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Long IslandEducation

In a year like no other, back-to-school time is finally here

This week's top stories

1. Students are starting to return. Here's what to know.

Plans to reopen schools are put into motion even before a student leaves their home — students, or their parents if they're too young, have to monitor their temperatures and ensure they're not feeling symptoms related to COVID-19. While some districts will be scanning temperatures before students enter the school buildings, others ask that families check temperatures at home. 

Fishers Island was the first to have students get back in the classroom on Tuesday. District leader Christian Arsenault said the day went smooth and according to plans. "We had an absolutely wonderful first day," he said. Though the district is home to only 70 students in grades K-12, that could serve as a good sign for the smaller districts.

There hasn't been a one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to the coronavirus, and the same applies to reopening schools. Plan details vary between districts when it comes to busing, classrooms and getting around the school buildings, but overall the mission is the same: social distancing whenever possible, wearing masks and keeping everyone safe.

"Actually, students get three layers of protection," said Joseph Dragone, assistant superintendent for business and administration in the Roslyn district. Roslyn students will sit 6 feet apart, as measured from the center of one desk to the centers of other desks nearby. All students will wear masks — except during mask breaks — and for extra safety, many desks will be equipped with plastic sneeze shields.

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2. Schools improving ventilation systems to help prevent the coronavirus

COVID-19 can spread through face-to-face contact, infected surfaces and through droplets —from a sneeze, for example — that seem capable of drifting well beyond 6 feet and staying aloft for days. What are schools doing to go beyond masks and social distancing?

  • Some districts are spending thousands of dollars on new air purifiers and top-to-bottom inspections of ventilation infrastructure.
  • Other districts reported less-thorough interventions into their ventilation systems in reopening plans. Some pledged little more than to open windows whenever possible, and to change filters frequently.

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3. Roslyn High School principal condemns actions of students in letter to parents

Roslyn High School students, mostly seniors, were photographed at a private weekend party sharing drinks and not wearing masks, according to a letter by the principal who condemned the behavior.

  • Principal Scott Andrews told families that the partying students' failure to take precautions against the spread of the coronavirus put at risk "not just our schools, but our entire community."
  • Traditional senior-year events could be in jeopardy if students continue to violate social distancing precautions.

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4. Long Island school districts beefing up security to start new year

Some Long Island school districts are spending more money on security as schools prepare to reopen this fall, including in Bohemia, where the Connetquot system is spending $300,000.

  • Documents on the Connetquot district website show the district will be adding armed guards to school buildings, though it was unclear how many guards or to which buildings. 
  • Other districts on Long Island also approved funding this year for additional security, while at least one, Mattituck-Cutchogue, put some of its security spending on hold due to the pandemic and potential state aid cuts.

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5. LI superintendents discuss social distancing in schools

Long Island superintendents answered a few questions in preparation for the school year, including:  "How do you plan to teach children, especially the young ones, about how to social distance?"

  • "While the CDC has released excellent age-appropriate videos on how to stay healthy during the pandemic, mental health experts will play a vital role in our schools for both students and staff," said Central Islip schools Superintendent Sharon A. Dungee.
  • "Educating our students on these important behaviors is our collective focus as we begin the school year. Our faculty will teach, practice, reinforce and promote social distancing as the most effective way to avoid the spread of COVID-19," said Freeport schools Superintendent Kishore Kuncham.

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Resources for you

  • September is National Literacy Month. ReachOutAndRead.org has lots of free reading resources, including e-books for kids on the coronavirus.
  • Any young fans of podcasts? You might want to give a listen to the "But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids." The podcast covers topics large and small, about nature, words and the world.
  • The Wildlife Conservation Society's zoos and aquariums in New York City have created Quest, a program where kids can go on virtual adventures that are interactive and educational. Click here for more information.

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. 

Is it too soon for schools to reopen?—Shana

While there is still a risk of infection, the risk is low, infectious disease experts say. "There is also a risk to not sending our children to school. You’re risking a loss of intellectual and social growth and development," said Dr. Leonard Krilov, chief of pediatrics at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola and an infectious disease specialist. "If we’re going to try it, now is the time, when the [infection] rates are low."

But of course the risk is higher if your student is coming back home to someone who is immunocompromised. There's no one-size-fits-all to the question on whether kids should go back to school buildings, says Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. He plans to send his 5- and 7-year-old sons back to school. 

"It's a question I'm commonly asked, and when I tell people yes, the answer I get is, 'That makes me feel better about sending my own children.' But I have very specific reasons, and those reasons may not apply to everybody," Kainth said.

Krilov recommended greeting kids with hand sanitizer or a wipe. "With kids, the biggest part of it is hand hygiene. When you greet them at the door, or at the bus, or if you’re picking them up, in the car, you might want to use an antiseptic soap or wipe, and then have them wash their hands with soap and water when they get home," Krilov said.

Round of applause

An East Islip student, Olivia Zhang, was the recipient of the Town of Islip's Student Achievement Award for Leadership. She was recognized for her various leadership efforts, including being the petty officer first class in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, helping build research buoys to be deployed in the Arctic Circle through the organization's Arctic Buoy STEM Program, and being part of the first all-female sailing crew in Sea Cadet history.

When college and high school sports were halted in the spring, entire seasons were lost and recruiting opportunities vanished. Michael O’Connell had committed to playing lacrosse for Maryland years ago, but he had a new dream his senior year: to play college basketball. With odds stacked against him, the Mineola native took a bet on his future. Turns out, he had a winning hand

— 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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