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Educators: LI private schools adapting to meet demands posed by COVID-19

Experts are discussing what private schools are doing to cope with COVID-19 while keeping students and teachers safe, what the future holds for private education and more.

Long Island private and parochial schools are adapting to meet increased demand for their services during the pandemic, school leaders said Wednesday night during a Newsday virtual forum.

Many are offering five-days-a-week in-person instruction, a step some Long Island public school districts have yet to take. Some of the private schools have responded to the pandemic in ways few public schools could: Stony Brook School, a Christian boarding and day school of 425 students, has devoted a dormitory to quarantining students. Harbor Country Day School, in St. James, is testing its teachers and 150 students once a week for COVID-19.

Leaders of both private and parochial schools said during the hourlong event that they were experiencing "record enrollment." Kathleen Walsh, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, with a student body of 20,000, said her system had created waiting lists to deal with a "movement of people going back into our schools," most of which offer five-day in-person schooling with a remote option.

Some fine-tuning continues. Guidance counselors at diocese high schools are fielding "more questions, more legwork" than ever before from families unable or unwilling to make college visits themselves.

"What we would have let parents and kids" do on their own in the past, "we have to do for them" now, Walsh said.

At the Schechter School of Long Island, a Jewish school in Williston Park, staff members are managing busing for 300 students from across Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, said head of school Scott Sokol. In some cases they have encouraged carpools, and in others, interceded with bus companies to make sure riders are masked and windows open.

The school leaders shared some of the same frustrations as their public school counterparts. Extracurriculars like chorus and band at diocese schools will be "phased in" this year, Walsh said. Joshua Crane, Stony Brook School's head of school, said his student-athletes would "tread water" and keep fit until practices and games can safely resume.

Just weeks into the school year, several forum participants said their students had already learned an important lesson.

"Responsibility is not an abstract concept," said Harbor Country Day School head of school John Cissel. "They’re responsible for one another."

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