What will the school environment look like in September?
Appearing on the latest NewsdayLive Conversations webinar — "Education and COVID-19: What's the outlook for school in September?" — three local superintendents said the hope is that school days will more closely resemble pre-pandemic life than the remote-learning, hybrid-model scenarios of the past three semesters.
But, the trio cautioned, no one really knows for sure.
"Next September, I'm extremely optimistic," Brentwood Union Free School District Superintendent Richard Loeschner said, adding that he believes most classes — especially those like physical education, arts and music — will return to pre-pandemic norms.
However, he said, masking and social-distancing requirements "remain to be seen."
"Lessons we learned through the pandemic … educating the whole child, keeping them healthy, safe, supported, engaged and challenged," said Roosevelt Union Free School District Superintendent Deborah L. Wortham. "That is what we learned … 'Safe' drove us through the pandemic. We are all technologically literate by this time. We've added skills to the repertoire."
But, she said, a return to some semblance of normal would be most welcome.
"I think in September," said Malverne School District Superintendent Lorna Lewis, former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, "we are going to emerge stronger than ever … Our kids belong in our classrooms … Our kids are already showing they're ready to just interact with each other.
"We're planning to have every learner back in class," she said.
The trio of administrators cautioned that guidelines from the New York State Education Department and the state Department of Health might change between now and the first day of school. Prodding state officials, Lewis added that she and her fellow administrators across Long Island and the state hope that some firm rules on everything from masks and social distancing, to remote learning for students out sick — or for schools closed for snow days — will be announced sooner rather than later.
"Tell us what September must look like," she said, adding that while teachers have done "a remarkable job" with hybrid and remote learning, the "truth is, it isn't working for a lot of kids … We would not want to have remote learning in the fall, except for rare instances. We need some guidance from the New York State Education Department. We need a guardrail for kids saying, 'I don't feel like coming in to school today.' "
She added, "In most cases, I want my learners in school."
The administrators said an emphasis also has been placed on acclimating elementary school students, most notably preschool, kindergartners and first-graders, to actual in-person school life. Many, the three said, have yet to actually see the inside of a real classroom — and have no idea what it's like to be physically in school.
All three superintendents agreed it is likely for mask requirements to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
None foresee a plan to separate students who've been vaccinated from those who haven't been, due to a host of social and legal implications.
All are hopeful that there will be some reduction in the 6-foot social distancing requirements, either through elimination or modification to perhaps a 3-foot standard. While the three also understand that vaccination rates have increased dramatically in recent months, Lewis said most superintendents would "open our doors" this summer to some statewide system that would bring vaccines — and mobile vaccination units or vans — to their schools in an effort to offer shots to every eligible student.
"This is how we work it," Lewis said. " … Open our schools, bring vaccines, bring vaccination vans, bring it to us … We need to have a system."