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Rallying to reopen Long Island schools

New York Board of Regents to release guidelines in July

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A crowd of roughly 50 parents and teachers gathered in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola last Saturday to stump for the reopening of school buildings in September.

While rally attendees expressed their displeasure with distance learning and school buildings being closed, Five Towns school administrators, who did not attend the “Rally to Reopen Schools in September,” discussed where their schools currently stand on a September reopening. 

The rally was organized by East Setauket residents Maria Sanders, Amalia Makroglou and Aristea Lucas, mothers of school-age children. Lucas is an English as a Second Language teacher in the Sachem Central School District. Sanders noted that they chose Mineola as the location for the rally because it served as a “middle ground” for attendees.

“Back in April, [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo said that the schools would be closed for two weeks to help our medical infrastructure and flatten the curve,” Sanders said. “Now we’re in June and we’re still questioning September. Cuomo needs to act, and tell us that schools need to open in September.”

Cuomo initially closed schools statewide on March 16 for two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic spread. He extended the closure, and eventually announced on May 1 that schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year. Guidelines on reopening them have yet to be released by the state.

Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that the district was awaiting further guidance from the State Education Department on how to go about reopening. “SED is expected to have a Board of Regents meeting on July 13 that will outline school reopening guidelines,” Pedersen said. “We are eagerly awaiting the results of that meeting.”

Exactly how districts will schedule school going forward is a big issue, she said. “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 explained. “The facility component of preparing can continue during this time, but the big holdup for districts right now is scheduling.”

The State Education Department has divided state school districts into four regions for the purpose of planning reopening. Long Island is in Region 4, and a regional meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, after the Herald went to press.

Hewlett-Woodmere School District Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr. noted that his district had created a reopening task force to come up with a reopening plan to submit to the Education Department in July. “Specific work groups have been developed within the task force to address focus areas, including transportation, facilities, instruction, health and safety, extra-curricular activities, among others,” Marino said. “The plans developed will be dependent upon guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Governor Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Education Department and other agencies.”

Richard Hagler is the executive director of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, which encompasses the Lev Chana Early Childhood Center in Hewlett Bay Park, the elementary school in Woodmere, and the academy’s two high schools — David Renov Stahler Yeshiva for Boys, in Woodmere, and Stella K. Abraham for Girls, in Hewlett Bay Park. All HALB schools, Hagler said, are in a “wait-and-see approach for reopening.”

“We are hopeful and are intending to open our schools on time in September, but we are awaiting further guidance from the state government,” Hagler said. “I think it’s everybody’s hope to open in September, as that would be the best thing for our students and our schools.”

At the rally, Maria Sanders said that the importance of school goes beyond education. “I recognize that some school districts have better distance learning than others, but school is much more than learning ABCs and one-two-threes,” she said. “It’s social learning, emotional learning and building relationships. We can’t teach them all of this in the comfort of our kitchens.”