Shelter Island School safe and open; superintendent preaches vigilance

Although Shelter Island Town has tightened practices in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases, the school remains open for in-person learning while Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., said he is closely monitoring the situation.

Town figures reported as of Tuesday, Nov. 17, the number of cases since March is 19 to 20.

“Scientific data so far has shown schools seem to be one of the safest places students can be,” Mr. Doelger said. Earlier this month, the superintendent said Shelter Island was one of only two districts in Suffolk Country open full time for all students in prekindergarten through grade 12.

Many North Fork schools opened but then closed as cases were reported involving students or staff. Most of those closures were only for a day or two.

But in nearby Oysterponds District in Orient, the decision was announced by Superintendent Richard Malone that students who have been attending classes in person won’t return to school, but switch to virtual lessons until at least January.

Mr. Malone surveyed parents who were split on the decision, but ultimately decided enough students and/or staff would be visiting with family during the holidays, creating the potential for spreading COVID-19 when they returned home.

“We are discouraging travel” for the holidays, Mr. Doelger said. Anyone who travels to a restricted state must: quarantine for 14 days before returning to school; or test three days before they leave the state they traveled to and then quarantine for four days when they return to Shelter Island; and have two negative test results.

Every effort put forth by Suffolk County Department of Health Services Commissioner Dr. Gregson Piggot and town officials is being followed, Mr. Doelger said.

Mask wearing is mandated in the school, as is social distancing. There are enhanced efforts to maintain cleanliness and a sophisticated air filtration system is in place that tests have shown trap and block 98% of airborne particles.

Mr. Doelger coordinates his responses with Town Supervisor Gerry Siller and Police Chief and Emergency Response Coordinator Jim Read. He is also communicating regularly with Dr. Joshua Potter at the Medical Center and School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel.

“Dr. Potter has been extremely helpful as has everyone at SUNY Southampton Hospital,” the school superintendent said. “It is all of our goals, along with the Board of Education, to keep the school open as long as things are safe. I applaud the staff and students at the school for their diligence. We all know how important it is to be in school, so we all take this very seriously.”

Last March, when COVID-19 numbers began to show throughout the area, the school district shut the building and arranged for virtual learning. That included distributing iPads to students who didn’t already have them and arranging for teachers to reach out to students in groups and individually.

Since school opened for in-person learning in September, some teachers have said they hope they will not be forced to revert back to virtual classes, but they’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep their students and themselves safe.

While all Town Board and committee meetings will be held via Zoom and restrictions will apply for visits to Town Hall, the school currently plans to maintain in-person meetings.

During warm months, those meetings were held outdoors, but in the past two months, they have been held in the gymnasium with masks and social distancing.