Board of Ed has plans for reopening — Might use other venues for some classes

It was impossible to miss the spring in the steps of the Shelter Island Board of Education members and administrators as they gathered outside the school Monday for their first in-person meeting since the pandemic shutdown.

On a warm but breezy evening, they convened in a grassy field at a horseshoe-shaped table that allowed safe distancing. As the bells of the Presbyterian Church tolled six o’clock, they seemed almost gleeful to get underway. Kathleen Lynch, after being sworn in for another term as board president, said she couldn’t help giggling when she caught sight of Superintendent Brian Doelger’s bright green socks, adorned with pictures of Abraham Lincoln.

There was plenty of business to accomplish, and then all eyes were on the superintendent as he updated the group on the possibility of reopening. A long list of guidelines had just been received from the state’s Department of Health, and further guidance was expected this Wednesday from the Education Department. He said he had already confirmed that the school will definitely need three plans in order to reopen: one for in-person attendance; one for online learning; and a hybrid. Those plans must be submitted to the state by July 31.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will make a decision on reopening this region during the week of August 1-7. If the infection rate is below 5%, the region can reopen. He will close it down if the rate exceeds 9%.

Although Shelter Island has had minimal COVID-19 infections compared to other areas, the school cannot open independently, but is covered by the regional conditions.

The school was well-positioned to accommodate students with social distancing, especially with the help that has been forthcoming “in the wonderfully Shelter Island way,” Mr. Doelger said. “Terry Lucas has offered us the library basement for extra space,” he said, “and Father Peter [DeSanctis] called today to say we can use the Our Lady of the Isle Parish Center if needed.”

Mr. Doelger said the school would seek to use these spaces for office uses, freeing up more space in the school building for students. Board member Tracy McCarthy said it was likely that Mashomack, Perlman, Quinipet and other places could offer facilities as well.

Other suggestions were offered by board members, including holding classes outdoors where the board was convening, or holding classes in tents. Mr. Doelger said he had been able to purchase enhanced ventilation machines for the classrooms and larger spaces. “Because we’re a small district, we can afford to buy the small number of machines we need,” he said.

The district will hold informational meetings outdoors on July 30 and 31, Mr. Doelger said, for residents who are considering enrolling their children in the school. “Fifteen new families have asked about enrolling children in grades from Pre-K to 6,” he said, “and eight have already registered. We welcome any residents.”

A number of summer residents have expressed interest in staying on the Island year-round, to avoid returning to communities where the infection rate is higher.

In other business, the Board accepted the resignation of board member Jason Lones, effective July 1, since his family is re-locating to Ohio. Ms. Lynch expressed appreciation for Mr. Lones as a “quiet voice of reason and compassion.”

The board discussed appointing a replacement to complete his term, which will end in May 2021. Ms. Lynch suggested not filling the seat right away, with new members Robert Strauss and Dawn Hedberg just elected. Ms. McCarthy suggested using the seat to add a parent or other community member. Teacher Michelle Corbett urged the board to take this opportunity to diversify its ranks.

“We have a 20% Latinx population here,” she said, “but the only Latinx employees in the building are the custodians.”

Board members expressed hope that interested candidates would come to board meetings and learn more about becoming a member.

Ms. Corbett also reported on plans for the socially distant outdoor prom to be held at Sylvester Manor on Thursday, July 30. It will be limited to Island students, with exceptions for seniors who have dates from off-Island. “We’ll have hand sanitizers and masks for party favors,” she said.