.B. Media, the district’s audiovisual platform, has posted videos on YouTube so people can see “the new normal“ before the first day of classes.

Members of the P.O.B. Board of Education also walked through the district’s buildings as staff prepared for the new school year to ensure the feasibility of the reopening plan. Ginger Lieberman, a Board of Education trustee, said that while the facilities themselves have changed, “The important things were still there — the people. They are excited to see their colleagues, to be in the buildings, deciding what their procedures were going to be, etc. It was a great feeling, and I felt so much better being there.”

This feeling of comfort is something that Lieberman attributed to passage of the district budget. “Had the budget gone down,” she said, the district “would not have been where [it is] today.” She then thanked those who voted “yes” to the budget, and reaffirmed that “it is allowing us to have the opening we are having.”

While the 2021–22 budget vote is several months away, Seth Greenberg, the board vice president, emphasized the importance of voting in its favor of it during these difficult times, and reassured families that the district is there to serve the students.

“We are in unprecedented times. We have built in great flexibility and a wide-variety of options,” Greenberg said. “The district is going to continue to evaluate and make adjustments to improve the academic, social and emotional aspects, always keeping health, safety and security in the highest regard.”

Debbie Bernstein, the board president, reminded students, staff members and families that the district will need everyone’s cooperation this school year to progress as close to normal as possible, and urged everyone to come together by physically staying apart.

“Our plan will only work if everyone does their part,” Bernstein said. “I know we are a caring, generous and thoughtful community, and because of that, I know we will do our part to keep our neighbors, teachers and friends safe.”

The Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District began the school year Sept. 8, with kindergartners starting Sept. 9.

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