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Full-time in-person school won't happen soon, district officials say in webinar

Superintendents from various local districts discuss whether a

Superintendents from various local districts will discuss whether a return to fully in-person school is wise, and what is needed to accomplish it. Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.

Panelists include Erin M. Hynes, Assistant Superintendent, Sachem School District; Dr. David Bennardo, Superintendent, South Huntington School District; Hank Grishman, Superintendent of Schools, Jericho School District; snd Richard Loeschner, Superintendent, Brentwood Union Free School District.

Even as more people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, safety concerns mean the return for full-time in-person education is still in the distance, a panel of school district officials said during an online discussion Thursday about the future of remote learning.

"If we moved away from the six-feet distancing right now, my concern is that our infection rate would increase," Hank Grishman, Jericho school district superintendent said during the Newsday Live conversation moderated by Newsday columnist Lane Filler. "At this point in time, I'm very comfortable with what's in place and I'm not at all eager to see that change anytime soon."

Grishman said the school district uses masks, plastic face shields and maintains social distancing for students and staff who are physically at the school but if all students were in-school full time, "if we wanted to maintain the six feet of distancing, we would need another hundred thousand square feet."

Richard Loeschner, superintendent of the Brentwood Union Free School District, said the district has used a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction with remote learning for elementary, middle-school and high school students.

"I would obviously support bringing the kids in but … we can't do it safely," Loeschner said. Loeschner said he was concerned about the long-term effect hybrid learning would have on students.

"I would like to see them come in on a daily basis because I think long-term, we're going to see a negative impact on many of our students," Loeschner said.

Loeschner said remote learning was going well but "the difficulty lies in the hybrid learning when you ask a teacher to split their time between in-person students and students who are at home, it's incredibly difficult. … The reality is I think that the instruction and the rigor is not where we would like it to be."

The panelists said they hope widespread vaccinations will make it possible to return to normal education but that resumption carries its own challenges.

Erin Hynes, assistant superintendent of Sachem Central School District, said they are thinking about the challenge of bringing students back to full-time in-person learning once it is safe to do so.

"The transition period is something that we're really focusing heavily on right now," Hynes said. "Kids that have been home for almost a year, we're hearing reports of, ’Well, I don't have to go back to school. I like this,’ … and what if we can't offer you remote next year?"

The return of high school sports has highlighted an inconsistency in public policy: Parents question why it’s safe for athletes to face off when bands can’t practice and classes can’t meet.

David Bernardo, South Huntington school district superintendent said it’s possible to manage regular COVID-19 testing of athletes because there are fewer of them.

"You can do that with 60 students," Bernardo said. "2,000 kids walking in the hallways at the high school every day and testing them once a week would be a physical impossibility."

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