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Long IslandEducation

LI schools scramble to find substitute teachers

This week's top stories

1. Districts say substitute teachers are hard to find, especially during the pandemic

Finding enough substitute teachers amid the pandemic is proving to be a great challenge, Long Island educators said. Two main factors contribute to the shortage: There’s a smaller pool of candidates to choose from as fewer younger people are going into the field, and retired teachers who have served as substitutes in the past may be sitting this year out due to fear of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, with a mix of hybrid, remote and in-person classroom instruction, substitute teaching is far different from what it used to be.

Between 2009 and 2017, enrollment in the state’s undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs declined 53%, from more than 79,000 students to about 37,000, according to a report from the New York State Educational Conference Board. The board also noted that school districts statewide will need around 180,000 new teachers over the next decade.

To help alleviate the shortage, the state Board of Regents in July approved emergency measures that included giving schools flexibility in hiring. Schools can now hire substitutes who are not certified and not working toward certification, but who hold a high school diploma or its equivalent, to be employed beyond a 40-day limit, for up to an additional 50 days.

"The state has eased the requirements that one would need to be a substitute teacher. That is helpful, but it is also a little concerning because you want to make sure the person you are putting in front of the children is completely qualified," said Bill Heidenreich, superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District and president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents.

Read the full story.

2. Helping your teen through back-to-school social challenges: 10 tips from LI experts

Olivia Murad, 11, was anxious about more than just entering a new school with new teachers and new classes ahead of her first day of middle school in Great Neck. This year, she also has to deal with concern of the coronavirus. Her brother Samuel, 15, who is in 10th grade at a private school, is attending five days a week. "I’m very happy about that," he says.

  • Parents should validate their teen's feelings to help them process emotions instead of internalizing them, says Elissa Smilowitz, director of triage and emergency services for the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights.
  • "Your kid might not be able to achieve everything they would in a typical year," warns Caroline Mendel, a private practice psychologist from the North Shore. Adjusting expectations will make everyone happier, she says.

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3. COVID-19 outbreaks on campus are no surprise, but LI colleges have avoided them so far

As COVID-19 outbreaks flare on and near college campuses across the country, Stony Brook University freshman Jeremy Kuri is pleased few students there are ill. The trade-off, however, is a lonely introduction to campus social life.

  • While Long Island's universities have avoided the outbreaks that have closed campuses throughout the country — Stony Brook had 24 coronavirus cases as of last week — strict adherence to COVID-19 rules has been beyond some students.
  • Emily Barkley-Levenson, an assistant psychology professor at Hofstra University, specializes in developmental cognitive neuroscience. She said the brain systems governing basic drives — including the desire to socialize — are highly sensitive among adolescents and emerging adults, while the part controlling longer-term planning and impulse control matures later.

Read the full story.

4. Brentwood school district eliminates 70 jobs amid fears of state funding cuts

The Brentwood school district, Long Island's largest, has shed more than 70 jobs since the beginning of the academic year, including a group of entry-level teachers removed in the opening week of classes.

  • Local cutbacks took place amid warnings that Albany might eventually reduce financial aid to schools unless the federal government helps compensate for losses of tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Brentwood, which enrolls nearly 19,000 students, is leaving unfilled more than 30 vacancies created by retirements, according to union representatives and community residents active in school affairs. The district has laid off 15 new and untenured teachers. "We parents had no voice in this," said Sandy Alfaro, PTA president of the district's Laurel Park Elementary School, of recent layoffs.

Read the full story.

5. School officials: Pandemic forced changes that are 'new tools' for learning

Now that Long Island schools have reopened, some district officials say they’re still adjusting to the varied needs of students taking classes in person, remotely or through a hybrid model. And some officials said they don’t see that three-part model of learning going away.

  • "I see the use of technology improving, not only for remote or hybrid learning but within classrooms ... I’m not necessarily sure that we need to make school look exactly like it did before the pandemic because there’s a lot of great things coming out of these changes and that I believe we’ll land at a new normal," said Glen Eschbach, superintendent of the North Babylon school district.
  • Dr. Christina Johns, senior medical adviser at PM Pediatrics, said that while families and students are still worried about getting sick from COVID-19, they’re understanding what they need to do to stay safe, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.

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Resources for you

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Your questions answered

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

When a student is sent home from school with a fever and/or upper respiratory infection, do they need to return with a negative COVID-19 test result or is a doctor's note enough? — Mary Anne

New York State reopening guidance states that if a person is diagnosed by a health care provider to not have the virus, they can return to school once there is no fever, without the use of fever reducing medicines, and they have felt well for 24 hours. The person can return to school if they have been diagnosed with another condition and they have a doctor's note stating they're clear to return to school, the guidance states.

"Schools and families should take precautions to keep children exhibiting cold, flu, and/or COVID-19 symptoms home in order to protect the community," said Jill Montag, public information officer for the state Health Department. "Schools and local health departments are encouraged to establish strong communication to resolve circumstances surrounding individual cases of concern, including when it is safe for students to return to school after illness."

If a person is diagnosed with the virus or has had symptoms, they should not be at school and should stay home until it has been at least 10 days since they first had symptoms, the state guidance outlines.

"The school district should adhere to and be guided by its normal policy regarding the return of students to school after being out of school for medical reasons," said Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Department of Health. "It is a district determination whether it will require either a note from a medical provider, or both a note and a negative COVID test prior to a student’s return to school."

Round of applause

Lia Edlin Miller, a freshman at Northport High School, used her sewing skills to make 3,500 face masks in recent months. She raised $4,000 from the sales, which she plans to send to her school's food pantry and the Lewis Oliver Farm Sanctuary in Northport.

Miller's mask-making efforts started in the spring when a family friend asked if Miller could make her a mask and then shared a photo of the finished product on social media.

"A lot of people were having trouble getting masks and the fact that these are washable and reusable helps with them not needing as many throwaway masks," said Miller, 14, who recently received a proclamation for her efforts from Suffolk County Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

— Find the latest education news at Catherine Carrera can be reached at or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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