As the debate over masking students in schools rages on, Lynbrook officials recently reinstated the remote learning option for those who must quarantine, at the urging of Lynbrook High School seniors and some parents.
At the Jan. 12 Board of Education meeting, Lynbrook High School student Vice President Emma Ward and her sister, Secretary Sophie Ward, both seniors, presented a statement on behalf of the Student Government Association, asking that the district reinstate remote learning for students who must miss classes because of exposure to Covid-19 or illness. Emma and Sophie, who are also co-presidents of the LHS Key Club and co-presidents and co-founders of school’s Scope Club, presented a petition to the board with 231 students’ signatures, requesting the remote option.
“While we are happy that things are returning to normal. we also live with the constant fear that we may get Covid and have to miss up to five days of school,” Sophie said. “We agree that going back to online learning would be extremely upsetting, and that is not what we’re proposing. Simply stated, what we are proposing is for students who have Covid, and who have a doctor’s note and proof of a positive test, to be able to learn via Webex while they are at home.”
Webex enables students to access cameras in the classroom from home to follow lessons while they are out from school. Sophie added one student told the SGA that she had to miss three school days before the holiday break because she tested positive for Covid, and she was still behind in classes nearly a month later. Additionally, another student said it was stressful to try and teach herself nine classes at the same time while being absent because of the virus, and a freshman shared that first-year students are stressed because they cannot take part in lessons from home when they must miss school.
“When students stay home because they are sick, they stay home because they do not feel well enough to learn,” Emma said. “When students have Covid, some are asymptomatic the entire time, and others stop feeling symptoms after only a few days. They are well enough to learn, but are not permitted to go to school. Of course, if a student does not feel up to learning, he or she would not be required to log onto Webex.”
Emma also pointed out that neighboring school districts, such as Hewlett-Woodmere and Rockville Centre, have instituted remote learning for those who miss school.
Pamela O’Reardon, a district parent, also asked the board why it was still an issue to institute remote learning for students who are ill nearly two years into the pandemic.
“What you’re saying now is that it should be looked upon, but you’re not doing anything,” she said. “You’re not helping our children. The quarantines, there’s no remote learning happening. They should have the cameras in the classroom like they did . . . That should be happening now. That’s what should be going on for those poor kids who have to quarantine for five days.”
Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said she wanted all students to feel a sense of belonging in school, especially after many felt disconnected when the district switched to an all-remote model in 2020. After hearing comments from students and parents, Burak decided to meet their request, and asked all teachers to turn on their cameras so anyone who must miss school can still learn.
“All teachers will put their cameras on so students can hear what is taking place inside the classroom,” Burak said, noting that the practice was to begin the day after the meeting, which was on Jan. 13.
Burak declined to comment further.
Many board members agreed that students should have an opportunity to catch up on school work while quarantining if they feel up to learning, including Trustee Patrick Palleschi, who said that he thought remote learning was ineffective when the practice was school-wide, but an exception should be made for Covid-positive students.
“We can’t ask kids to teach themselves math or science,” he said. “Even if they can just watch what’s going on in class, I think it’d be very helpful.”
Board President William Belmont lauded Emma and Sophie for speaking on behalf of students. “Let me begin by commending you on the fact that one of the things I have found in the younger generation is the inability to critically think and self-advocate for views, so I know that’s not an easy thing to do,” he said. “ . . . What you need is as many people, as young as they can be, to start to do that.”
Emma explained why students were pushing for a return to remote learning for Covid-positive students. “We would like life to return to normal, but we also know that we must adapt to the ever-changing conditions of today’s world,” she said. “The reality is that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and a positive Covid test can lead to a student being five days behind on learning. We understand that this virus poses much greater problems than missing five days of school; however, missing 50 periods of school is certainly detrimental to a student’s education.”
A request for comment on the East Rockaway School District’s remote-learning policy was not returned at press time. East Rockaway High School switched to a fully remote learning model for a week in mid-December when Covid-19 cases peaked at the school, causing 20 percent of students to quarantine.