Beach Day Off for Oldest

Durell Godfrey

Beach day, a beloved end-of-year outing many South Fork students look forward to for months, will not be on the calendar this year for sixth through eighth graders at the Springs School. The decision to discontinue the tradition was announced at a school board meeting on May 7.

While kindergarten through fifth grade enjoy the annual tradition at local bay beaches, the middle schoolers spend the day at the ocean. Therein lies the problem, said Debra Winter, the school’s superintendent.

“It’s mainly a safety issue,” she said, in response to several complaints from parents, many of whom have fond memories of their own beach days when they were Springs School students.

“Teachers are refusing to supervise now,” Ms. Winter explained, pointing to the sheer numbers of students for whom they are responsible. Today’s sixth through eighth grades each comprise about 60 to 70 students versus the 20 or 30 kids per grade a couple of decades ago, she said, adding that it is also now mandated that the teachers on duty must be able to swim.

In grappling with the safety issue, the superintendent said she sought the advice of John Ryan Sr., the 82-year-old who implemented and oversees the town’s longstanding Junior Lifeguard program, which trains children 9 and older at ocean beaches. 

Because of the danger of rip currents, “He does not recommend that schools take students to the ocean anymore,” Ms. Winter said. 

Ms. Winter also pointed out that kids often text their friends from other schools and tell them to join them at the beach. Suddenly, she said, it’s an enormous, unwieldy group of teenagers, with teachers stressed out by the responsibility of keeping everyone safe.

David Caldwell, whose daughter is in eighth grade at the school, described the decision to end beach day as “another East Hampton tradition scuttled by landlubbers’ bureaucratic emotional decisions.”

The superintendent said she looked into alternatives such as a day at the pool at the Montauk Downs State Park, but the pool does not open until the end of June. The Splish Splash water park in Calverton was another possibility, but she was concerned that option could be too expensive for some families. 

Mr. Caldwell and other parents have already taken to Facebook to express their frustration over the decision. Rather than “blowing it up on Facebook,” Ms. Winter suggested that parents and students angry about this development make an appointment to see her.