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76,000 students start year as remote-only learners

This week's top stories

1. Thousands of students started the year as remote-only learners

The majority of Long Island public schools started the academic year teaching under a hybrid model, while roughly 76,000 students — mostly from districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students and students of color — began on a remote-only path, according to a Newsday analysis.

About 61.4%, or 375 of 611 Long Island public schools, were using a hybrid model this fall, according to data Newsday obtained from the state Education Department via a Freedom of Information Law request. About 34.4%, or 210 schools, were in-person, and 4.3%, or 26 schools, were remote, the data shows. The figures come from a survey conducted by the state Education Department in September, though about 10 of the Island's 124 districts did not provide data.

Meanwhile, about 76,443 students — roughly 21.3% — have been following a remote-only model, spending hours each day learning in front of a screen or from instructional packets, according to data Newsday obtained from 108 districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties through public records requests. The 108 districts enroll 358,715 total students. Sixteen districts did not provide data to Newsday. Most students on the remote-only path, whether because their school is only providing remote instruction or because they opted out of a hybrid or in-person model, live in districts with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged peers, Newsday found.

In the Elmont district, with six schools serving prekindergarten through sixth grade, about 46.6% of the 3,179 students started the school year on a remote-only model, the data shows. "The challenge with our virtual academy is making sure that they don't feel isolated from their home schools," Elmont Superintendent Kenneth Rosner said.

Read the full story.

2. At many LI private schools, in-person learning is still the norm

Many private high schools and middle schools on Long Island are doing in-person instruction for all students five days a week, in contrast to most public schools, turning running tracks and wrestling rooms into classrooms as they adapt to the COVID era.

  • Some private schools are seeing record demand for spots from parents who want their kids in school every day. Many of the schools opened in September not knowing what to expect in an unprecedented situation but have been surprised, and even delighted, that they have been able to pull it off with few shutdowns.
  • Many private schools like The Stony Brook School can do in-person full time because they had fewer students in each classroom to begin with, often 16 or fewer. They also often have more space. Stony Brook has 55 acres and 15 buildings. Joshua Crane, head of school, said the school has record enrollment this year, bolstered by families seeking full-time, in-person instruction.

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3. Plan for Hempstead: Raise grad rates, renew teacher contracts

A new state monitor's plan for Hempstead schools recommends dozens of improvements, ranging from expanded college-prep instruction for students to renewal of long-expired contracts for teachers.

  • Hempstead, Nassau County's largest K-12 school system, has the highest rate of departure on Long Island of students going to independently run charter schools. The plan notes that there is a widespread impression that some school board candidates seek election, at least in part, "to get their friends, families and supporters jobs in the district."
  • On the brighter side, the plan cites recent successes, including a rise in high school graduation rates, and expresses hope this will lead to further progress. Another plan examined district spending and concludes that midyear cuts could be required if the state carries out threats to reduce its financial aid to schools.
  • "Where there is a will, and there is a will, there will be a way," said William H. Johnson, the state-appointed monitor for Hempstead who wrote the academic and financial plans. Hope remains that Hempstead will find ways to improve services.

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4. Changes for year-end exams being considered, Regent says

An administrator of the Sachem schools urged that the state Regents examinations that ordinarily cap the academic year be canceled, or at least made optional, due to the coronavirus pandemic — and a Regent suggested such changes were in the works.

  • Erin Hynes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction of the Sachem Central School District, said there is worry and stress at the secondary school level, as college application time looms. Hynes said regarding the end-of-school-year exams that students would benefit "if that stress can be lifted, and whether it’s completely canceled or it’s choice or what have you."
  • Roger Tilles of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents, said, "I can tell you, we are working on a set of parameters for districts to have accountability, but to base it upon the kinds of tests that they are already doing ... and then post-equating them, to make them comparable to judge a district, or to judge things that are going on accountability-wise, without harming the students, when they go on to college or career or whatever else."

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • New York Public Library has a remote learning resources page for kids and teens, featuring free academic support from one-on-one tutors daily from 2 to 11 p.m. All you need is a New York Public Library Card. Visit nypl.org.
  • TIME for Kids online content has age-appropriate stories, information just for kids that explains the world around them and instructional materials for kids by grade level. Visit timeforkids.com.

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.

Yellow, orange, red zones — what do they mean for schools?

New York State uses a color-coded microcluster strategy in an effort to detect and stop small outbreaks of COVID-19 before they spread to wider areas. Microclusters are defined by metrics, including the rate of positive test results, the number of new cases per populations, and hospitalizations, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office. The state designates a color — yellow, orange, red — for different concentrations of COVID-19, each with varied restrictions to stop the spread.

An area in New York City or Long Island is designated a yellow zone if the seven-day rolling average for the positivity rate is above 2.5% for 10 consecutive days; an orange zone if the seven-day rolling positivity rate is above 3% for 10 days, and a red zone if the seven-day rolling positivity rate is above 4% for 10 days.

In the yellow zone, schools do not close but must test 20% of students, teachers and staff weekly.

In the orange zone, schools are closed with students switching to remote instruction. They can remain open with the "test-out" option, which requires testing of students and cleaning of the schools.

In the red zone, schools are closed, switching to remote instruction. They can open with the "test-out" option, which requires testing of students and cleaning of the schools.

The state designated Great Neck, Massapequa Park, Hampton Bays and Riverhead in yellow zones this week.

Round of applause

A Smithtown High School West senior is striving to use innovative technology to bring clean drinking water to villagers in Kenya. Shannon Alptekin, 17, recently launched the nonprofit International Innovative Solutions Project, which aims to provide humanitarian aid to underprivileged communities.

The nonprofit's pilot project will be to deploy a self-sustaining solar microgrid that powers an atmospheric water generator in Turkana County, Kenya. The technology extracts water vapor from the ambient atmosphere and condenses it into clean drinking water.

"I took a look at the global water crisis, especially what is happening with the pandemic, and knew it was a mission that deeply impassioned me," Alptekin said.

— 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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