Returning to Class Safely in a COVID World
The health and well-being of our students and staff were at the forefront of a cautious re-opening this week as students returned to school for in-person instruction on alternating days. The staggered opening aimed to reinforce safety protocols and help students gear up for a successful school year.
District administrators and staff enthusiastically greeted students as they arrived for their first day of in-person instruction since March 13th. While the COVID-19 infection rate in New York State remains below 1 percent, one of the lowest in the country, District officials have a watchful eye on any new signs of illness and are prepared to activate its health response plan as needed to keep the learning community safe.
While the look and feel of school have changed to comply with State and Health guidance and protocols, students, overall, were happy to see their teachers and be back in a routine. At Vernon School, Principal Dr. Valerie Vacchio showed her enthusiasm by giving her students “air hugs.” At Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, physical education teacher Ms. Jen Iles playfully showed her young students how to social distance by asking them to hold their arms out in front of them before walking down the hall to go outdoors. At Oyster Bay High School, students caught up with friends they had not seen in a while as they acclimated to the new safety procedures, including those related to desk shields.
“They were great,” said Principal Ms. Sharon Lasher. “They walked around with their desk shields and placed them on their desk each period as if they had done that forever.”
As communicated, students and staff are required to wear face coverings, with built-in breaks throughout the day, and take their temperature daily before entering school. Strict protocols for determining illness, testing and contact tracing are in place by the District’s medical team, desks in classrooms and offices have been spaced out and affixed with desk shields, hygiene and safety signage and traffic directional decals were placed in hallways and stairwells to control the flow of foot traffic, sanitizing stations and portable sinks were strategically placed for proper hygiene, tents were erected as extra space and will be used in multiple ways, including mask breaks.
Lessons have been reimagined to adhere to guidance. Students eat lunch and snacks at their desks with desk shields until guidance allows other options. School breakfast and lunch are free to all students through December 31st under a government plan to ensure nutritious meals for students, while minimizing exposure to illness.
Many scheduled events and meetings will be virtual and changes to the calendar will be updated online. Residents are encouraged to visit our website at www.obenschools.org for the latest information and resources about our re-opening plans and COVID-19.
“I am so proud of the way our students handled the first few days of school and we are so excited to have them back,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laura Seinfeld. “We know this is a work in progress and there will be changes along the way, but thanks to our dedicated and resilient learning community, we will continue to make strides towards normalcy with the goal of engaging all students in a rich and robust educational experience. I want to take this opportunity to thank our families, administrators and staff for their diligent work and input in preparation for the 2020-21 school year. I thank our custodians for their hard work in getting our classrooms ready for students. Most of all I want to wish our students a safe, productive, and meaningful school year. Know that our teachers and staff are here to support you and guide you as we work through this year together.”
Students will begin a regular school schedule on Monday, September 14. Slated as “Phase One” of our re-opening plan, this includes pre K-8 learning in school, in-person every day and students in grades 9-12 learning in school, in-person on alternating days with remote instruction on days when students are home. Some students opted for a full remote learning plan for the first quarter of school, which ends on November 6th. Within the first few weeks of school, instructional plans will be reassessed with hopes of bringing back as many students as possible for in-person instruction.
In addition to preparing for the return to school in this unprecedented time, the District is completing several other projects that were approved by voters in previous budget votes. The most notable addition is the state-of-the-art artificial turf field behind James H. Vernon School, which will be used for numerous varsity and junior varsity sports. Beautifully designed with Oyster Bay’s purple and gold, the District hopes to bring the community together to celebrate its completion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony when State and Health guidance allows. Other improvements include some casework in five classrooms at James H. Vernon School, a new ceiling and LED lighting in the Oyster Bay High School cafeteria, and new playground surfaces at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School. Academically, an orchestra program at Vernon School has been added to the curriculum and although a Mandarin elective was planned for 9-12 grade students, finding a part-time teacher for the class became an unforeseen challenge during this time. The District will consider offering the elective next year and remains fully committed to providing excellence to all students within and beyond the classroom.