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Five Towns parents express hestiancy about September reopening

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Though it’s still summer, school — and particularly how it will reopen in September — is on the minds of many, months after the mid-March statewide pandemic shutdown. The July 31  deadline for schools and school districts to submit reopening plans to the State Education Department was extended to Aug. 7.

School administrators were told to create three different plans: one for in-person instruction, including details of how the district would adhere to social distancing guidelines and maintaining health safety protocols with facemasks required; another for the remote learning that was implemented when schools were closed; and a third plan, a hybrid plan of in-person and distance education.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also set down guidelines for when school buildings could reopen for in-person instruction. Schools in regions that are in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols and have a daily average Covid-19 infection rate of 5 percent or lower over a 14-day period will be allowed to reopen. Schools in a region that sees a spike in infections — a seven-day average rate of 9 percent or higher — cannot reopen. Cuomo is expected to determine which schools can reopen on Aug. 7.

Modifications to classrooms, and the grouping of students to reduce the risk of exposure and infection, will be decided by districts based on guidelines from the state, along with guidance on.

“A majority of the school districts are looking at the hybrid,” said Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen, adding that because Lawrence issued Chromebooks with Wi-Fi connectivity to its students before the pandemic, and then to more students when school closed, virtually all district students and teachers can build on the remote learning done from March to the end of school in June.

“Our guiding principle is the safety of everyone and accountability for learning,” Pedersen added. Lawrence has asked students’ parents and guardians to fill out a survey to determine their “comfort level” with the reopening models, at https://www.lawrence.org/.

Hewlett-Woodmere officials said that the school district’s Reopening Task Force was continuing work on plans to be submitted on Friday and posted on the district website, https://www.hewlett-woodmere.net/.

In an email to district residents on Monday, Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. wrote that the task force members had “spent many hours reviewing and discussing these most important documents. These plans must remain at the ready regardless of the district’s reopening intentions in case we are mandated to limit building capacity or initiate a school closure.”

The district is asking parents and guardians choose one of the instruction models on the 2020-21 registration form, which also includes questions on each student’s grade and school, the technology setup at home and transportation. The choice would come with no guarantees, according to Marino. “The district will then need to determine the feasibility of each program in accordance with the state mandates,” he wrote.

Lukewarm reception for reopening

After Woodmere resident Matthew Russo posted a Facebook query on what people think about sending their children back to school, nearly 40 comments noted health and safety factors as the primary reasons for not reopening schools in September. Russo said he also received 30 calls from parents who were also mostly lukewarm about reopening.

“It’s clear to me that nobody is comfortable about sending their kids back to school with Covid-19 out there,” said Russo, the father of two boys — Max, an eighth-grader at Lawrence Middle School, and Ethan, a fifth-grader at Lawrence Elementary School. “Some parents who have special-needs children or those with asthma are worried.”

Derya Tanguner, the mother of two Lawrence students, posted, “I’m torn. I feel like if cases are down and precautions are taken it’s OK, but on the other hand I’m scared.” Her son, Eray, is a fifth-grader, and her daughter, Azra, is a kindergartner, who, along with her classmates, will remain at the Early Childhood Center at the Number Four School as part of the district’s reconfiguration plan, which aims to maintain continuity for younger students by keeping them with familiar teachers and support staff.

Should officials reopen schools and deem it necessary for children to wear masks and have plastic protective shield around their desks, and not allow them to leave the building for lunch, or to take classes such as art and music, Woodmere resident Jenelle Vides posted, “Then in my eyes you’re saying it’s not safe for my kids to go back to school.”

Within hours of Marino’s email, parents posted comments on the Hewlett Woodmere District 14 Residents Facebook page. “I know for sure online learning is a disaster,” Rozali Shteinberg Barabash wrote. “At least in my case where both parents working full time. I can’t imagine online or hybrid plan.”