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New York State Board of Regents discusses school reopening

Cuomo rolls out guidelines, deadline for plans July 31

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In what has become a very familiar setting because of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York State Board of Regents meet virtually on Monday to discuss the findings of a task force made up of parents, school officials, students and teachers that was convened in June to collect opinions on how to reopen schools.

The Board of Regents recommended that school districts create plans for in-person instruction, remote instruction and what is being called hybrid instruction a mix of in-person and remote learning. The guidance given on Monday is expected to be distributed to school districts by July 15. School districts reopening plans must be submitted to the State Education Department by July 31.

Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa noted that these recommendations came after four virtual Board of Regents meetings were held last month. “Life has changed radically for New York’s students, parents and educators during the unprecedented Covid-19 emergency and we have to provide flexibility to districts in our new normal,” Rosa said during the Monday meeting. “Today the Board of Regents has adopted emergency regulations that afford essential flexibility for educators, students and professionals to address issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

To adhere to the state’s social distancing guidelines, school districts will have to adjust to holding some classes in larger spaces such as the cafeteria or gymnasium. SED Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe noted that each district will have to make different adjustments for this. 

“As school districts think through how they will support social distancing throughout their buildings, they’ll have to consider whether the physical structure of the space as currently set up will put students and faculty at risk,” Tahoe said during the meeting. “To mitigate these risks, schools can use flexible scheduling or staggered dismissal times. But we realize that there is no one size fits all answer as each district has its own challenges to face with this.”

Also on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced  the state formula for reopening schools. A region must be in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols, and the daily average rate of infection must be 5 percent or lower over a 14-day period. Should there be a spike, a region with a seven-day average infection rate of 9 percent or higher cannot reopen schools.

“We will look at the data and make a decision based on science,” Cuomo said at the July 13 news conference. “We want to keep the children as safe as possible. We will not use the children as guinea pigs,” he added, referring to how some states reopened their economies which resulted in severe spikes, especially in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that they anticipated what the state wanted regarding plans and are finalizing plans with safety team members. “It’s going to take a day or so to dissect all of this,” she said concerning the governor’s formula and if the state is still mandating the typical 180-day school year.

Lori Skonberg, president of the Lawrence Teachers Association, said the organization was prepared for the state guidelines for reopening and will be meeting with New York State United Teachers representatives and then the district’s Health and Safety Committee. “Right now Long Island is in very good shape, people are doing what they need to do,” Skonberg said, concerning the state safety mandates.    

Pedersen pointed to the grade reconfiguration plan that was approved at the June 29 Board of Education meeting on how the district is tackling the social distancing issue. The plans includes having the 2020-21 kindergarten class that were the Pre-K students this past school year to remain in the Early Childhood Center at the Number Four School.

The 2020-21 third grade class that were previously second-graders will be in the Lawrence Primary School instead of going to Lawrence Elementary School at the 195 Broadway Campus and the 2020-21 sixth grade class will remain at the elementary school. The focus of the plan is also to keep students with familiar administrators, paraprofessionals and teachers for another school year because of the disruption the pandemic caused for the last third of this school year.

“This is a common theme in addressing student capacity, but we need to look at it through a contract tracing lens as well,” Pedersen said referring to keeping students socially distant in classes such as physical education or in science labs. “We want to limit the contact with large groups.” 

Richard Hagler, the executive director of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach that includes 1,700 students at HALB Elementary School in Woodmere, Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, also in Woodmere, Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park and the Leva Chana Early Childhood Center, also in Hewlett Bay Park.

“We read it, we will continue to do so,” Hagler said, referring to the state’s reopening guidelines. “We are going to do our very best to comply and follow the mandates set forth by the state. It is very important to have in-person instruction.”

While school districts have until July 31 to submit reopening plans to the state, Hewlett-Woodmere School District Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino Jr. said that the district is doing their best to make the transition to a new school year convenient for students and faculty. 

“Throughout our extended closure, we have spent a great deal of time analyzing our approach to remote learning and identifying areas for improvement as we have sought and received feedback from parents and guardians, students, and teachers,” Marino said. “It is important to note that we have been providing a great deal of professional development for our teachers during this transition to ensure readiness for the fall.”