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County concentrates on keeping school open

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In late October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered new guidance to school districts, outlining the rate at which each would have to test their students depending on various factors, including their zone designation based on metrics gathered from the surrounding area. While Gov. Cuomo’s metrics are continuously updated, the latest regulations state that districts must test roughly 20% of their student body, faculty and staff every two weeks if they are in what the state designates a “yellow zone.” If designated an “orange zone,” that 20% must continue for the remainder of the month. Red zones must bump that quota up to 30%.

In Cuomo’s Oct. 30 press release, he announced that the state would provide rapid testing to “schools wishing to participate.”

Nearby Massapequa Park was recently designated one of the only yellow zones in the county. According to Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads, who represents Wantagh and Seaford among other South Shore hamlets, each school in the Massapequa Park School District was paying “roughly” $3,000 a day for extra testing during its yellow zone designation to keep up with state mandates.

“That is a substantial daily cost per school per day,” he told the Herald on Dec. 12.

Affected districts, like Massapequa Park, have had to partner with private companies to provide testing. Rhoads said funding for this was coming straight from the district’s budget. Rhoads and other members of the Nassau County Republican majority met with local school districts to brainstorm further ways to help districts meet the state-mandated testing quota without severe financial stress.

“Schools don’t have the ability to test on their own. The guidance [from the state] was that they would work with the local health departments, who are licensed to do this kind of testing,” Rhoads said. Nassau’s Health Department is not currently capable of providing testing on-site at affected schools, per Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in her Covid-19 briefing on Dec. 9 with Health Department head Lawrence J. Eisenstein. Instead, the department urges residents to visit free testing sites set up around the county and send results to the district

Curran also said she intends on working with school districts to get licensed by the state so that school nurses may be able to test on school premises.

 

The real goal

Rhoads was not shy when sharing that he hopes to sustain in-class learning for as long as possible. He referenced statistics that he, and his cohort, received in their latest briefing claiming that 70 to 75 percent of statewide spreading occurs during small, indoor gatherings in private residents’ homes. He said he has been seen local schools do “extremely well” in slowing the spread of Covid-19 among their student bodies.

Curran, in her briefing, said that one of her biggest priorities is to keep schools open.

“There is a substantial agreement amongst faculty, staff and parents that as long as we can do [in-person learning], that we should and it is the most effective way to learn,” he said. “Remote learning should be kept as a last resort.”

This comes just weeks before  school districts are scheduled for students to undergo their “winter break,” a short reprieve from classes.

“It is not the government’s place to tell residents what they can and cannot do within their own homes,” Rhoads said before clarifying, “however you would ask that people exercise common sense.” He said he believes that spreading may be more prevalent in private homes because it is “easy to let your guard down” at home.

Rhoads also serves as a youth pastor at St. Pius X Church in Plainview, where he speaks to high school students frequently about their hope for a “return to a semblance of normalcy” at school.

“Two weeks from now things can be completely different, we know this changes day-to-day,” he said. “But rates in school have stayed low within school population and specifically the student body. If the decision to close schools is made, and it is anything more than a last resort, I think it is a tremendous disservice to our students.”