When 200 Port Washington parents gathered under a blazing sun Monday afternoon to protest the district’s newly announced elementary school plan, many seemed shocked and hurt. But when the rally got started, it was fury and fierce demands for change that dominated. It’s an early indicator of just how much trouble can be in store for districts when reopening plans get down to brass tacks.
Until late last week these parents had been told all the district’s elementary school children who wanted to be back in school five days a week would be, and all those who wanted to avoid the classroom would learn virtually. Then, Thursday, the district announced that the plan was off. Instead, the district is embracing a hybrid model in which kids would learn in-person two days a week, study remotely for two more, and most weeks, have one day with no teacher-led instruction.
In a letter to parents, Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes said the change had to be made because teachers feared for their health. Most who addressed the crowd were furious at Hynes, who did not return calls seeking comment. Parents accused him of ignoring their calls and demands and blaming teachers’ health concerns when, they say, it’s the district that failed.
In its own letter to parents, the Port Washington Teachers Association mentioned health concerns related to a full return to classrooms but focused much more on the fact that under the full return plan, kids who opted for distance learning would not get a robust Internet technology classroom but instead a video feed of a live in-school classroom, which the group said is ineffective as a teaching method.
Most in attendance at the rally spoke in support of the teachers, saving their ire for Hynes and the school board.
But the parents at the protest argued that surrounding districts like Manhasset, Great Neck, Roslyn and Syosset are bringing back full-time in-person elementary schools, so why not Port Washington.
“I’m a single parent who will be teaching in New York City five days a week,” Erica Nagy said. “I can’t afford to put my fourth-grader in day care, and I can’t be home to teach him.”
Further fueling the anger among the attendees was the seemingly unanimous feeling that distance learning in Port Washington in the spring was a disaster.
“Our son waited 40 days for his first remote lesson,” Josh Rosenberg said of his son, Koby, who attends Guggenheim Elementary School.
The protest was organized largely via a Facebook page, Rally to Open Port Washington Schools, that was created Friday and now has nearly 600 members.
And Port Washington may not be the last district to see such abrupt changes in plan, or protests. Educators all across Long Island say that as the efforts to turn written plans into action advance, the health, childcare and educational concerns of both teachers and parents have the districts’ plans sprouting cracks that could well turn into chasms.