Great Neck Public Schools District officials unveil plans for in-person, remote learning

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The Great Neck Public Schools District released their plans for the 2020-21 school year. (Screenshot by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck school officials outlined plans for reopening, including in-person instruction five days a week for elementary school students, hybrid in-person and remote instruction for secondary school students, and an option for full remote instruction for all students due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The district announced that the first day of school for all students will be Sept. 3, which will allow for three additional professional development days for faculty and staff.  High school schedules were provided to parents last Thursday, elementary class lists will be available this Friday, and middle school schedules will be accessible on Sept. 2.

According to figures provided by the district, 802 elementary students and 939 secondary students had already opted for exclusive remote instruction for the fall, which accounts for 25 percent of students.

“Health and safety guidelines have also forced us to reimagine what instruction will look like,” District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said. “For the 75 percent of families who have expressed the preference for in-school instruction for their children, we’ve coordinated logistics to ensure that class sizes are small.”

At the elementary level, this translates to 9 to 12 students per pre-K class and 12 to 16 students for K-5 classes. The hybrid instructional model at the middle and high schools decreases daily student density by more than 50 percent, allowing for smaller class sizes and more space for social distancing.

Virtual classes for pre-K rooms will have a maximum occupancy of 18 students, grades K-3 will have an average of 24 students, and grades 4-5 will have an average of 25 students.

Virtual instruction for pre-K and kindergarten students includes daily, live, synchronous lessons on math, handwriting, literacy and extra help, and small group activities will be conducted for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes.  A mix of asynchronous and synchronous lessons for social studies and science will be offered sporadically throughout the week.

The duration of the lessons increases from kindergarten to grade 5 by an average of 15 to 20 minutes each day.

Prendergast said the remote instruction the district provided was, for some, not up to “Great Neck standards” and said the district pledges to do better in the fall.

“We know that nothing this year can be the same as it was before, and our hearts break for our children and our staff as well,” Prendergast said. “We realize that September will require an understanding on everyone’s part that we are all doing the best we can under these difficult circumstances.”

Students in grades 6-12 will follow their nine-period schedule each day and will be assigned to “A” and “B” cohorts which alternate between “live” and “remote” learning.  Siblings from the same household will be placed in the same daily cohort for instruction.  Officials said there will be approximately a 50 percent reduction in student density in the buildings where secondary education occurs.

Those who have their children in remote learning, but wish to withdraw them at a later date will be receiving an email in mid-November asking parents if they choose to remain or opt out of exclusive remote learning. Those responses are required by Dec. 1, in order for the district to have facilities prepared when students return from winter break on Jan. 4.

Prendergast said the district cannot guarantee that in-school options will be available for students who choose to opt out of remote learning based on the number of responses the schools receive and maintaining social distancing guidelines from the state.

According to the plan, staff and students are required to wear a mask and those masks can be used from home. Face mask breaks will also be incorporated throughout the school day. Training will also be provided for all employees before the first day of school focusing on identifying symptoms of the coronavirus, proper use of face covering, hand hygiene and cough etiquette.

School officials also presented hypothetical scenarios about students, teachers or family members contracting the virus.

If a family member of a student tests positive, the household is required to quarantine and the student goes on remote home instruction.  If a family member of a staff member tests positive, the entire household for that person is required to quarantine.

If a student tests positive on the elementary level, the class must quarantine for 14 calendar days, and the class switches to remote instruction.  If a student tests positive at the secondary level, the district will work with the county and state health departments to determine the best protocol and quarantine if necessary.

If any individual in the school district tests positive, the county’s Health Department will monitor and require that person to isolate for at least 10 calendar days and be symptom-free for 72 hours with no fever or medication to suppress it.

While we can all recognize that this upcoming school year will look different than years past, one thing is for certain: we are committed to supporting the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff and we are exceeding recommended daily precautions to keep our school community safe as we begin the new school year,” Prendergast said.

 A more comprehensive overview of the measures the district is taking can be found on the district website.

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