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Update: Governor Cuomo Waives Education Mandate

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 15:30
The Bridgehampton School is “presently in communication with the New York State Office of Child Nutrition for guidance” on how to assist families whose children receive free meals at the school, its superintendent said.
Christine Sampson

Update, 8 p.m.: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waived a key public education mandate on Friday afternoon, saying during a press conference that districts could choose to close if they wished and they would not be penalized for holding fewer than 180 school days.

Leading up to Friday, some school district officials said they were waiting for formal guidance from the state, while other districts forged ahead and announced closures earlier this week.

On Friday night, J.P. Foster, the East Hampton School Board president, said the district would make a decision Monday regarding future closings. Classes are already canceled in East Hampton on Monday and Tuesday. “We want to protect the safety of our students, staff, and community as a whole. We understand families’ need to plan ahead so we are doing our best to get the information out as soon as possible,” Mr. Foster said.

Project Most, the nonprofit organization serving children in East Hampton and Springs with after-school and weekend programs, will hold its Saturday program as planned on March 14, and will be closed while the two districts are closed.

“We are taking these events very seriously and closely monitoring the situation,” the organization said in a statement Friday night. “The safety of our students, staff, and families in our community is our top priority.”

The organization is still accepting registrations for its spring learning lab at the East Hampton Neighborhood House, set for April 6 to 9, and expects to announce additional program changes on Tuesday.

The Sag Harbor School District expanded its website,, with a page for school families and a page for the community at large. The district is providing meals from its cafeteria only for students who already receive free and reduced-price lunch services.

“There’s just so much out there, and it’s changing pretty much every minute, so we just wanted everyone to have the best information possible,” Eleanor Tritt, the district's interim superintendent, said Friday night.

Originally, March 13, 3:30 p.m.: Public and private schools on the South Fork are closing for varying lengths of time to help stem the tide of COVID-19 and are creating distance-learning and emergency food service plans. As of Friday afternoon, school officials here have said there are no cases of the virus confirmed among students or staff.

East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Wainscott, Amagansett, Montauk, and Springs schools have all announced closures ranging from one day to two weeks. No information was immediately available Friday for the Sagaponack School.

The Ross School campus will close to students on Monday, and remain closed through April 17, the day after spring break ends. Distance learning for Ross students begins on Monday. The Hayground School in Bridgehampton will close through March 22.

The Sag Harbor School District has already closed through March 22, and the Amagansett School will be closed through March 29. 

The Springs School and Montauk School will be closed Monday and Tuesday. 

The Bridgehampton School and Wainscott School will cancel classes for students on Monday while teachers and staff prepare for a potential extended closure and do an extra-deep cleaning across the facilities.

Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s superintendent, said by email Friday that the closure “will allow us to communicate and strategize with staff in regards to remote instruction, resources for students, cleaning, et cetera.”

Bridgehampton is also “presently in communication with the New York State Office of Child Nutrition for guidance” on how to assist families whose children receive free meals at the school, Mr. Hauser said.

Bridgehampton School is the only South Fork school district that takes part in the community eligibility provision of the federal free and reduced-price school food program. Because more than 60 percent of the school population qualifies for free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, the entire student body can access those meals free on school days.

The East Hampton School District, which will be closed to students on Monday and Tuesday, is planning an emergency food program for a significant population of students who normally receive free and reduced-price meals. Richard Burns, the superintendent, said because the cafeterias have been cleaned and sanitized, the food service crew will likely come in to prepare meals for pickup, and bus drivers may be delivering meals as well. Exact plans will be forthcoming from the assistant superintendent’s office soon, Mr. Burns said.

The Southampton School District, which has not announced any closures, said in a letter to families on Friday that it is preparing an emergency meal-delivery program to students who are "food-insecure."

"With nearly 50 percent of our students qualifying for the federal free and reduced lunch program, we realize that meals may be a problem for some of our families," said Nicholas Dyno, the Southampton superintendent. "Therefore, we submitted an emergency plan to the New York State Education Department to allow us to offer lunches for families in need if the District is closed beyond five days."

In a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming urged the closing of schools statewide “to mitigate the impact of the growing crisis of COVID-19 and to contain the spread of the virus.”

Mr. Burns said Friday that the districts are also in need of more guidance from the State Education Department, particularly with regard to the state minimum of 180 school days for students. 

“We’re in uncharted waters,” he said. “If we do close the school, what happens to all the working parents? I’m also worried about diplomas. If we go with a distance-learning plan, does it count toward a diploma? The 180-day thing is the big piece holding us all up.”

Joe Vas, the East Hampton School District's athletic director, said Friday that all practices, games, and contests involving East Hampton High School teams have been called off through April 3.

Section XI, the governing body for public high school sports in Suffolk, issued a directive postponing all games and contests through April 3, and shortly afterward, having learned how many other schools were doing so, East Hampton's administration postponed all practices through April 3 as well.

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