Michael Flynn, chief executive of Western Suffolk BOCES.

Michael Flynn, chief executive of Western Suffolk BOCES. Credit: Western Suffolk BOCES

After working for weeks on plans to reopen their schools safely during the pandemic, some Long Island district leaders say there were “distraught” to hear they were among the schools that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said haven’t submitted their plans.

Most of the 28 Long Island districts that were called out by Cuomo on Monday say they had either submitted their plans to the state Department of Health and state Education Department prior to the announcement, or that they have since rectified the issue by resubmitting their plans.

The districts say they weren’t notified of the issue ahead of Cuomo’s briefing with reporters, when he said 107 school districts statewide did not complete their reopening plan submissions to the state.

“We were so distraught to find out that way,” said Ann Pedersen, superintendent of Lawrence School District in Nassau County. “When I first read it I thought, ‘Yikes, was there something wrong with my plan that they rejected it? What is this all about?’”

Lawrence schools, which was on the list Cuomo’s office put out on Monday, had requested an extra week to submit their plans to the state Education Department. Pedersen said she thought the district submitted all the documents that were required for the state Health Department.

“In the flurry of submitting all these documents and everything else we've had to do, it turns out it was an oversight,” Pedersen said.

Michael Flynn, chief executive for Western Suffolk BOCES, said someone from the state Health Department called the offices after Cuomo's announcement to notify them they hadn’t received the plans.

Lawrence school district Superintendent Ann Pedersen.

Lawrence school district Superintendent Ann Pedersen. Credit: Lawrence School District

“We had already submitted the plans to the state Education Department and to the department of health, so while we had them on the phone, we just resubmitted it,” Flynn said. “It only took about five minutes because it was already done.”

Other districts, such as Syosset and Plainview-Old Bethpage, took to social media to tell families that the state’s list of districts that haven’t submitted plans was wrong — and they had receipts to prove it.

“The list is inaccurate,” said Mary O’Meara, superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district. “[The district] submitted its reopening plan to both the [state] Education Department and the [state] Department of Health on time. We have confirmation receipts for both submissions.”

Brentwood schools Superintendent Richard Loeschner said the district submitted its plans prior to the July 31 deadline. “The Governor’s Office, as well as the NYSED and NYSDOH, have been notified of this error and asked to correct the situation as expeditiously as possible,” Loeschner said.

Other area districts sent emails and letters home to parents to try to set the record straight.

“Please be assured that we have contacted the New York State Department of Education regarding this matter and resubmitted our district’s plans along with the original submission receipt. Additionally, I requested our district’s immediate removal from the list,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

In a statement Monday, Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said the original list was accurate. He said some districts had filed their plans with the state Education Department but not the Department of Health. 

Pedersen said the announcement caused confusion in the Lawrence community, which had just received the reopening plans days earlier.

“All of our community got very upset. All of our teaching staff got upset,” Pedersen said.

At a time when district leaders are trying to put parents and staff at ease, the news created additional stress in the community, she said.

“Nobody understood what it meant — ‘does it mean our plan isn’t good enough?’ — and that caused additional angst in people,” Pedersen said. “The biggest problem I had with it, is that it upset people and that can trickle down to the kids.”

Flynn said he didn't want to be critical of the governor or the reopening process.

"These are challenging times that we’re living in. We’ve never experienced a pandemic in our lifetime," Flynn said. "My view is that everyone is trying to do the very best to protect the health and safety of children, including parents, teachers, stated education department and the governor."

Flynn said the most challenging part of the process has been in implementing the new health and safety measures. 

"We’ve been working very diligently to implement all these measures to ensure the health and safety of our students and our staff," Flynn said. "That’s been the most important and the most challenging because it’s out of our wheel box — we’re not a hospital, we’re a school."

With Bart Jones

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