The once-bustling halls of Lynbrook High School thin each day as coronavirus cases rise, and dozens of students — contact-traced or merely avoiding exposure — stay home from school.
As of press time, there were at least 17 known Covid-positive students, in addition to several staff members. The rise in numbers coincided with the commencement of high-risk sports, preparation for the annual Class Night event and the return of seniors to full in-person instruction, which began March 1.
Principal Joseph Rainis, however, attributes the outbreak to non-school related activities, weekend parties and hangouts where students socialize without taking appropriate precaution.
“Gatherings that are taking place outside of school are the main culprit for this spread,” Rainis said. “We’re confident that the measures we’re taking have made it so that Covid is not spreading inside the building.
Lynbrook Public Schools has maintained its state-mandated safety measures since the beginning of the academic year, including plexi-glass screens on desks, one-way hallways and mandatory mask-wearing. Any student within six feet of a Covid-positive classmate for 10 minutes or longer must quarantine for two weeks, so in-person attendance continues to dwindle. Out of the 243 students in the senior class, 109 registered to come to school every day. On March 3, there should have been 150 seniors in the LHS building, but only 107 came.
“People are making decisions about whether or not they are going to come to school,” Rainis said. “They weren’t all quarantining.”
The task force responsible for organizing students’ full return comprises administrators, teachers, students and parents. The group reached a consensus several weeks ago to bring students back to school in phases: seniors on March 1, juniors on April 12 and sophomores and freshmen on May 10. Rainis expressed that he hoped to reconvene the task force upon the juniors’ return, to reevaluate the circumstances and attempt to get the underclassmen back on an even sooner date.
Meanwhile, questions and concerns arise from the community over the safety of school-run events. The Powderpuff football game was originally scheduled to take place on Feb. 27, but was moved to March 6 due to bad weather. The new game date, however, was also cancelled in response to the coronavirus outbreak. A final date for the game was not determined at press time.
Rainis and administrators do not plan on rescheduling other school events, including Class Night on March 12, because, they said, they worry that the future holds no guarantees.
“No matter when we schedule these events, there will be a group of students who cannot attend because of Covid,” Rainis said. “I want to hold Class Night. I’m looking forward to it.”
Senior Maeve Mooney, chairperson of the senior Class Night, said that more than half of the students participating in dances and the skit are in quarantine, and will not be back in school until the day before the event.
“This year especially, our grade has put in so much work to prepare for Class Night,” Mooney said. “While I was originally hoping the event would be postponed to a later date, so we could have a fair chance to prepare, I was also concerned with moving it because we have no clue what will happen in the upcoming months ... I am certain our grade will be able to pull off an amazing last Class Night together.”
The junior class has experienced similar challenges the past few weeks, according to Class Night chairperson Jaden Harvin.
“Having most of our participants in quarantine has taken a big toll on our preparation for dances and the skit,” Harvin said. He explained that he and Emma Leighley, his co-chair, reached out to the administration in hopes of postponing the event, but were told there was nothing they could do.
With school athletic seasons on such a tight, condensed schedule this year, there is also worry that postponing dates might create overlap among sports games and other school events. Both junior varsity and varsity football, cross country and soccer teams have games scheduled over the upcoming weeks.
Rainis urged students to keep being safe and wearing masks. He said he feels that the schools have done everything they can to preserve the safety of their students and staff, and the rise in numbers can be attributed primarily to irresponsible behavior outside the LHS building.
“Covid hasn’t gone away, and right now is a time more critical than ever,” Rainis said. “It’s up to the students whether we can keep our schools open and continue to hold school events.”