School officials must address issues such as child care, health protocols and some students’ lack of access to technology before the first full academic year in the COVID-19 era begins, panel members in a Newsday webinar said Friday.
The webinar stemmed from a nextLI poll on COVID-19 of 1,043 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties conducted by YouGov from June 22 to July 1. The nextLI project is a Newsday initiative funded by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, with a goal of stimulating Islandwide discussion of public policy questions.
The discussion began less than a half-hour after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that schools can have in-person classes, although he left the decision to individual districts on whether to bring students back to buildings, continue with remote learning or take a hybrid approach.
The nextLI survey found that 71% of Long Islanders worried that children’s education, or their own, would suffer because of COVID-19.
Steven Lindo, president and chairman of Springboard Incubators Inc., a Hempstead-nonprofit that works to increase access to technology, said schools should not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach and must address the individual needs of each student.
One problem with online learning is that, in person, “You can see body language, you can see how students are behaving. You can measure those things. When you’re online, students can go off camera. You don’t know if they’re understanding. You don’t know if they’re distracted doing something else.”
Parents’ needs and challenges also vary, said Jacob Dixon, founder and CEO of Roosevelt-based Choice for All, which works on educational equity issues. Schools’ plans for a hybrid approach to learning could conflict with parents’ five-day-a-week work schedules, so child care must be part of discussions, and parents must have a voice, he said.
Roberto Joseph, an associate professor of teaching, learning and technology at Hofstra University, said schools also must ensure students have home access to Wi-Fi or broadband, and that they address situations such as when a household has only one computer and two or three students learning remotely.
One participant in the webinar asked how schools will keep children safe.
Verdel Jones, director of guidance and support services for the Plainedge school district, said elementary school class sizes in her district are small enough that those children will be able to attend class every day with social distancing. Secondary school students will alternate days, with half on a given day studying at home, the other half in school buildings, she said.
There will be safety measures such as mandatory mask-wearing, one-directional hallways and daily disinfection of rooms, she said.
“We are ready to have our students come in,” she said.