FHS students call for more guidelines with back-to-school plan

FLUSHING — Following Flushing Community Schools’ transition to more in-person learning, Flushing High School is working to handle an influx of students while maintaining COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

At the March 9 Flushing Board of Education meeting, several FHS students said that they weren’t comfortable with the increased class sizes and crowding that was occurring at the high school after the district moved from a two-day hybrid format to a four day a week schedule. Students said that hallways and some classrooms were becoming crowded, offering little to no social distancing.

“On our first day back with more students (March 8), we had about 800 students in the building,” said FHS student Evan Hayes. “The cafeteria was packed, with no social distancing and students seated shoulder to shoulder. Kids also weren’t wearing masks as they went to throw garbage away.”

FHS student Sarah Donley said that she wanted administrators to limit the number of students in the high school cafeteria and come up with ways to promote more social distancing.

“I don’t understand why there hasn’t been any talk about letting students eat in their cars,” she said. “Other schools have assigned seating or let students eat at home. We need to consider making changes or switching back to hybrid.”

In response to student concerns, FHS Principal Jason Melynchek said that the school is rolling out options for reducing the number of students in the cafeteria at one time. For example, students can now sit at tables in the school gym during lunch as an alternative to eating in the cafeteria. Teachers can also allow students to eat in their classrooms.

Melynchek said that he and other high school administrators, along with school security personnel, have also worked to educate students about proper mask usage.

“The kids are doing a really good job of being respectful of one another and staying masked as they move through the building,” he said. “There are some students who may have struggled a bit with the mask wearing in the first two days, but we’ve worked with them to mask up properly and only take them off when they’re eating.”

Currently, 61 percent of FHS students are taking in-person courses, while 39 percent are studying exclusively with the 100 percent virtual learning format. Average class sizes at the high school are between 15 to 18 students, with some having 20-plus students. Most core classes, including math and social studies, are averaging between 17 to 24 students.

At the March 9 school board meeting, Superintendent Matt Shanafelt said that FCS intends to continue with the four-day in-person schedule but added that the district will not hesitate to return to a hybrid format if it sees a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases.

“Currently, the health department is not seeing widespread infections among students in our county, and they have seen no known spread of the virus in our school buildings in Flushing,” he said. “This is an encouraging sign, but we will revisit our plans daily as new (COVID) data comes in.”

Shanafelt also told parents and students in attendance to not let their guard down with the COVID virus.

“Many will be traveling out of the state for spring break, which is a cause for concern for us,” he said. “It would be unfortunate if this learning plan is derailed by a spike in cases. We all must do our part to keep each other healthy in the weeks to come.”

Updates on the district’s COVID-19 learning plans can be viewed at flushingschools.org.