Schreiber High School to open for in person learning for last month of school year

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Asher Charno, News Editor

On March 24, the Port Washington School District, in partnership with the Board of Education, announced plans to reopen the school for full, in-person learning in mid-April.  However, just a few weeks later, on April 13, the plan for reopening was put on hold as a result of an uptick in cases in Nassau County.  

This sudden change of plans surprised seniors and the remaining Schreiber and Weber students who had been promised the option to go all-in.  The reason behind cancelling the plan was to adhere to state guidelines based on transmission levels in counties.

The initial decision to go all in-person came from the three key rationales according to a presentation from the BOE : “The importance of the mental health of our students,” “Our students need to be back in our schools,” and to “Assist with the vaccinations of our staff.”

At the time, the CDC had issued new guidelines that allowed three feet spacing with barriers; the administration purchased an estimated $200,000 worth of desk shields. The price of the desk shields also contributed to the reported $3.7 million spent on safely reopening schools. Although the efficacy of desk shields and the level of protection they provide has been challenged by scientists because shields are only effective when they fully cover someone.  This purchase was approved by the district and the BOE.  It was a key factor that would have allowed the school to open.  

Although the school announced the opening and approved spending on more safety precautions, the three feet separation approved by the CDC had not yet been adopted by New York State at the time of announcement.

“The new CDC guidance, if adopted by New York State, would essentially double the number of students that could learn together in a single classroom and reduce their reliance on remote learning,” said Dr. Michael Hynes in a presentation to the BOE.  “The State Department of Health guidance still calls for six feet, in the absence of physical barriers in the classroom.  As a result, school districts are getting mixed messages from our county, state, and national health officials, causing confusion among school districts and educators over what they need to do to open safely.”

Despite this confusion and lack of coordination with NYS DOH, an April 19 full reopening date was announced

However, on April 13, the plan was postponed as the result of guidance released from NYS DOH, which changed physical distancing guidelines based on grade level.  In high schools, three feet distance is only allowed when schools adopt a cohort model, which Schreiber had not done. Elementary school students are already cohorted in their classes.

“I was upset when they told us that the all-in model was being postponed.  I wish they had not changed the plan without notice,” said junior Olivia Kerrane.  

Due to the fact that Nassau County had high positivity rates, the middle and high schools could not open full time.  Now, physical barriers like desk shields are no longer recommended for COVID-19. 

“A preferred approach is enhanced ventilation and air filtration to dilute and remove any SARS-Cov-2 particles from the air as described… in the CDC school guidance,” said NYS DOH in update guidance released April 9.

When the new guidance went into effect, the administration and the BOE discussed the causes for the pause and started working with legislators, state and county officials, and other Nassau County school superintendents to bring students fully in-person.  Still, the school announced and postponed its plans without having proper state approval, causing confusion among the student body.

“The major change to the guidelines was the designation of Nassau County as a Red Zone based on COVID cases.  Further, schools residing in Red Zones have a different set of rules they must follow for students.  It is important to note that this is a highly fluid situation that is still being worked on,” said Principal Dr. Ira Pernick.

However, new plans were announced for senior activities on April 23, and a revised plan for the school reopening.  The school is planning live in-person events such as senior field day, breakfast, graduation, and Gambol; grade level assistant principals will be collecting vaccine information to help plan for the events.  

“Our announcements have included encouragement for students 16 and over to bring in copies of their vaccination cards in part because it will help gain entrance to graduation and the Gambol,” said Dr. Pernick.  

In addition to senior activities, our school will open for all in-person learning on May 13 for upper-level students and May 18 for the lowerclassmen. Due to most Regents exams being cancelled, the Schreiber school year will not end until June 15 for seniors and June 16 for all students. 

Although the administration announced its plans to reopen, they did not comment on which rules had changed since the reopening was paused on April 13.  Considering Nassau County is located in a COVID-19 red zone, the opening violates previous state guidelines.  The desks will be closer, the classes will be filled, and the shields will not return; however, the six feet spacing will remain in the cafeterias.