School districts across the North Shore are preparing for a number of different versions of what classes will look like in the fall.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that if the infection rate is below 5 percent in a region, schools can reopen. He said this is the number that he will watch until the decision on schools is made in the first week of August. If the infection rate jumps to above 9 percent in a region, schools must close.
In addition, Cuomo said schools’ plans must include measures for physical distancing and personal protective equipment to be in use. School districts have until July 31 to submit plans to the governor’s office.
The East Williston school district said last week that it will work with the governor’s guidelines to create a plan that will be made available to the community prior to submission.
So far, the district said it is “measuring every inch of usable space district-wide,” and calculating how many students can fit into buildings with physical distancing. It is also looking into how staff could be reallocated and preparing for a hybrid form of school that could involve some students being in school full time and others using part in-person, part virtual learning.
Herricks School Superintendent Fino Celano said in a letter to the district community Monday that the district created a 50-person reopening task force in June made up of parents, teachers, administrators and trustees, some of whom are physicians who have “a great deal of expertise and experience in dealing with the COVID-19 virus.”
The district is planning for the scenarios of reopening fully in-person, using only virtual classes or a mix of the two.
“If we return to a remote learning situation, it will be characterized by more structure, greater time on task, and an increase in live face to face instruction,” Celano said.
The district is stocking up on cleaning supplies, masks, gloves and plastic screens and is cleaning and replacing ventilation systems in its schools. The district is also hiring an additional school nurse, he said.
Efforts to reach other North Shore districts were unavailing.
Alan Singer, an education professor at Hofstra, said the governor is asking too much of schools without providing additional funding. Singer said that some classrooms on Long Island have as many as 30 students, but with physical distancing in place, there will only be room for about 10 per room. He asked, where are the rest of the students going to go, and who is going to teach them?
“Cuomo is asking teachers to do three times the work,” Singer said. “Where is the money to hire the additional staff?”
At the time of an interview, Singer had just come out of a meeting with area teachers, most of whom reported the same phenomenon: that there will be around 30 children in a class and, when the class is held over Zoom, they will be lucky to get six to show up. Some classes will have students send a virtual avatar to signify their attendance, but some only send the avatar and do not necessarily pay attention.
The problem is even worse for younger children who need more supervision and those with lower-income parents. He said children in those categories are falling behind and having their futures “sacrificed.”
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released a statement on July 8 saying that New York schools must prioritize health of the school community and equitable access to quality education.
“We need two things to make all of this a reality. First, parents and school staff must have a seat at the table locally to work out the details that are best for their communities,” Pallotta said. “Second, we need the federal and state funding that absolutely will be necessary to do this safely and equitably.”
Pallotta stressed that schools must have personal protective equipment, physical distancing and cleaning protocols, and there must be plans to address the needs of people who are at high risk of contracting the illness and mental health services for students.
The reopening of schools has increasingly become a partisan political issue as President Donald Trump has pushed for schools to fully reopen in a traditional sense.
Six national education groups, the National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Administrators of Special Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals and
National Association of State Directors of Special Education, released a joint statement last week accusing the administration of a lack of leadership on education.
“The White House and the CDC have offered, at best, conflicting guidance for school reopening and today offered little additional insight,” the statement reads. “Without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for personal protective equipment, socially distance instruction and addressing racial inequality, we could be putting students, their families and educators in danger.”