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Coronavirus forces Plainview-Old Bethpage to gear up for digital learning

Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District is preparing to

Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District is preparing to continue educating students remotely, as the school district will remain closed until at least Thursday.  Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

With school systems shutting down across the country and globally, some Long Island districts are preparing to institute digital learning and virtual classrooms.

The Plainview-Old Bethpage district — where officials learned Monday that a staffer at Pasadena Elementary School tested positive for the coronavirus — is handing out Chromebooks to students who do not have one and will start online learning Monday for all grades, Superintendent Lorna Lewis said. The school, which enrolls about 5,000 students, closed Tuesday and is scheduled to reopen Friday.

"It is important to say we are not trying to duplicate what happens in the classroom on a daily basis," she said Friday. "We are trying to bridge learning over the next five days."

All students in the district in the fifth grade and up already receive Chromebooks, and district officials were distributing them for pickup for younger students. The district was training teachers Friday to offer instruction in four core classes — science, social studies, math and English. There are no grades — only pass/fail. The district is exploring ways to offer other subjects, Lewis said.

More Long Island school districts announced closures Friday, including the Island's largest, Brentwood. Several announced closures for the week, starting Monday, including Three Village, Roslyn and Long Beach. Half Hollow Hills moved its April spring break to March and will close until the end of the month.

In Long Beach, school officials will arrange to distribute breakfast and lunch to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Food will be available at the Long Beach Recreation Center, St. Mary’s Church and St. Ignatius Church from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O'Brien said in a note to parents that schools will close for students Monday, but staff will come in to prepare for the possibility of online learning. In addition, students were asked to bring materials home "so that needed materials for online learning may be facilitated by our teachers should a long-term closure be necessary," he wrote.
New York State United Teachers have called for closing the schools in some locations. 

"With the coronavirus continuing to spread, we are calling on state and local health and school officials to take decisive action and proactively close all schools in counties where there are confirmed cases of this virus," union president Andy Pallotta said.

In Plainview-Old Bethpage, Lewis said school was closed after learning of the staff member who tested positive Monday. She said Friday that the staffer is doing well, and the school buildings have been deep-cleaned at a cost of more than $300,000.

The district has been training teachers to learn how to use various technologies such as Google Docs and Flipboard remotely so they can open with instruction Monday, Lewis said. 

School districts are required by the state to provide 180 days of instruction, but in a news conference Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that requirement would be waived.

Earlier this week, officials with Nassau BOCES organized a meeting with area superintendents to prepare for online instruction. Distance learning can come with many challenges, experts said, including assuring that online instruction can be made available and affordable to all students. 

"Many of our school districts are ready to do this on their own, but some others may need some assistance from us," said Pamela Christensen, associate director of curriculum, instruction and technology at Nassau BOCES, who is working with school systems to help support connectivity to students who may not have it.

A Jericho-based company, iTutor, provides a platform to provide uninterrupted education for students in the event of school closures. They have worked with local districts to provide distance learning on a limited basis, but are now communicating with local schools to help set up virtual classrooms as more and more schools close.

Hayley Spira-Bauer, director of education services for iTutor, said there are strategies teachers can use to engage students online, such as conducting polls and participating in group chats and online meetings "so that student voices can be heard."

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