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LI schools getting millions in federal rescue package, Schumer says

This week's top stories

1. Long Island schools getting $324 million in aid from federal stimulus package

Long Island schools will receive nearly $324 million as part of Washington’s latest financial "rescue" of public education from COVID-19, Sen. Chuck Schumer's office announced. The share of dollars going to schools in Nassau and Suffolk, with about 17% of the state's student enrollment, is relatively low, representing 3.6% of the more than $8.9 billion due to be distributed statewide starting this month. In contrast, New York City schools, with about 40% of the state's enrollment, are expected to gain about $5.2 billion, or 58%, of the money, Schumer's office said.

Federal school assistance from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan will help districts with large numbers of students living below the poverty line. Brentwood is slated for nearly $28.9 million, Hempstead for $19.3 million and William Floyd for $15.5 million, with smaller amounts going to another 107 systems regionwide, according to figures released by Schumer’s office.

"When you see communities with greater needs getting more money, there’s a fairness to that," said Bill Heidenreich, superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District. Heidenreich, who also serves as president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, added that fresh federal money could go a long way in paying for summer classes and other programs aimed at helping students catch up academically. Several national studies showed students falling behind last year, especially in math.

"We will be very cautious and very measured in how we handle the next two or three budgeting cycles, so we don’t go back to people three years from now and say, gosh, all the money has run out," said Robert Vecchio, the William Floyd district’s board president.

Read the full story and look up how much your district is slated to receive.

2. Sharing their talents: Student musicians lend an ear to others needing lessons

A group of Syosset High School students and their friends are using their musical talents to offer lessons at no cost for children who either had their music education disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic or can’t afford professional instruction.

  • "It makes me feel as though we’re actually making some sort of impact in terms of being able to teach students and spread musical education," said Michael Lan, 16, a founding teacher of the Musical Relief program who plays the violin and viola. He's a junior at Syosset High School and teaches five students a week.
  • The teachers consist of at least 18 high school students from communities such as Syosset and Hicksville who have participated in extracurricular orchestras or selective pre-college music programs such as those offered at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan.

Read the full story.

3. Four LI districts change dates of budget vote to avoid conflict with Jewish holiday

Four Long Island school districts in Nassau County will hold their annual budget vote a week ahead of time on May 11 as the statewide budget date of May 18 falls on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

  • Great Neck, Lawrence, Hewlett-Woodmere and West Hempstead have received permission from the state to hold the budget vote a week earlier.
  • "We are looking to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate," Lawrence Superintendent Ann Pedersen said, adding the district also translates the budget materials into Spanish as well. "We are respectful for the needs of the community and are responsive … to all stakeholder groups."

Read the full story.

4. Wantagh investigating student's inappropriate comment

The Wantagh school district said it is investigating an incident in which a student allegedly made offensive comments to members of the visiting Valley Stream South High School girls tennis team.

  • The incident occurred on March 17 and involved a member of the Wantagh High School football team allegedly making anti-Asian remarks to the visiting tennis players, according to two sources familiar with the circumstances.
  • "Our district is committed to providing a safe, inclusive environment for our entire school community and does not tolerate actions such as the one displayed at this match," Wantagh Superintendent John McNamara said in a statement to Newsday.
  • Scott Stueber, the athletic director for the Valley Stream schools, told Newsday that immediately after the alleged incident, members of both girls tennis teams notified their coaches and officials at both schools.

Read the full story.

5. Ex-Hempstead employee files lawsuit, alleges constitutional rights violated

A former assistant superintendent of the Hempstead school district who was fired in 2018 alleges anti-Semitism and retaliation in a lawsuit filed in federal court last month against the district, school board, a district leader and former trustee.

  • Lawrence Dobroff, who started working for the district in August 2017, alleges his civil and constitutional rights were violated during his time as assistant superintendent for business and operations, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • The district, school board, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong and former board trustee Randy Stith are listed as defendants in the suit. Attorney Austin Graff, of The Scher Law Firm in Carle Place, is representing them.
  • "The school district has not been served with a copy of the complaint and therefore has not had the opportunity to analyze its allegations and claims," a district spokesperson said.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • Although there's no magic formula for choosing a college, College Board's Big Future can help students discover what's important to them for their college journey with free resources. Visit bigfuture.collegeboard.org.
  • KidPass is offering free Easter-themed activities, including a springtime Yoga and music and movement class. The website also has free drop-in classes for kids on spring break, including arts and crafts and STEM classes. Visit blog.kidpass.com.
  • Sesame Street offers tons of games, videos and art activities for free featuring all those beloved characters such as Big Bird and Elmo. Visit sesamestreet.org.

Round of applause

An elementary school student in Holbrook has written a children's book aimed at helping peers navigate bullying situations they might encounter by using positivity, kindness and inspiration.

Aviah Elizabeth Singh, a fifth-grader at Nokomis Elementary School, recently wrote "Be You. Be Cool. Be Kind," which is intended to help readers learn how to deal with bullies — and how not to be a bully. Each experience is accompanied by a question and a prayer.

"My book is about my life stories through elementary school when people made fun of me or bullied me and how I overcame it," Aviah, 11, said. "I wanted to write this book to spread kindness."

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.

Is the vaccine safe for kids?

Pfizer on Wednesday announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall. Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic — and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.

"In order to stop the virus, we need to get to herd immunity, and last time I checked, children are part of our households," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, who added that she suspects the other available vaccines also will end up safe for children.

In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 cases among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, in the coming weeks plan to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European regulators to allow emergency use of the shots starting at age 12. It's not clear how quickly the FDA would act on Pfizer's request to allow vaccination starting at age 12.

Pfizer isn’t the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Results also are expected soon from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds. AstraZeneca last month began a study of its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds in Britain. Johnson & Johnson is planning its own pediatric studies. And in China, Sinovac recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.

— 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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