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Split vote will keep most students home for first semester

A split vote among the Suffolk School Board will keep most students at home through the end of the first semester at the end of January.

The board voted 3-3 at an Oct. 23 special meeting on a hybrid plan that would have returned those choosing to return to school twice per week beginning Nov. 16, with the remaining days for virtual learning. Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, David Mitnick and Lorita Mayo voted in favor of the hybrid plan, while Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, Tyron Riddick and Karen Jenkins voting no.

Sherri Story, who had previously expressed support for giving parents a choice on whether to have their children return to school, was absent from the meeting due to an out-of-town family emergency, according to a message she left on her board Facebook page.

As a result of the vote, most students will continue with virtual learning through the end of the first semester Jan. 29, according to Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, despite concerns from parents — among them, the lack of broadband connectivity, challenges in using the online platform for younger students and the difficulty of special education students to learn online. At its regular meeting earlier this month, the board voted against bringing special education students back to school for four half-days per week.

Division administrators presented a plan that would have had pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students return to school on alternating days twice per week beginning Nov. 16, with grades 6 through 12 returning on alternating days beginning Nov. 30. Students enrolled in the College and Career Academy at Pruden would have returned for three days per week — one day at their base school and two days at CCAP.

In a parent survey earlier this month, 64% of the division’s 13,800 students would have returned to school in a hybrid scenario.

Gordon said administrators would not revisit returning students to school until the January school board meeting, and would not propose bringing back students until after the end of the first semester.

Byrum and Mayo cited the lack of broadband as a primary issue in wanting to get students back in school. Byrum represents the Whaleyville Borough, while Mayo represents Holy Neck. Both have large rural areas that struggle with access to the internet, and broadband in particular.

Brooks-Buck, Riddick and Jenkins expressed concerns with health and safety issues in voting to keep students in virtual learning.

This story will be updated.