This school year could be the first since 2019-20 in which the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a dominating factor for students, teachers and parents, according to local school officials.
Public schools in Wantagh and Seaford, as well as those across the country, were profoundly affected when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in March 2020, and they continued to deal with the impact of the pandemic for the two school years that followed.
For the past three academic years, educators were facing unique challenges to the ever-changing knowledge of how to deal with the coronavirus.
When the pandemic first hit, Wantagh schools immediately moved to fully remote instruction to finish out the 2019-20 year.
“On a moment’s notice, we went fully virtual,” John McNamara, superintendent of the Wantagh School District, said. “That’s how we finished out 2020 — fully shut down, no in person teaching.”
Students returned to Wantagh schools during the 2020-21 school year and experienced many changes with how schools were being run. Wantagh ran a hybrid model, where students would turn to virtual instruction on some days and in person learning on other days. When in person, students were told to adhere to strict masking and social distancing policies.
During the 2021-22 school year, students donned masks and returned to full in-person instruction, until Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the mask mandate on March 2, 2022, following the end of the omicron wave.
“From when the pandemic first hit, we saw a slow but sure improvement,” McNamara said. “We went from fully remote, to hybrid, to fully back over the course of those three years.”
Schools in Seaford followed a similar path, with a few slight changes from Wantagh. Seaford also went fully remote for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year when the pandemic first hit. But unlike Wantagh, Seaford brought students back every day during the 2020-21 school year in the district’s own unique take on the hybrid model, according to Adele Pecora, superintendent of Seaford schools.
“We did an a.m. and p.m. schedule,” Pecora said. “For students who didn’t opt to go fully remote, you would come in for half the day either in the morning or afternoon depending on if it was an A or B day.”
Pecora said she was proud of this hybrid protocol, adding “it was an interesting way to keep the students connected to the school and in school every day.”
Seaford students returned fully to in-person learning during 2021-22, wearing masks until the mask mandate was eventually lifted. Now, as the 2022-23 school year begins, the only mandate that remains is for students to quarantine for five days if they test positive and then wear a mask to school for the next five days.
Both McNamara and Pecora were put in a position that plagued every school administrator in America during this crisis: following state and federal health organization protocols while satisfying the needs of students, teachers and parents.
“We had to follow the guidance of the experts at the time and share all that information,” McNamara said. “We did a lot of virtual meetings to get the word out and fielded questions as best we could.”
McNamara said he feels everyone has gained resiliency, patience and a better empathy for one another as a result of all they experienced.
“There are things that we as a district have latitude with, and then there are things that are required,” Pecora said. “For the most part, in this community, the parents, students, staff and administration all wanted the same thing and wanted students to be able to come to school in a comfortable, safe environment.”
Both superintendents said they look forward to relatively normal school years in Wantagh and Seaford. Both have full faith in the school faculty to make up for any lost ground students may have experienced due to remote or masked instruction.
“We’re looking forward to an outstanding year,” McNamara said. “We thank everybody for all their efforts through a very difficult time.”
Pecora said, “We’ve stated publicly that we thought Covid was in the rearview mirror. We look forward to students being able to engage in all of the academic and extracurricular offerings of our district. We will continue to stay Seaford strong.”