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Governor allows high school, college graduations to resume

This week's top stories

1. Regents pledge diversity in classrooms and hiring

The state's Board of Regents on Monday called for greater emphasis on "diversity, equity and inclusion" in school curricula and hiring, but provided few details on how long the effort might take or how its goals might be enforced.

In its draft statement issued this past week, the state's highest education policy board said the need to encourage diversity was underlined by recent evidence of what it described as "systematic racism." As examples, it listed killings of Black and brown individuals by police, a spike in violence aimed at Asian Americans, and renewed discrimination against Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans and other minorities. As first steps, Regents are to adopt an official policy statement next month, and establish a work group related to diversity, equity and inclusion within the state Education Department in Albany.

Read the full story.

2. Commack schools resume field trips

At least one Long Island school district is bringing back a pre-pandemic tradition beloved by students: field trips.

Some Commack district leaders, concerned about students’ mental well-being during the pandemic, hope to return a sense of normalcy before this academic year ends — by allowing certain grades to go on regional and out-of-state field trips.

  • Other school leaders said the risk of spreading the virus remains too high as infection rates hover from around 4% to 5% on Long Island. They worry that too many kids would need to quarantine in the event of a positive case after riding on a bus for a trip, potentially causing great disruption to in-person instruction, upcoming exams and graduation ceremonies.
  • Commack Superintendent Donald James said: "Anything to get back to some sense of, ‘Oh, these are the types of things we did before COVID.' "

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3. New distance guidance for schools

Students can now sit 3 feet rather than 6 feet apart in school classrooms, new state Department of Health guidance says.

The new recommendations, released last week, leave the decision on whether to reduce the distance up to school districts. Rhonda Taylor, the acting superintendent for the Uniondale Union Free School District, said she is "really excited the state has caught up with the science that is showing that as long as we’re able to maintain a level of control in the classroom, that we can go to 3 feet and thereby bring more kids back. Our aim has always been to bring more kids back into the school, but safely."

  • Before making a change, each district or school — private schools also are covered by the guidelines — must get input from parents, community members, health departments, teachers and staff, the state health department said.
  • Three weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released similar recommendations.

Read the full story.

4. Unity call after reaction to student protest

A Westhampton Beach school official issued a call for unity Friday, saying the district "does not tolerate racism, cyberbullying or unkind words or actions" after some students reacted to a video posted on the TikTok app showing a fellow classmate who sat for the Pledge of Allegiance in protest.

The short clip on the video-sharing app caused enough of an uproar that Superintendent Michael Radday reminded the school community that others have the right to protest.

  • The clip shows the Westhampton Beach High School student, who is Native American and Black, on her computer during the pledge.
  • The student, Kylah Avery, 16, later said in a letter to Newsday that, "The reason I did this is because there is not liberty and justice for all. There is severe inequality throughout the nation, and I find it wrong to stand and pledge my allegiance to a country that doesn’t see me as an equal due to my Native American heritage, my African heritage and my gender."

Read the full story.

5. Online instruction presents challenges as well as ease for disabled students

The shift to online instruction has been liberating for many students with mobility issues, allowing them easier access to classes, extracurriculars and appointments.

However, for others — those with a complex array of disabilities — it has posed new obstacles and a need for new accommodations.

  • Some obstacles were obvious; others were more subtle. Microphones and receptors to amplify and filter sound, normally used in classrooms by the hearing impaired, were of little use online.
  • Students on the autism spectrum struggled to read the facial cues on Zoom they needed to provide crucial contexts.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • Nonprofit Outschool.org is helping to make learning resources more accessible to families facing financial hardship, as well community organizations and learning centers across the U.S. They are providing free enrollment to Outschool.com’s 100,000+ live taught online educational classes and help make up for lost learning time this year. Visit Outschool.org.
  • Nassau BOCES Adult Education is offering a host of courses targeted to earning industry certification. The first of these new courses are the electrical and plumbing technician programs, each of which provides 200 hours of training that can be credited toward the Department of Labor Apprenticeship requirements. Upon satisfactory completion of these courses, students earn industry certification and are eligible for placement in union shops across the region. Visit nassauboces.org.
  • See Newsday's best high school photos from this season at newsday.com/sports/high-school.

Round of applause

A Ward Melville High School student who survived a rare form of childhood cancer has been named one of five ambassadors nationwide this year for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Alexa Moore, a junior at the East Setauket school, was diagnosed at the age of 3 with clear cell sarcoma of the kidney and underwent treatment that included a stem cell harvest, blood transfusions and eight radiation therapies. She has been in remission for 13 years.

"Childhood cancer doesn't stop," Moore, 16, said. "As a cancer survivor myself, I feel it is important to continue to spread awareness and to raise money to find a cure for this horrific disease. Together, we can all make a difference."

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 will be different about graduation this year?

Colleges and high schools can host outdoor graduation ceremonies with more than 500 people on Long Island and across the state, subject to capacity restrictions, proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test or complete vaccination, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this week.

Last year, graduation ceremonies were limited to 150 people.

Effective May 1, "large-scale" outdoor graduation ceremonies of 500 or more people will be permitted at stadiums or performance venues with at least 2,500 seats — or up to 20% capacity.

Medium-scale outdoor ceremonies of 201 to 500 people will be allowed if venues such as a catering hall, park or football field limit attendance to 33% capacity and attendees provide negative test results or proof of completed vaccinations.

Small outdoor ceremonies of up to 200 people will be permitted at 50% capacity while negative COVID-19 test results or proof of vaccination will be optional, the guidance states.

Indoor graduation ceremonies will face tighter restrictions.

Facilities holding events with up to 100 people can be held at 50% capacity with an optional negative test or proof of vaccination. Ceremonies of 101 to 150 people will be allowed at 33% capacity, and events of more than 150 can move forward at 10% capacity — each with required proof of a negative test or vaccination.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Joie Tyrrell can be reached at joie.tyrrell@newsday.com or on Twitter @JoieTyrrell.

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