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Five Towns schools, museums discuss Phase Four reopening process

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As Long Island entered Phase Four of New York state's mandated reopening stages on Wednesday, a pair of Five Towns school districts and a museum in Lawrence are still awaiting guidance from the state and the Town of Hempstead on how best to reopen.

The State Department of Health is expected on July 13 to send New York’s 700 school districts instructions for reopening in September. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at his news conference on Wednesday, and each district would have until the end of the month to submit its plans for the 2020-21 school year to the state. State officials would then approve or deny the plans in the first week of August.

Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that exactly how the district will schedule school going forward is an important piece of the puzzle. 

“The state has a rule where schools have to be in session for 180 days, and we’re awaiting guidance as to if districts have any sort of leeway when it comes to fulfilling those hours,” Pedersen said. “The facility component of preparing can continue during this time, but the big holdup for districts right now is scheduling.”

The governor said all school districts have been directed to develop reopening plans, but he is taking a wait-and-see approach whether students will head back to their school buildings in September.

“We will open the schools if it is safe to open the schools,” Cuomo said, noting that the facts of the coronavirus pandemic are changing daily. “I am not going to ask anyone to put their children in a position I would not put my children in."

The Hewlett-Woodmere School District has created a reopening task force that Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr. said has individual work groups that will address focus areas including transportation, facilities, instruction, health and safety, and extracurricular activities. 

Marino added that the district has been evaluating their approach to remote learning and is prepared to use it if school buildings are not reopened in September.

“All teachers in grades pre-kindergarten to 4 will be using Seesaw, and all teachers in grades 5 to 12 will be using Schoology,” he said. Both are online learning platforms. “This change will occur regardless of our open or closed status in the fall as utilizing a single platform will allow teachers to manage and organize educational courses online and provide students a single location for all course material.”

In addition to higher education, industries that were be able to open in Phase Four include:

Film and music production.

Low-risk indoor arts and entertainment.

Low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment.

Professional sports without fans.

Low-risk indoor entertainment includes museums, historical sites and aquariums. Examples of low-risk outdoor entertainment are zoos, botanical gardens and nature parks.

Even with museums being allowed to open, Rock Hall Museum in Lawrence is remaining closed, according to Museum Director Linda Barreira. “Since we are owned by the Town of Hempstead, we are awaiting further guidance from them on reopening,” she said. "We have not been given a reopening date." The museum has been closed since the middle of March.

The governor praised New Yorkers for their vigilance and resilience throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. He said, though, that he worried people might become apathetic and arrogant, believing they had beaten the virus.

Statewide, the infection rate remains around 1 percent — down from nearly 17 percent on Long Island and more than 20 percent in New York City during the height of the pandemic in April.