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Oceanside School District to allow students to return full-time

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Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that seniors will return to OHS on April 12, when it is April 19. It also stated that the Nassau County Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also adjusted their guidelines, changing social-distancing rules from six feet to three feet, but the county's Health Department has not, and six feet is still the rule for contact tracing. We regret the errors.

Following a community push, and after administrators conducted a study, middle and high school students in the Oceanside School District can return to in-person instruction full time later this month, if they choose.

“At the end of the day, it came down to weighing out the risks versus the reward, and through all of that, we felt that parent choice still remained paramount,” Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington said. “We wanted to keep that in place as well.”

Harrington said on March 25 that parents would soon receive a commitment form, which they must return by April 9, on which they will be able to choose whether their children will learn remotely full-time or return to in-person instruction five days a week. There will be no hybrid model going forward.

Harrington acknowledged that a full return to school has been the subject of an ongoing debate, as many parents have expressed their desire for full-time in-person learning so their children could have a better opportunity to thrive, while others have expressed concern over the possibility that their children might contract the virus or have to quarantine because of close contact with someone who is infected.

Erin Marine said her two children — a son, Jared, an OHS junior, and a daughter, Taylor, an Oceanside Middle School eighth-grader — are both participating in the hybrid model, but she would prefer that they were in school full-time. Marine said Taylor needs special attention in school, and not being in the building full-time is hurting her academically.

“I think the kids are safer in school than they are outside of school,” she said. “You can only keep kids cooped up for so long, and when they’re in school, they respect the teachers and respect the guidelines. I think most of the kids want to be in school, and now that they’re not in school, they’re begging to go back to school because they want that normalcy.”

Harrington said district officials and stakeholders held several meetings for the past month working toward a solution, and decided that giving the parents the option whether to return their children to school was best. They discussed the benefits of students learning in person over remotely, and the importance of students’ health.

Harrington also pointed out that coronavirus cases in the district have plateaued, and that while she would rather see them decrease, she was pleased they were not increasing. She added that the warm weather will enable the school to have more events outside, and many staff members have been vaccinated.

Harrington said she contacted local school districts who recently welcomed back students to full-time in-person learning, and many said that while they had to quarantine students, they did not have to do it as often as they feared. “We used that information as part of our decision-making,” she said.

Officials also said the return of students would allow them to develop better relations with their teachers, engage more with their peers and restore some sense of normalcy before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Upon announcing the return, she assured parents and students that steps were taken to ensure safety.

“I hope that the community believes that we have done all we could to take as many factors into account,” Harrington said, “and that we strongly believe that at the end of the day, the risk versus reward is really clear, and we know that the reward of having kids at school on a full-time basis certainly outweighs the risk.”