This week's top stories
1. Educators cite concerns with NY's schools virus database
Long Island superintendents and other education groups are concerned that the state's system for collecting school numbers for COVID-19 cases is subject to delays in reporting, inaccuracies and duplicate counts. Since the online platform, called the COVID-19 Report Card, was launched at the start of the academic year, there have been several instances of inaccuracies, causing headaches for school officials.
For example, Syosset school officials said the report card had inaccuracies for the tally in that district last week. The report card mistakenly listed three positives at Village Elementary School, where there were actually zero cases, and three cases at South Grove Elementary School, where there were two, said district spokeswoman Tricia Williams. It correctly listed one positive case on the Berry Hill Elementary School staff.
The information dashboard — at schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov — can be searched to find a school or district and learn the number of cases and other information, such as whether those infected are students or staffers. "I think we have to be concerned," said Ron Masera, superintendent of the Center Moriches school district and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, regarding inaccuracies on the site. "We don't want to unnecessarily concern the public about our schools."
In response, the state has changed several aspects of the system: Schools — which must report cases to the state Health Department, the agency that manages the report card — must now verify cases with the county health department. Labs and testing sites must inquire as to whether a person attends or works for a school, and state health officials have urged schools to report any discrepancies in the report card. "The department recognizes the unprecedented challenges school districts are facing in response to this pandemic, but also how important this information is for families and for public health officials who use it to identify trends and plan a response," said Jill Montag, spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
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2. SUNY introduces new sanctions to combat campus spread of COVID-19
The State University of New York ratcheted up efforts to stop COVID-19 from spreading on its campuses, introducing new sanctions for students who violate health and safety protocols designed to combat the pandemic.
- Ignoring quarantine orders, refusing to wear a mask, and hosting or even attending parties that exceed attendance limits are grounds for punishment under the new rules, which took effect last week across SUNY's 64-campus network. Some violations carry stiff penalties, including suspension and expulsion.
- Hosting or attending gatherings that exceed attendance limits can be grounds for suspension from campus housing and classes or even expulsion, according to SUNY. Those who repeatedly or intentionally flout mask requirements can be expelled.
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3. SUNY Cortland suspends in-person learning after COVID-19 spike
SUNY Cortland shifted Wednesday to remote learning for at least two weeks after recording nearly 90 positive COVID-19 cases in one week, officials said. University officials had no choice because of 87 positive cases recorded in one week's time, said President Erik J. Bitterbaum in a statement Monday.
- SUNY campuses that have reached the system's threshold of 100 positive tests, or 5% of the campus population, over 14 days must switch to remote learning. Bitterbaum said administrators will monitor the two-week period of virtual instruction to see if positive tests among students have fallen to an acceptable level to resume a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
- To try and control additional positive tests, Bitterbaum enacted strict rules for students during the two-week period, including prohibiting students from going home or traveling outside of the Cortland community and prohibiting on-campus students from visiting off-campus students.
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4. Lingering malaise of COVID-19: Need grows for mental health services
The initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic may have eased at this point for most New Yorkers, but the stress and anxiety has lingered, according to mental health experts. The demand for counseling and therapy has increased as Long Islanders wait to see if schools can remain open, brace for flu season or even anticipate a possible second wave of COVID-19.
- "We are seeing a lot of school-aged children dealing with the aftermath of quarantine isolation and having to get used to a whole new world," said Dr. Janet Kahn-Scolaro, administrative director of Behavioral Health at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital. "There is a fear of the disease, not just for them but for their parents."
- Regina Barros-Rivera, associate executive director at Roslyn Heights-based North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, a not-for-profit children’s mental health agency, said routine can help children a great deal. "I find parents who can offer structure can have more success," she said.
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5. LI higher ed institutions, for now, avoid coronavirus outbreaks
Three institutions of higher education on Long Island have — so far — avoided campus outbreaks of coronavirus and the consequent need to close down dorms and stop all in-person learning, according to a presidents’ discussion hosted Tuesday by Newsday.
- At Adelphi University, there was 0.4% positivity, about 15 cases, all of whom were quarantining for a required 14 days, said Christine Riordan, the university president. Stony Brook University, over the previous 14 days, had 2 cases among students, with a significant portion of the campus tested, said university President Maurie D. McInnis. Farmingdale State College, of the last 1,000 tests in the most recent two-week period, had 1 positive case, said college President John S. Nader.
The local success comes amid online coursework, limited in-person meetings, intense cleaning regimens, dividers made of acrylic sheets, and rules, such as at Adelphi, that restrict "how many students can gather socially," Riordan said.
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Resources for you
- Visit stonybrookchildrens.org to learn about Stony Brook Children's Health Weight and Wellness Center. The center aims to help children and adolescents ages 5-18 achieve safe weight loss and successfully maintain a healthy weight through a positive, family friendly, evidence-based approach that is individualized to each patient.
- Visit cprl.law.columbia.edu to access its Family Guide to Distance Learning. The guide provides steps that parents can take to prepare for distance learning, to support their child in distance learning, and to advocate for their child when distance learning is not going well. It's also available in Spanish.
Your questions answered
Have questions? Send them to email@example.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.
Why are some districts increasing the number of students allowed in school if we're still in a pandemic?
District leaders say that positive COVID-19 case numbers have remained low, and teachers and students have successfully handled the new health protocols in the first weeks of school, giving them confidence to allow more kids in school at one time while maintaining safety.
"We were planning all along to have all our kids come back, we just needed to make sure we were ready administratively," said Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Port Washington school district. The district was one of a few that last week began allowing all of its elementary school students to return to a five-day-a-week schedule.
Hynes said the district prepared for the increased student population by hiring 15 education assistants — three per elementary school — who will help with the arrival and dismissal of students, as well as hallway, lunch and bathroom monitoring for social distancing, masks and other protocols. The district also bought new equipment, such as desk shields, portable sinks placed in highly frequented areas, and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in all instructional places, he said.
Although districts have been reporting positive cases, including two at John J. Daly Elementary School and two at Manorhaven Elementary School in the Port Washington system, the infection rates have remained low. As of Wednesday, there have been seven total positive cases in the Port Washington district of about 5,500 students.
Round of applause
A Mineola High School senior, Chris Morandi, recently made more than 300 mask accessories — ear relief straps — to donate to health care workers who wear masks for hours while working. He made the straps using a 3D printer and donated the first batch of 40 to Operation PPE, a group of Mineola families dedicated to helping health care workers.
Meanwhile, the Jonas E. Salk Middle School in Levittown was recognized nationally for its dedication to character development in the 2020 Schools of Character program by the nonprofit Character.org. The school was among 84 schools and seven districts nationwide to get recognized this year. It previously earned the distinction in 2016 and was the only one to receive the designation on Long Island this year.