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Governor Cuomo declares schools can reopen; Hewlett-Woodmere and Lawrence districts are ready

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School districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, along with rest of the state, will be allowed to reopen, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Aug. 7. He said he based his decision on low infection rates recorded in every region.

“Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “If there’s a spike in the infection rate, if there’s a matter of concern in the infection rate, we can revisit.”

“If you look at our infection rate, we have the best situation in the country right now as incredible as that seems. We’ve been successful because we’ve been smart and our school guidance is based on that … so if anyone can open schools we can open schools and that’s true for every region in the state.”

The State Education Department is leaving the specifics of how to reopen New York’s 749 school districts to the districts themselves. Districts are empowered to make decisions about what in-person learning will look like, how much remote learning will be offered and how to implement safety protocols. Masks will be mandated and every student will be required to have one with them at all times.

“We are giving flexibility to the school districts,” Cuomo said, similar to the state’s phased-in economic reopening, explaining that “there was no one-size fits all” approach then nor is there now.

Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said the district is prepared to follow its 76-page reopening plan, but is unclear on the length of the upcoming school year. “We have been planning with health and safety and education as the guiding principles, what we still haven’t any guidance on is the 180-day rule there are a of hours required and that remains confusing,” she said.

Pedersen said that the district’s plan were developed collaboratively and include directions for full remote learning, in-person instruction and a hybrid. At Monday’s Board of Education meeting the trustees are expected to approve the $200,000 purchase of cameras for livestreaming classes and with the upgrades in Google Meet, she fully expects to be able to accommodate students that attend school and those who remain at home. The improvements include privacy backgrounds, along with the district’s internal system of taking attendance. 

“Immediately after I sent out the summary, I received two emails from parents,” Pedersen said, “one begging for the full remote option and the other blasting me for the full in-person model.” It shows the different levels of comfort. We can accommodate both.”

David Flatley, the interim deputy superintendent for Hewlett-Woodmere schools, said the district is reformatting classroom layouts and spacing, installing partitions and will use transportable classrooms to adhere to the social distancing guidelines.   

“In the event of a confirmed case of Covid-19 among one of our students or staff, we will work with our local Department of Health regarding immediate actions and direction for returning individuals to school.,” Flatley said. “Students will attend school in person each day that school is in session. Guidance mandates that we enforce six-foot social distancing or the use of clear plastic desk barriers in all classrooms, regardless of the use of masks."

Cuomo emphasized that the communication between school districts and their communities is essential to address concerns of families and teachers. He said he is requiring school districts to post their specific plans on their websites for public review by the end of next week.

Hewlett-Woodmere Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr. appears in sync with the governor. “The District is committed to keeping open and transparent communication with all stakeholders, including students, staff, parents, and community members,” Marino said.

Specifically, he said these plans must fully detail three “highly questioned” areas: remote learning options, protocols for testing of students and staff and contact tracing plans in a situation where a student or staff member tests positive for Covid-19.

Cuomo is requesting that school districts have ample discussions with parents and staff. “Districts have to communicate with parents,” he said. “Parents need an opportunity to be heard and schools should welcome the opportunity to explain their plans.” He said districts should plan to hold “at least three sessions to give everyone the opportunity to participate between now and Aug. 21.”

“The more communication the better,” Cuomo said, adding that he is also “asking districts to set up at least one discussion with teachers.”