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'The seniors are so thankful'

Lynbrook High School to welcome back class of 2021 in person

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To bring more students back for in-person learning at Lynbrook High School, officials announced that all seniors would be invited back to the building starting Monday.

The district’s Phase 4 task force, comprising students, teachers and administrators, hosted a series of meetings to discuss bringing more students back to school, and an outdoor celebration of their return was planned for Monday morning.

At the Feb. 10 Board of Education meeting, task force representatives shared their plan, which included bringing seniors back first. Dr. Maureen Berman, assistant superintendent for personnel, transportation and student support services, chaired the Elementary School Committee, while Dr. Gerard Beleckas, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, chaired the Middle School Committee, and LHS Principal Joseph Rainis, the High School Committee.

In a survey of parents of LHS seniors conducted by the task force, 60 to 70 percent of the 156 respondents said they would favor their children returning to full in-person instruction, while others said they would prefer to stay remote, Rainis said.

“Based on that number, and with the startup of athletics and other activities     . . . there may be students who are self-selecting to stay home,” he explained, “so that they won’t have to worry about the potential of quarantining while their sports season is going on, or while Class Night is taking place. So while we’ll be inviting the entire senior class back, we don’t think that the entire senior class will take advantage of it for their own reasons.”

Within each of their reports, the administrators spoke about their subcommittees’ recommendations. Parents of children in kindergarten through 11th grade will be asked to complete a commitment survey, which will be sent March 5, asking if they would like to return to full in-person instruction or stay remote. The target date for all elementary and middle school students who would like to return to full in-person learning would be April 12.

Parents and students greeted the return of seniors positively. Kerry Benvenuto, an LHS alumna of the class of 1992 who has three children in the school — Mason, a senior, Ryan, a sophomore, and Logan, a freshman — said she was grateful to the task force and administrators for their efforts.

“While the pandemic certainly has proven to be a challenging time for all of us, it has also provided immeasurable opportunities for us to work together as a community, show our unity and help each other through our darkest hours,” she said. “The class of 2021 is a shining example of the light this world needs in order to grow.”

Her daughter, Mason, said she was excited to reunite with her peers, some of whom she has not seen since last March.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year since we have been in school together learning, laughing and making memories,” she said. “I want to thank all who made this happen. The seniors are so thankful.”

Board of Education Trustee David Yanker said the class of 2019 missing out on experiences reminded him of lyrics from the popular Macklemore and Kesha song, “Good Old Days,” in which they sing “cause someday soon your whole life is going to change/you’ll miss the magic of the good old days.” Yaker said he is excited they will have a chance to make memories together again.

Student Government Association President Joe Giovinco said it would be nice to have a sense of normalcy. “We are now able to have our Class Night and Powderpuff football game,” he said, “which are a huge part of our high school experience that we thought we’d miss out on in our senior year.”

If the return of the class of 2021 goes well at the high school, the hope is to have juniors who would like to return do so on April 12. May 10 would be the possible return date for sophomores and juniors, Rainis said, noting that though more desks would have to be added to classrooms, many safety protocols would remain, including keeping one-way traffic in certain hallways and staircases and the installation of more polycarbonate dividers.

He added that administrators would continue to monitor trends in cases and Covid-19 variants before adding more students. Officials said they hope a mask mandate and dividers would stop any potential spread of the virus.

Board of Education President William Belmont said at the Feb. 10 meeting that it was important to stagger the return of students, rather than increase the volume drastically. “While some may be like let’s bring them all back at once, I think it’s very prudent to do it in this type of manner,” he said, “because it allows us to assess our ability to handle that increase.”

Lynbrook school officials formed the task force last fall amid many parents pushing for their children to return to in-person learning. The board approved the creation of the task force in October, and the subcommittees met regularly while forming a plan and generating the surveys. After the task force revealed its plans publicly, Burak lauded the task force and the school community for its handling of the return of students and for prioritizing their safety. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of logistics,” she said at the meeting. “I’m very proud of the teachers, the administration, the students and how everyone has really worked together and have revisited this and tried to make it safe. While maybe not everyone agrees, this district has made prudent decisions to bring back people in a safe environment for everyone.”

The East Rockaway School District has operated either on an all-remote or hybrid in-person, remote schedule, and district officials said they have no plans yet to change that model.