Lynbrook parents said at the Oct. 14 Board of Education meeting that they were angry that students could no longer return to in-person classes if they wanted, after spending the first quarter online. District officials had previously told parents that students would be given that option at the end of the first marking period, which will end Nov. 13.
A majority of Lynbrook students are now learning in person, while 18 percent are online. Under the district’s previous plan, announced in August, parents had until Nov. 1 to opt their children back into in-person classes if they were online, but district officials now say students will have to remain online for the foreseeable future until they are able to develop a plan to return them to their schools while maintaining social distancing.
Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak announced the change at an Oct. 7 Board of Education work session, and many parents expressed their dismay at the board meeting the following week. Parker Ramsey, who has one child in middle school and another in third grade, said he believed the board “mishandled this in a gross manner,” and added that he had chosen the remote option for his youngest child because he thought she could return to school in November.
“I’m here to express my outrage of the mishandling of the virtual option,” Ramsey said. “The communication to families was, if we selected the virtual option, the caveat was you can return to school after the first term. That was what weighed strongly in my decision to allow my child to be home.”
In July, Burak said, school administrators surveyed families, asking if they would send their children back to school if the district had proper safety protocols in place. Forty percent of respondents said they would keep their children home. District officials used the survey to develop the district’s back-to-school plan.
If only half the students who opted to stay home returned to school now, Burak said, the buildings would be at 80 percent capacity and violate the state’s social-distancing mandates. So, she said, not all students who might want to return to school can at this time.
“We all want these kids back as soon as we can,” she said. “A lot of people have voiced their concerns, and I completely understand why you feel that way . . . We need to continually evaluate what we are doing, so I’m going to recommend that we bring back a task force.”
The board approved forming a new task force, which is charged with developing plans to bring all students back to the schools while maintaining state health protocols. The group will present its findings to the board, after which parents will be asked to decide whether to return their children to their school buildings. District officials have also sent out a questionnaire to gather parents’ opinions.
The district has had relatively few Covid-19 cases to date — two students at Lynbrook High School tested positive for the coronavirus late last month, but the building remained open, and the students had to self-isolate for two weeks.
Board of Education President William Belmont said the task force does not have a hard deadline for returning to the board with plans, and he asked parents to be patient. “We understand the sense of urgency,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we are trying to look at.”
Josh Margulies told the Herald on Monday that he enrolled his twin daughter and son in the remote option for fourth grade this year because he thought they could return to West End Elementary School in November. Because of a communications breakdown, he said, two fourth-grade remote classes were over-enrolled, so a third had to be created, and a certain number of students had to adjust to a new teacher a few weeks into the school year.
“It’s a lack of planning, a lack of creativity and a lack of creative solutions,” Margulies said, “and absolutely more than anything else, it’s a lack of communication.”
In an email to the Herald, Jeanine DiFiore said she chose the remote option for her daughter, a third-grader at West End, but now must break the news to her that she cannot now return to school.
“I thought that having the opportunity to return in November was a fair compromise and allowed West End to get off to a good, solid start with fewer children in the building,” she wrote. “. . . My daughter was involved in the original decision, and she has been asking to return to school. My heart breaks for the day I have to tell her that they have changed the rules and she has to remain at home.”