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College students return in the shadow of COVID-19

This week's top stories

1. College students return to classes, more COVID-19 testing

College students can anticipate another semester shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, with canceled spring breaks, intensified testing for COVID-19, and for some, delays on getting back onto campus. As they start to return to dorms and classrooms as early as this week, they also can expect continued admonishments to follow rules on mask-wearing, hand-washing, surveillance testing, health screens and other safe practices.

"The safety protocols have been put in place and must be adhered to at all times, both indoors and outside, of anyone on campus," said Eugene Palma, Adelphi University’s chief administrative officer and associate vice president. He added that the university in Garden City would "look forward to getting the Adelphi community vaccinated as soon as New York State permits."

While rates of COVID-19 remained relatively low last fall on many campuses, the community transmission rate on Long Island recently has climbed higher than it has been since early May, after the initial heights of the pandemic’s outbreak in New York. "Required, routine surveillance testing for every person on our campuses is imperative to keeping our colleges and surrounding communities safe as we bring students back," SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said.

At Hofstra University in Uniondale, where classes resume Feb. 1, students returning to dorms or classes on campus from noncontiguous states must show a negative test result from within three days before arrival, then quarantine for three days before testing again. Those coming from Long Island and contiguous states must show a recent negative test or be tested on campus upon arrival.

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2. Students spending more time online adds to cyberbullying risks

When Beatriz Morfogen found out she had tested positive for COVID-19, she felt scared, worried and sad. Not only because she didn't know how the virus would affect her, but because friends she once trusted began bullying her on social media.

  • Some bullying experts said the increased time Long Island students are now spending online due to hybrid and remote learning has opened the door for more cyberbullying, a type of bullying that often goes undetected by adults or those who don't experience it directly.
  • "COVID-19 has changed the landscape of our daily lives, and that includes the growth of a teen’s technology use, which allows for more opportunities to cyberbully," said Laura Grunin, a doctoral student at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing who recently led a study on cyberbullying.
  • "I think bullying and mental health is one of the impacts of the pandemic that we may not really deal with until months from now when things settle, and children are back in the classroom on a ‘normal’ routine," said Joe Salamone, founder and executive director of Long Island Coalition Against Bullying.

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3. Teachers union: Cancel Regents exams, grades 3-8 testing

An influential statewide teachers union is calling for cancellation of standardized student testing for the second year in a row, citing academic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Leaders of New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT, in a letter obtained by Newsday, urged the state to again seek waivers from federal testing requirements. Waivers, if granted, could result in cancellation both of state English and math tests usually administered in the spring in grades three through eight, as well as Regents exams most often given in June at the high school level.
  • State interim Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said she and the Board of Regents were probably getting fairly close to a decision on testing and were in touch with the federal department.

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4. NYS comptroller: School tax cap for 2021-22 to be 1.23%

School districts on Long Island and elsewhere in the state may have little room for budget growth in the next academic year under a tax cap set by New York. The state has limited the increase in tax levies — the money school districts and municipalities raise from property taxes — to 1.23% for the fiscal year beginning July 1, according to a news release from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

  • That's the lowest permissible tax levy increase since 2016, when it was capped at .12%. Last year, the cap was set at 1.81%. DiNapoli said, "School district and municipal officials must remain fiscally cautious to stay under the cap as they prepare their budgets."
  • Andrea Vecchio, a longtime school tax activist from East Islip, argued it would be inappropriate for school districts to raise tax levies at all in the upcoming school year, given the interruptions to full-time, in-person instruction during the pandemic.
  • Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman said the relatively low tax cap would prove a challenge to districts such as his, especially since they may see a funding cut from New York State, which itself is facing a massive deficit.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • As kids spend more time online, parents might be looking for ways to keep screen time after school to a limit. Healthy Kids, Healthy Future has tips for reducing screen time. Visit healthykidshealthyfuture.org.
  • Encouraging healthy habits can be simple and fun for all kids. Just help them channel their natural energy into activities that keep them fit and strong with the help of some pals from Sesame Street. Visit sesamestreet.org/healthyhabits.
  • As some families continue with or switch to remote learning, it might be helpful to look over this guide designed to help navigate distance learning, including practical tips to create home learning routines. For the guide by the Columbia University Center for Public Research and Leadership, visit this link, or this link for the Spanish version.

Round of applause

A Miller Place student whose younger sister has a rare kidney disorder has raised money to help find a cure through the sale of homemade bracelets.

Reagan Commander, a seventh-grader at North Country Road Middle School, raised about $1,000 through the sales of 250 beaded bracelets to benefit the Nephrotic Syndrome Foundation. The colorful bracelets were sold for $2 each, or three for $5.

Reagan's 7-year-old sister, Avery, has nephrotic syndrome, a disorder that causes the body to excrete too much protein in the urine. "I wanted her to know that she is not alone in this fight," said Reagan, 12.

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.

What is the graduation rate in my district?

For anyone interested in finding out the graduation rates in their district, Newsday put together a database that shows the percentage of Long Island students who graduated in June and August of 2020. It also shows the percentage of graduates who earned a Regents diploma, a Regents diploma with advanced designation, which requires more advanced coursework, and the percentage of students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students who graduated.

High school graduation rates topped 90% for the Class of 2020 on Long Island, according to state education officials. Statewide, the proportion of seniors earning diplomas showed modest improvement as well. State authorities attributed this, in part, to the fact that many students in June were exempted from taking Regents exams due to disruptions of school schedules caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

— 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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