New School Safety Measures

Hannah Bickom, Staff Writer

After Bellmore-Merrick schools shut down last March due to Covid-19, we were all a little nervous about whether or not our schools would be reopening this fall, and if it would be safe for students and teachers to attend. In response to this, the district created a comprehensive safety plan, which was sent to parents and students in August, and was implemented when school started on September 8th. This plan provides a way for students to have the benefits of attending school in person, while also allowing students who don’t feel comfortable going to school to learn from home, and making sure everyone stays safe in the process.

On July 31st, the school district published its first reopening plan in a 69 page slide presentation, detailing all the specific measures the school would take to keep students safe.The framework of the school’s reopening plan attempted to take into account all possible scenarios which could become our new normal, and involved three separate learning plans: a full remote plan, a full in school plan, and a hybrid plan.

The remote plan was created in case the school could not reopen, or was forced to close for a long period of time. The plan was that students would attend their classes through live Google Meets / virtual calls. During remote classes, students would still have to follow a code of conduct and would have to have their camera on so that teachers could be certain they were actually attending class. 

The hybrid learning plan was created as a mix between the remote learning plan and the full in school plan. This plan follows the regular bell schedule and allows for half of the students to be in school, while the other half of students attend school online. On Monday and Thursday, students with last names that start with the letters A-L will attend school in person, and students with last names starting with the letters M-Z attend school in-person on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would be completely remote for all students. Currently, students follow the full in-school plan, hybrid plan, or remote plan.

The full in-school plan, the plan which the school is currently following, follows the normal bell schedule. When in school, all students and staff members are required to wear masks the whole day, unless they are eating. Where possible, all desks have a plastic divider to protect students and teachers. If plastic dividers cannot be used, the desks are socially distanced. Additionally, teachers use Google Meets to stream their classes live for students who have chosen to stay home.

Before going to school, students and staff members are required to fill out a survey asking if they have any symptoms of Covid-19, or if they have traveled to areas with a high Covid-19 infection rate within the last 14 days. If a student or faculty member has a symptom of the Coronavirus, or has travelled to an area with a high infection rate within the past 14 days, then they must stay home on that day, and are not permitted to enter the school. Students and faculty who were cleared after taking the survey will be permitted to enter the building. According to an email sent out by Mr. Gomez at the beginning of the school year, students can enter the building through the front entrance, the faculty parking lot entrance, the back entrance, the choral room entrance, or the North Gym entrance. All five entrances are equipped with digital thermometers which are mounted to the wall. Once someone enters the building, they must have their temperature taken by putting either their wrist or forehead in front of the digital thermometer. 

Hallway traffic in the school is arranged in a way that prevents crowding. Certain staircases have been designated as either “up” or “down” staircases. Students and faculty members have been asked to walk on the right side of the hallway at all times. Teachers have also been asked to dismiss a few students at a time, as a way to lessen the number of kids in the hallways at the same time.

A major concern of the in-school plan is how students can take their mask off when eating, but the school district came up with a solution to this. Students are allowed to go to the lunchroom or the courtyard (weather permitting) to eat, as long as they practice social distancing. Juniors and seniors are encouraged to leave campus during their lunch period, and sophomores are allowed to leave the school during their lunch period with parental permission. In the lunchroom, each table only has two or three seats, all of which are separated by plastic dividers. At first, lunch was handed out using a grab and go system, but after a few weeks, the school began to distribute lunch the same way as last year, with masks and social distancing of course. 

Another major concern of reopening school in general was how extra help and extracurricular activities would function. When school first started, there weren’t any after school activities or extra help at all, but now clubs, sports, and extra help have started to take place. All clubs take place after school, and can be attended in-person or remotely, depending on the size of the club.  While traditional sports haven’t started yet, the school is holding intramurals for several sports. Students attending extra help can attend online or in person, but they are required to sign in using a Google Form for contact tracing purposes.

This past year has been very confusing and certainly frustrating. At one point,we were unsure whether or not we would be able to attend school at all this fall. But our district’s comprehensive plan has allowed us to go back to school, and bring a bit of normalcy back into our lives.