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Hewlett-Woodmere schools return to in-person learning

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In-person instruction began again on Oct. 5 in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District. The Franklin Early Childhood Center had gotten a head start, with its pre-K to first-grade students returning on Sept. 23.

District officials said that roughly 11 percent of its 3,025 students have opted for remote instruction as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“The ability to provide full in-person instruction for the students who requested it would not have been possible without the hard work, determination, and patience of the entire Hewlett-Woodmere staff, parents and guardians, and of course, our wonderful students,” Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr. wrote in a district-wide letter last Friday. “Seeing the happiness on the students’ faces as they returned to our buildings full-time makes all of the hurdles we have scaled worthwhile.”

Nearly 72 percent of district parents surveyed in August chose full-time in-person instruction, and 17 percent picked the hybrid model — a combination of remote and in-person learning. The rest chose full-time online instruction.

Marino reiterated safety protocols that include mask wearing by staff, students, parents or guardians and visitors whenever they are on school property. Parents must complete the Health Screening Questionnaire in the Frontline Health Portal app every day for each one of their children. Children who are sick, have any Covid symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus should not be sent to school.

Lisa Fustero-Wright, who has two children in the district, one at Ogden Elementary School and another at Woodmere Middle School, said the staff had been “amazing” in setting up the return to classes.

“My Ogden student returned full-time this past week, and my Woodmere Middle School student wanted to stay hybrid,” she said on Thursday. “From what I’m seeing, all students and staff are respecting the mask guidelines. It looks like the district has crossed every t and dotted every i, so I’m pleased with the way the situation has been handled.”

Cristina Lahey agreed. “My son, in Woodmere Middle School, and my daughter, in Ogden Elementary, are so happy to be back at school,” she said. “I hope that it can stay open and one day ease some restrictions.”

Rick Stark, president of the Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association, noted that faculty members were happy to be back, but still had serious concerns. “Our biggest concerns are how our students, particularly our young elementary students, are faring under the hybrid/livestreaming instruction model,” he said. “It’s a lot of screen time for young children, they need constant at-home supervision to remain on task, and the burden on our elementary teachers to teach in-class and at-home students at the same time is very heavy.” The HWFA has roughly 290 members, including librarians and speech pathologists.

Despite the concerns, Stark credited the district with putting together a safe reopening plan. “From a health and safety perspective, the district has done everything one could expect,” he said. “Our custodial and grounds staff have worked very hard to keep the buildings as clean and safe as possible. Our ventilation systems are working effectively, and so far the students have generally been social distancing and wearing their masks.”

Marino acknowledged that the district must stay vigilant in following safety protocols. “As we watch neighboring school districts begin to close due to escalating cases of Covid-19, we all need to do our part to help our schools remain open,” he wrote. “It is more important than ever to be extremely vigilant about adhering to the health and safety guidelines we have put in place.”