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LI superintendents discuss social distancing in schools

Central Islip schools Superintendent Sharon A. Dungee.

Central Islip schools Superintendent Sharon A. Dungee. Credit: Central Islip School District

Long Island superintendents answered the following question in preparation for the 2020-21 school year: "How do you plan to teach children, especially the young ones, about how to social distance, what guidelines your school district is putting into place to ensure that students can learn safely, and what are your biggest fears going into the school year?" Below is a selection of their responses:

Sharon A. Dungee, Central Islip School District:

Teaching social distancing/physical distancing, especially to young students, is more complicated than one might realize. Children are naturally inquisitive, hands-on, and they thrive on socializing. We have always taught our students to share, collaborate, and work alongside each other. However, the global pandemic has shifted the dynamics where we are now living a "new normal."

As educators, we must redirect our teaching, and instruct students that social distancing is a matter of staying healthy and well. Consequently, for some, social distancing is a matter of life and death. It is a delicate balance to teach our students, especially the younger ones, about the concept of social distancing without instilling fear. Our teachers are on the front lines to explain about germs and the importance of frequent and thorough hand-washing. While the CDC has released excellent age-appropriate videos on how to stay healthy during the pandemic, mental health experts will play a vital role in our schools for both students and staff as we navigate through this most challenging period.

We in Central Islip Schools have spent several months and countless hours with a reopening team of district stakeholders to formulate strict guidelines and protocols that have resulted in a blueprint for delivering the most effective instruction under the absolute safest environment possible. Required protocols in our schools include, but are not limited to, daily temperature checks, provisions for personal protective equipment, strict sanitization measures in all school buildings, wearing masks or face coverings, and proper social distancing.

The most frequently expressed fears and concerns from faculty, staff, parents and members of our community are centered around how to avoid contracting COVID-19 while in school. Open communication between our schools and community are imperative at a time when dynamics are in a constant state of flux as we listen to advice from scientists and health experts, while receiving guidelines from the state Education Department.

Kishore Kuncham, Freeport School District:

The health, safety and well-being of our students and staff in our schools is paramount. It is central to our reopening plan along with educational equity and excellence for all students. These include wearing masks, social distancing, barriers, and proper hygiene and sanitation protocols.

Freeport Public Schools recognizes the importance of educating students on the measures we can all take to stay safe and healthy as we return to our school buildings. We have created a collection of age-appropriate videos, social stories, books, games and printable materials that will help teach our students the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. 

These resources are available on our Online Resource Center and parents are encouraged to view them with their children. Educating our students on these important behaviors is our collective focus as we begin the school year. Our faculty will teach, practice, reinforce and promote social distancing as the most effective way to avoid the spread of COVID-19 through teacher-created curriculum and activities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our communities to their limits physically, emotionally and financially with many experiencing trauma. My biggest fear is sustaining and supporting social and emotional well-being and keeping everyone's spirits uplifted as we return to school. I am concerned about a rise in new COVID-19 cases in the fall leading to school closures. Additionally, COVID-19 has presented fiscal challenges and we cannot afford any mid-year cut(s) to state aid, creating further financial stress."

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