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Long Island

For LI teachers, the new normal is anything but

This week's top stories

1. LI teachers respond to challenges of COVID-19 era

Cordelia Anthony, a high school science teacher with 21 years of experience, says she feels like a brand-new teacher these days. Like many instructors throughout the Island, the Farmingdale teacher is presenting her lessons to students sitting in her classroom and patching in remotely on their computers. It's the way of teaching in this new COVID-19 environment. Many group activities can't be done due to hybrid learning and social distancing, she said, and it's challenging to connect with the students in class, all sitting far apart and ensconced behind masks and clear plastic barriers.

A month into this new school year, Long Island teachers say they’ve had to change the way they prepare lessons — adjusting to remote learning, as well as avoiding group activities, making sure kids wear masks and configuring ways through technology glitches. It's even harder to connect with the students at home, Anthony said. Their faces appear in a visual checkerboard on her laptop. One day, she discovered a teenage girl tuned in to a lesson had actually opened another website and was shopping online for dresses. "I sent her a private message, 'Hey, get back to work,' " said Anthony, president of the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers.

Exams also have presented challenges to teachers. High school science teacher Perry Fuchs said he had to do some extra planning when giving an exam on the history of astronomy. "Normally I would just give the exam in class," said Fuchs, who works at Plainedge High School. "But how can I give the exam with remote students? How can I proctor it and maintain the integrity of the exam? I had to change it up a little, make some questions different."

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2. LIU professors wanted more virtual accommodations OKd

Four days before the fall semester began, longtime Long Island University English Professor Suzanne Nalbantian received final word she would not be allowed to teach her courses remotely despite being treated for a chronic lung condition her doctors felt would put her at high risk because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Nalbantian, who began teaching at LIU Post in 1979, chose to take unpaid leave rather than enter a college classroom. Along with her salary, she said, she lost employer contributions to her health insurance and retirement fund. "I have to choose between my life and my livelihood and I wasn’t going to take that risk," she said.
  • The university made a decision to reopen this semester with in-person instruction for nearly all its classes. But the plan was concerning to professors with health risks, advanced age or vulnerable family members, faculty members said. Heather Parrott, an associate sociology professor and chair of the social sciences department at LIU Post, said departments like hers scrambled at the last minute to find adjuncts to teach the coursework of faculty who’d left.
  • Earlier this week, after this story was published, rising numbers of COVID-19 cases were reported among students, and LIU Post opted to move to all remote instruction for two weeks.

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3. Officials: Miller Place Inn fined; 37 tied to event test positive

The Miller Place Inn has been hit with $12,000 in fines after 37 people connected to a Sweet 16 party at the venue last month tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Tuesday. The party, which took place Sept. 25, had 81 guests, exceeding the state maximum of 50, officials said, noting not all attendees were wearing masks.

  • So far, 28 young people, including students from several area high schools, and nine adults have tested positive for the coronavirus. Officials started contact tracing after the Suffolk County Department of Health received several positive COVID-19 cases throughout the Sachem school district.
  • Sachem High School North in Lake Ronkonkoma had a "rapid increase" of positive cases that were connected with a social event held the weekend of Sept. 25, Superintendent Chris Pellettieri said. Fifteen people at the high school tested positive within days after the party, he said. The school was closed from Oct. 1 through Tuesday and reopened Wednesday.

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4. LIU Post goes all-remote for 2 weeks as COVID-19 cases grow

LIU Post will move to all remote instruction for two weeks starting immediately, according to a letter issued Wednesday by LIU President Kimberly R. Cline.

  • The decision came after rising numbers of COVID-19 cases among students attributed to off-campus parties. As of Wednesday, 41 students were isolating with positive test results or symptoms, and 78 were in quarantine, with a total of 49 cases so far this semester, according to the state COVID-19 Report Card listing cases reported from schools throughout the state.
  • Other large Long Island campuses routinely use surveillance testing of random students to detect infectious spread early. LIU has performed only 172 surveillance tests, on athletes, according to the report card.
  • While other local universities rely heavily on remote instruction, LIU had opted to offer most classes in-person, leaving some students and faculty uneasy over the extent of COVID-19 on campus.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • For youngsters going back to school wearing face masks, and for caregivers looking for tips to give kids on hand-washing and back-to-school anxiety, check out this digital book of "Heroes Wear Masks: Elmo's Super Adventure" from Sesame Workshop.
  • Khan Academy has self-paced, interactive content for students in every grade and in most major subject areas. It's all free and noncommercial. If you need help setting up a schedule for your remote-learning students, or in the event of a sudden school closure, you can use the schedule templates found here for grades pre-K-12.

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to ednews@newsday.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Following an outbreak in some school districts that stemmed from a recent party, are we seeing a second wave on LI?

Health care experts are split on whether the region has entered a second wave of COVID-19 infections, but are in agreement that a spate of new coronavirus positives in some areas of the state are a major concern. Some experts also are cautioning people to think twice before getting families together for the holidays as virus numbers could climb in the cooler weather with more indoor activities. Several experts agreed, though, that a second wave wouldn't be as bad as the first.

Though not a "hot spot," the Five Towns area of Inwood and Lawrence recently saw a spike of positives. Schools in the Lawrence school district are on a fully remote schedule through at least Oct. 23 because of the spike in that region.

"The clues are all there," said Alvin Tran, a professor of public health at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. "We are seeing outbreaks in the Northeast, and that's a strong sign, and it's alarming. The pattern is very similar to what happened in Europe, where the numbers increased again in recent months."

But Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, said "The definition of a second wave is not scientific. It's more of a perception, and when we look, there isn't a significant increase throughout the region."

Farber noted that indoor activities and holiday celebrations can lead to an escalation.

"If we are smart, we will keep the gatherings small, and try to keep it with people you've been living with," said Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Winthrop in Mineola. "I wouldn't take chances unless everyone gets tested and quarantines before seeing each other."

Round of applause

Elwood students Rithika Narayan and Juliana Weber won a virtual civic engagement video contest coordinated by the League of Women Voters in Huntington for their video encouraging peers to vote. The two seniors at Elwood-John H. Glenn High School took first place for their three-minute video in which they discussed the need for young eligible voters to participate in the upcoming election.

"The only way to reap the benefits of our democracy is to make voting a habit," Narayan said in the video.

Over in New Hyde Park, two seniors at Memorial High School — Aarti Devjani and Preesha Mody — coordinated a seven-week virtual blood drive through the New York Blood Center. As of late September, about 35 people had donated blood to the students' drive, which ended Thursday. The duo has also raised more than $3,800 for the center through a GoFundMe page.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at catherine.carrera@newsday.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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