The Sewanhaka Central High School School District Board of Education announced school reopening plans at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. The meeting came hours after Gov. Kathy Hochul instituted a mask mandate for all school districts in the state for the coming school year.
The reopening plan on the district website says, “We are required to follow all guidance from the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Education Department. At this time, this guidance mandates that we require our students to wear masks while inside the school building. Should revised guidance be released by these governing agencies, we will revise our plan.”
Staff and visitors will also be required to wear masks when classes begin Sept. 2.
Because the meeting was held after Hochul’s announcement on mask mandates, the school board had no other option but to follow suit.
Part of the plan, sent to families in June, includes three feet of social distance where practical for indoor locations and normal transportation schedules with masks at all times for occupants. The district will not offer remote learning options, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sports will return to normal operations, with masks not required outside.
The district said in the plan regarding remote learning, “While we are very proud of the job our faculty, staff, and students did to continue teaching and learning during our periods of remote and hybrid learning, there is no adequate substitute for in-person learning.”
Superintendent James Grossane said at the meeting that he has received emails from a few parents indicating their desire to home-school their children in lieu of the mandates.
Also addressed in the meeting were recaps on summer programs held in the district, a new website, and phone app and portals for students and parents for the coming school year.
Hochul’s initiative was met with support by education associations. The School Administrators Association of New York State said in a statement Wednesday that it “was pleased that Governor Hochul’s priorities … include a focus on safely returning to in-person learning in New York State Schools.”
An intense public portion of the meeting was held where any questions about the mask mandate were limited due to the fact that it was issued by the governor, said Michael A. Jaime, president of the Elmont school district.
Many people in the audience in the board room in Sewanhaka High School asked to give taxpayers more freedom.
Public comments were mixed, with many parents wanting to be given the option to decide about masks and to have more control over their children.
Resident Danny Santana walked to the podium with a stack of papers, stapled for anyone to grab, and said they contained mission statements from the district website as well as research he found downplaying the effectiveness of masks.
“If you say you’re going to use science, then use the science,” Santana said. “You can take from me, I’m an adult. But if you go for my kids, I have to defend them.”
Many remarks made by members of the public against the mask mandates were met with applause overheard from the cafeteria next door, attended by an overflow of residents.
One resident questioned if more ventilation will be required, and if air conditioning would be installed in each classroom. Grossane said it would be considered but no imminent plans to increase air conditioning are in the works.
Steven Vitale, a district employee, said progress is being made, but masks are still remaining.
“The plexiglass is down, capacity is back to full, and sports are back,” he said. “Why are the masks still here?”
The last comment of the board meeting, before 30 minutes for public comment ended, emphasized the role of trust during the health crisis.
“We don’t have the ability to manage a school district based on trust. I can’t trust who’s vaccinated and who’s not,” an unnamed resident said. “Amidst this crisis, when the government made mask mandates, it made life easier.”