Teachers, districts in New Hyde Park area prepare for an unusual fall

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Great Neck Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast sent a letter to parents addressing an
Great Neck Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast said the pandemic has forced the district to reimagine what school instruction will look like. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

Beginning Sept. 3, the Herricks school district will welcome students in grades K-5 back to in-person learning five days a week and students in grades 6-12 into a hybrid learning model in which they will be split into two groups, according to the district’s reopening plan.

The middle and high school cohorts will alternate days in school in a four-day school week. Siblings will be kept in the same cohort so they can attend school on the same day.

“The school district considers in-person services a priority for our youngest and high needs students,” the district reopening plan states.

A spokesperson for the district said officials had no comment on reopening plans at this time.

The district’s website said if the state Department of Health recommends that the district changes to remote classes, it has the ability to quickly switch one class, school or the entire district over to online classes.

As the district prepares to welcome students back to in-person classes, administrators are seeking ways to reduce the number of people in the building at once and give a sense of safety to as many students, teachers and parents as possible.

About 26 percent of the K-12 student population and 30 teachers have opted to work completely from home, according to Herricks Teachers’ Association President Nidya Degliomini.

Degliomini said that because of the large variation in student’s class schedules in grades 6-12, teachers who work with these grades are not able to work from home. Teachers who are working with grades K-5 did have the option to only teach remotely. They will be paired up with a class of normal size consisting of children who are taking classes only from home.

Students in grades 6-12 who opted to take classes from home will live-stream into a classroom where a teacher is delivering a lesson to students.

Degliomini said some teachers who usually work with grades 6-12 wanted to work from home, citing safety concerns. Some teachers who had certification to teach the younger grades are being switched to teach those grades so they can work from home. Degliomini said those who cannot come to school due to medical concerns and are not certified to teach elementary students are working with the district on a “case by case basis.” Some are going to take a leave of absence.

Degliomini is teaching sixth-grade English language arts this year.

She said the district has done a good job of being transparent and keeping the community in the loop about the reopening plans. She said originally the district was not going to offer an option for parents to allow their child to take classes remotely. But after hearing concerns from the community, the district altered the reopening plan to include one.

Because grades 6-12 are on a cohort model, where the student body is split in half and alternates days in and out of school, Degliomini said there should be less fear about large crowds.

“If you imagine you’re in a building where there’s normally 1,000 kids, now that’s cut to 500 and then a quarter are at home so now you’re at 400,” Degliomini said.

She said the district has daily cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place, an indoor mask mandate and social distancing. Yet, she said she can’t help but have a few fears of what could go wrong. She worries about what would happen if someone travels somewhere where COVID-19 cases are high and comes back to school, thus exposing the population.

She worries how much cleaning will be done in classrooms between classes or what will be done with a student who acts out or refuses to wear a mask. Another concern is how the district will assist those who may have experienced trauma since the pandemic began such as losing a family member.

Great Neck school officials outlined plans to introduce in-person learning five days a week for elementary school students and a hybrid model for secondary school students. All students have the option to utilize fully remote learning 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.”

The Sewanhaka Central High School District will use a cohort model to begin the year. The student body will be split into two groups which will alternate days in school and in remote learning.

The district gave the option to any students who did not want to attend school in-person over coronavirus concerns to attend school remotely. According to a district spokesperson, 3,200 students have opted to do this. To manage all those students, teachers will have a daily schedule of teaching a few classes in person and then some virtually, according to a district representative.

The district’s reopening plan said it couldn’t accommodate all of its students safely at this time given space requirements for physical distancing.

“It is our goal to return to full-time, in-person instruction as soon as possible,” the district’s reopening plan states. “When social distancing requirements are relaxed, we will welcome all students back to school each day.”

The Floral Park-Bellerose and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school districts did not respond to requests for comment on reopening plans. A spokesperson for the districts said both were still gathering information on how many students opted to attend school remotely.

Both districts submitted plans to return all students to in-person learning five days a week to the governor’s office. The governor has left the decision up to local districts. Under Floral Park-Bellerose’s plan, the school day would begin 40 minutes later and end 40 minutes earlier.

Robert Pelaez contributed reporting.

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