With hundreds of coronavirus cases in public schools across the North Shore over the past month, the Great Neck school district announced last week that its instruction for secondary students in quarantine will be modified.
District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, in a letter to the community last week, said that an increased number of students in quarantine and limited availability of staff resulted in the district not being able to offer “adequate homebound instruction” to students in grades 6 to 12. That form of instruction is offered directly in the student’s home.
Prendergast said the district temporarily adopted a practice that requires secondary students in quarantine to utilize remote learning to virtually attend their classes and will make up any tests or assessments once they return to school. The temporary measure, she said, will continue into January, with the district reevaluating the need to continue the practice on a weekly basis, dependent on quarantine rates.
Elementary school students from pre-K to fifth grade will be able to continue receiving homebound instruction, she said.
“The health of our school community – and our District’s ability to maintain in-person operations throughout this pandemic – is a shared responsibility,” Prendergast said. “We continue to rely on everyone’s good judgment as we head into the Holiday Recess. Please maintain healthy habits, monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and stay home when not feeling well.”
More than 150 confirmed cases of the virus from students, staff and teachers tin the Great Neck school district were reported from Dec. 20-23, according to the district’s website. Since the beginning of the school year, according to figures from the state’s Department of Health, more than 160 students in the district had tested positive for the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and working with the Nassau County Department of Health, which still recommends that we keep schools open,” Prendergast said. “Our District’s pandemic protocols remain effective in preventing spread within our schools. We are committed to maintaining in-person instruction.”
A surge of new cases in the Sewanhaka Central High School District forced Floral Park Memorial High School and H. Frank Carey High School to hold their last two days of classes before the holiday break remotely.
According to the district’s confirmed COVID-19 case report for the school year, during the week of Dec. 13 Floral Park Memorial High School had 41 students and 11 faculty contract the virus. For H. Frank Carey School, 20 students and nine faculty members reported new cases.
Superintendent James Grossane said at last week’s Board of Education meeting too many staff members either have COVID-19 or were awaiting results to have in-person learning before the holiday recess.
“This is due to the high number of faculty and staff in quarantine for either being positive, being symptomatic and awaiting results from a PCR or determining to be close contact to someone with COVID-19,” Grossane said.
Among students, the overwhelming majority of cases are being contracted outside district grounds, he said.
“The percentage of students in quarantine for positivity or being in close contact is at 3.5 percent districtwide,” Grossane said. “That equates to 291 students for the five buildings out of 8,400 students in attendance. Contract tracing continues to tell us that 90 percent or more of cases are contracting the virus at events outside the school.”
The superintendent said that health is the number one priority and that he hopes to return to in-person learning for the two schools after the holiday break.
As of Wednesday, more than 370 students in the Sewanhaka Central High School District had tested positive for the virus since September, according to statistics from the state’s Department of Health. Nearly 90 teachers and 30 staff members had tested positive as well. The district led the 11 school districts on the North Shore in total positive cases for students, teachers and staff.
A total of 296 confirmed cases from students in the Port Washington school district had been reported to the state since September. Additionally, 53 teachers and eight staff members have tested positive since the start of the school year as of Wednesday.
During a Dec. 7 Port Washington Board of Education meeting, district parents urged trustees to write a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul to not create a vaccination mandate for school-age children. After citing their lack of expertise on the virus, trustees said they will meet with state legislators on the issue in lieu of the letter.
“I would like us to follow that direction that we’ve always been following and follow the Department of Health’s recommendations to navigate this situation in that matter,” board Vice President Julie Epstein said during the meeting. “I don’t feel that it’s our responsibility at this time, or really that we have enough information honestly, to make a proactive move and write a letter about a mandate. I’m not saying we can’t revisit it in the future.”
While no vaccination mandates have been issued by the state on the public school level, Hofstra University recently announced that the COVID-19 booster shot will be required for all students, staff and teachers.
University President Susan Poser said students and staff must receive their booster shot within seven days of becoming eligible, starting with those who are first eligible on or before Jan. 18. Those eligible are required to upload proof of the shot by Jan. 18.
Poser said more information surrounding how to submit proof of the booster shot will be sent in a campuswide email by Jan. 5.
People who received the full series of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccination are eligible to receive the booster six months after the date of their second dose of the vaccine, while people who received the single dose of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for the booster two months after being inoculated.
Other school districts that had more than 100 confirmed student cases since the start of the school year as of Wednesday included Manhasset (185), Herricks (170), Mineola (157), Roslyn (138), North Shore Central School District (120) and Floral Park-Bellerose (109). A total of 79 students in the East Williston school district and 65 in the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district had also tested positive since the beginning of the school year as of Wednesday, according to the statistics.
Manhasset’s acting superintendent, Gaurav Passi, said the district will also continue to work with the county’s Department of Health and implored the community to remain vigilant and proactive with federal and state health guidelines to combat the spread of the virus during a Dec. 16 Board of Education meeting.
“It is an important reminder that we still need to be vigilant about following Department of Health protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Passi said.
Last week, Hochul said school districts in the state will remain open after hearing public concerns over having students return to a strictly virtual method.
“We believe that it’s critically important that our children not end up in that same situation they were for so many months, when they were so displaced from their normal environment, they did not get the quality of education, despite the best efforts of those incredible teachers and parents who struggled every single day alongside their children, just to deal with these circumstances we dealt with last time,” Hochul said.
Hochul outlined her plan to combat the “winter surge,” which includes the state acquiring 10 million more at-home test kits and two million tests for schools throughout the state.