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A mixed reaction from parents, teachers to Cuomo's call to reopen schools

Middle Country school district Superintendent Roberta Gerold said

Middle Country school district Superintendent Roberta Gerold said she expects the district to work with the Suffolk County Health Department on contact tracing.   Credit: Randee Daddona

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave the green light Friday to reopen schools, Farmingdale science teacher Cordelia Anthony said she was happy he left many of the details up to individual districts.

They need that independence to make the best decisions considering their differing economics, school capacity and student populations, she said. More local control can mean more input from parents and teachers, said Anthony, who is also the president of the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers.

But Commack parent Laura LoPiccolo came away with a different opinion. LoPiccolo, whose daughter Kylie will be a senior at Hauppauge High School, said she wanted to see more direction from the state.

"He's putting it all in the hands of the districts, with little guidance," said LoPiccolo, who is also a member of the high school PTA. "He's making it very difficult."

Cuomo's announcement to reopen schools came as no surprise to Long Island parents, teachers and school superintendents — he had already made clear that the state had a low enough coronavirus infection rate. They generally praised his mandate that districts post online their plans for remote learning, testing and contact tracing. They also praised his call for districts to hold online sessions to gather input from parents and teachers.

"They should post everything they're doing," said Jennifer Tidridge, a mother of two from East Islip. "I like the idea of holding sessions with parents. … I don't want just the teachers and administrators making the decisions."

She's hoping her children — Jackson, 6, who's going into the first grade at Timber Point Elementary, and Kamryn, 9, who'll be in the fourth grade at John F. Kennedy Elementary — can go back full time. 

"They can learn more. It's easier for them to learn. It's more enjoyable," she said.

Scott O'Brien-Curcie, president of the Wyandanch Teachers Association, said he didn't like the way Cuomo handled the process, leaving the final call on reopening plans up the state Department of Health. "He now has a fall guy if he closes schools eventually," O'Brien-Curcie said.

Some school officials said they are already on the way to fulfilling the state's requirements.

The Middle Country school district in Suffolk County is planning a hybrid model that includes remote learning. Parents are permitted to opt for all remote learning if they want to, Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. She expects the district to work with the county health department on contact tracing.

“We have very careful attendance records and we will know where every student and staff member is should we have a child or staff member test positive,” Gerold said. “We will know the exact cohort they will be in.”

Even as the governor moved the state closer to reopening schools, parents and teachers said they still had questions.

Anthony, the science teacher, wondered how she will handle the many hands-on projects that come teaching that subject in high school. What if an assignment requires handing out goggles? Who will clean them for the next class?

Many questions come with health concerns, said Paige Panzner-Kozek of Lido Beach, who has a son, Thelonious, going into the eighth grade, and a daughter, Zsa Zsa, going into sixth.

Her list of questions is growing: Who will be responsible for cleaning the classrooms? What chemicals will they use to clean? 

For now, she said she will keep her kids learning remotely from home. The Long Beach district will allow parents to switch their children from home to in-school learning, she said.

"We're opting for home online learning until we feel more secure about it," she said of in-school learning. "The good news is that it won't take too long to see if it works."

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