This week's top stories
1. Some students struggling amid need for computers
While many Island districts have been able to issue computers to students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, several others, particularly in low-wealth communities, have not been able to fill the need. Numerous school children still do not have their own computers or access to high-speed internet, educators said. Some of those students are poor, some immigrants, and still others are just caught in the backup of computer orders that stretches around the world.
Some nonprofit organizations and donors have tried to fill the gap. Recently, the Islip Town NAACP, Technology for Families In Need, the Suffolk Police Athletic League and others put together a local charity drive where they handed out 100 new and refurbished computers, laptops and tablets. Among those who received devices was the Rivera family of Central Islip. Mary Rivera, 49, said her four children had been sharing two computers to do their schoolwork. They all would take turns, signing on and doing their assignments as the others would wait, she said.
"It's a lot of stress," she said. "A couple of times, they've fallen behind." Three of her four kids are enrolled in the Central Islip school district, with another attending college. With the help of the charity drive, the family now has three computers for the four children. The Central Islip district has distributed more than 250 devices to students but has 2,045 Chromebooks on order with multiple vendors dating to May and July, officials said.
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2. Report: LI schools have highest COVID-19-linked expenses in NY
Long Island school districts spent the most of any region in the state — an average of more than $1.1 million — on COVID-19-related expenses to safely reopen schools this fall, as districts had to purchase equipment, expand transportation and provide technology for students, a statewide survey found.
- Spending totaled more than $79 million statewide, including more than $24 million across Long Island, according to the report. Local districts tapped into their reserves and shifted funds from other budgets to cover the costs, the survey found.
- The Malverne district, which has 1,700-plus students, has spent more than $829,000 to reopen, Superintendent Lorna Lewis said. That figure does not include the additional cost of hiring substitutes when staff must quarantine. The district purchased temperature scanners for all buildings, outdoor picnic tables for students to use during fresh-air breaks, touch-free toilets, and fogging machines to sanitize classrooms.
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3. LI school officials alarmed by reimbursement ban on busing meals
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the William Floyd school district delivered an estimated half-million meals to homebound students via yellow buses. So local officials grew alarmed last week when advised by the state that they wouldn't be compensated for costs of those deliveries.
- "If we are not reimbursed, you're talking about a potential devastating hit of $3.5 million," said Kevin Coster, superintendent of William Floyd's 8,900-student system. Dozens of districts say that any state denial of compensation would "really leave holes in their budgets," said Roger Tilles of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents.
- The Regents on Monday proposed an amendment allowing state-aid reimbursements when buses are used for such purposes as delivering lunches and homework packets. The final decision is up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators, who face a growing budget squeeze.
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4. Panel: Lower-income students face more challenges during online learning
Students from low-income backgrounds face significant obstacles that those in higher-wealth districts do not encounter in getting a quality education during the pandemic, a panel of experts said Tuesday.
- "When you think about equity, how do these children who have been writing essays on their cellphone or sharing a device with their parent, how do they opt in to the learning environment the same as other students who didn’t have to consider whether there would be a device available?" said Monique Darrisaw-Akil, assistant superintendent of secondary education with the Brentwood school district.
- Monique Powell, a former educator who now is the director of community development for Long Beach, said when the pandemic hit, certain families lost the safe environment school provided their children. "It was child care. It was nourishment. It was socialization. What the pandemic did was take that away," she said.
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5. Port Washington parents waiting to be repaid for canceled softball trip
The Paul D. Schreiber High School varsity softball team was supposed to attend a Florida softball tournament in April, but the trip was canceled after the coronavirus pandemic struck — and parents say they're still waiting for more than $25,000 in refunds.
- Doron Nissan, whose daughter is on the team, said parents paid $1,800 each for about 14 girls planning to make the trip. The payments went to the Port Washington school district, he said, which in turn paid KSA Events, the Florida company hosting the contest. "We're still sitting here in mid-November and we really don't know what the story is," he said.
- Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes said the district has been in communication with KSA since the spring, and the school board has approved the release of $17,800 in funds to reimburse the families. "The district will continue to advocate on behalf of our students and their families to come to a resolution with KSA Events, including the continued pursuit of litigation if needed," Hynes said in a statement.
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Resources for you
- The WNET Group and New York City Department of Education are rolling out new episodes of "Let’s Learn," a one-hour, daily public television series for grades pre-K-2. The episodes feature engaging lessons with English and Spanish captions led by DOE instructional leaders and coaches. Visit letslearn.org.
- For easy-to-understand answers and explanations of how the world actually works through articles, podcasts and videos, visit HowStuffWorks.com.
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.
What steps should college students take before heading back home for Thanksgiving?
Universities and colleges on Long Island are mandating COVID-19 tests for some students, and encouraging tests for the rest, as tens of thousands of them prepare to travel home for Thanksgiving just as infection rates are rising nationwide. Infectious disease experts say returning students are potential sources of COVID-19 spread and should get tested before joining family members.
"The days where we can have a large Thanksgiving dinner with the house bustling full of people that you see once or twice a year over a big holiday should not occur this year," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center. "Thanksgiving celebrations need to be very small— only, if possible, with the immediate nuclear family."
Farber said the combination of cold weather, students coming back from college campuses, the increased infection rate in the region and the socialization that occurs during holidays "makes for a perfect storm for the growth of COVID in the community."
If students can't get tested before coming home, "they should do their best to avoid any excess risk of COVID in their last week before returning to families," Farber said. Students should "try to isolate, double down on the masks, double down on the social distancing, avoid groups of people ... before they return home."
Round of applause
A Mount Sinai High School student has been bringing smiles to those in need during the pandemic.
Devin Beresky, a sophomore, has so far collected about 1,100 bags and boxes filled with items ranging from clothing to toys to school supplies. She estimates the bags and boxes contained about 10,000 individual items.
To collect the bags and boxes, Beresky said she spread the word about her efforts on social media and visited the homes of prospective donors to retrieve items. Once her family's car was full, the items were taken to local donation centers.