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Remote learning is lesson plan for LI schools due to coronavirus

Debbie Cuevas of Rockville Centre has three children — in three schools — who are all moving to remote learning. One of her children has a condition that makes him especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, and she's asking everyone to take this virus seriously. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin, Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

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Rockville Centre parent Debbie Cuevas has three different children in three different schools who will all start remote learning this week as the coronavirus forced the closure of Long Island's and thousands of nationwide schools.

It will be a challenge, but “we’ll make it work," said Cuevas, whose son Dylan, 16, a junior at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, has chronic lung issues.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has directed all schools in the state to close until April 1, and to develop plans for alternative education.

Officials at Dylan’s school in Albertson as well as several others, including Huntington, Lawrence and Plainview-Old Bethpage, had prepared for remote learning and lined up Wi-Fi for students and computers to take home. Other districts are working this week to get remote learning up and running.

Experts say distance learning cannot replace what happens in the classroom, but it helps to keep continuity of instruction going. Benefits are academic and emotional, educators said.

"They are all being faced with anxiety and uncertainty, and with the ability to see their teachers, to see their faces and be able to speak to their teachers and get responses — I believe will help tremendously," said Lawrence Superintendent Ann Pedersen. Her schools and the education platform iTutor will launch online education, called Lawrence Academy, for the Nassau County district's nearly 2,500 students next week. "It is not just about getting the work done. It is about maintaining the interpersonal relationships in this socially distant environment."

Under the partnership with iTutor, which is accredited, the district has set up all teachers with accounts, enrolled students in online classrooms with those teachers, and is setting up a schedule of classes and training students on the platform.

Although some districts have distributed Chromebooks to every child enrolled, others have not, especially to students in lower grades. Some have sent home printed packets or made lessons and activities available on school websites. In the William Floyd School District, which enrolls 8,600 students, the district sent home packets for students in grades K-8 and is readying online instruction for grades 9-12.

"As a large high-needs district, it is impossible to go entirely online for all students, as we have a limited number of Chromebooks," said district spokesman James Montalto.

The Huntington school district, with about 4,500 students, started last week to find ways to offer Wi-Fi to students and enable them to connect with educators through hot spots. The district was prepared to pay for the Wi-Fi but received the service from Altice at no cost, said Superintendent James Polansky.  The district has been communicating with parents and students showing them how to connect and sending home sample schedules for learning by grade level.

"As we now know that the current situation will last for a longer period of time, our administrators, teachers and staff are working together in finalizing plans that will foster the provision on ongoing assignments and regular exchanges between teachers and students," he said.

Alan Singer, a Hofstra University education professor who is sharing resources with teachers on how to conduct a remote lesson, said he anticipated that the school year may extend into summer.

The Henry Viscardi School in Albertson serves 170 students from the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester and both Island counties from pre-K through age 21 who use power wheelchairs, have severe physical disabilities and are medically fragile. The school has had extensive experience in offering distance learning because many of its students often need home-based learning accommodations after surgical procedures and hospital stays.  Distance learning has already begun and teachers had undergone extensive training on remote learning before the school's transition to an online platform.

"We could see this coming and our antennae are up all the time when we think there are possible threats to kids with vulnerable conditions," said John D. Kemp, president of the school. 

Her main concern right now, Debbie Cuevas said, is that Dylan not catch the coronavirus. Her two other children, Heather, 13, and Nicholas, 7, are enrolled in the Rockville Centre school district, which also has launched remote learning, she said. 

"I think the change is necessary to stop the spread of this virus," she said. "Dylan has chronic lung issues due to his diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy  and if the schools did not move to remote learning, my husband and I were considering taking him out of school temporarily anyway ." 

Dylan said he and many of his classmates at the Viscardi school were already experienced with technology and many rely on computers, iPads and eye gaze systems to communicate and do homework.  Dylan, who is in the school's honor society and plays on the basketball team, is concerned about his college entrance exams, which have been postponed and canceled. In addition, he is going to miss going to school. 

"The biggest change is going to be that I will not be able to leave my house and go to school and have in-person contact with my teachers and friends,"' he said in an email.

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