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NYS Board of Regents Zooms in on re-opening schools

Chancellor Betty A. Rosa at the State Education

Chancellor Betty A. Rosa at the State Education Department Building on Feb. 10, 2020. Credit: Hans Pennink

Daily Point

Going to school on schools

The New York State Board of Regents held its first of four regional task force meetings on reopening schools Monday afternoon, and the kickoff was an unintentionally fitting addendum to the school-year struggle with distance learning, in which participants met via Zoom and audience members could listen via YouTube.

Chancellor Betty Rosa was dropped by Zoom about 60 seconds into her remarks. Regent Susan W. Mittler treated the audience to dead air as she at first tried to deliver her remarks while on mute. 

And Dr. Jack Dehovitz’s presentation on the health aspects of the coronavirus challenge was delivered to the accompaniment of baying dogs.

Only the opening and closing hour were public. In between, participants broke off into nine Zoom talking groups tackling everything from “Health and Safety” to “Bilingual Education.”

While the process is just beginning, what’s remarkable about the opening session was the tone and pattern that was set.

  • The fact that there are three learning possibilities for next school year, in-person, remote and some combination of the two, was repeatedly stressed.
  • The fact that “one size does not fit all” was mentioned often, implying that different regions and districts may follow different plans. That’s particularly important to the educators participating Monday, as the first meeting was on upstate districts, where infections have been far less severe than downstate.
  • Equity will get a lot of attention. Experts from across the state say distance learning in many cases exacerbated the gap between richer and poorer students and districts. These differences included children with fewer resources at home, from computers to good broadband, as well as not having parents who were able to help or environments that were conducive to learning. 
  • Turf matters. The Regents have feuded with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo since the coronavirus broke out, over substantive matters like whether to hold standardized tests and trivial news like who gets to announce standardized tests are canceled. Monday, Rosa addressed the separation of powers head on. Discussing the development of a blueprint for next year, she said: “This is our work, our issue, our lane. We have the constitutional responsibility to get it right and the legal authority to change rules and regulations.” Rosa said that while Cuomo and his staff will look at the health and safety aspects of the plans, the education side is on the Regents and state Education Department.
  • Physical health and safety, and social and emotional health and well-being, will be given equal weight in the discussions. In these meetings, Dehovitz, an infectious disease expert from SUNY Downstate, and Natalie Walrond, director of the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety, shared top billing in kicking off the program.

The nine work sessions Monday and those in the other three regional meetings will be available online a few days after each meeting. The downstate sessions that include Long Island are set for June 24.  

The Regents are scheduled to release guidelines on July 13.

Monday, there were only about 150 viewers listening to the meeting on YouTube. What’s going to be decided, however, is expected to generate considerably more interest.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Why all the negativity?

Rich Schaffer is tired of the negative campaigning out East. 

So said the Suffolk County Democratic leader in a Sunday email to 1st Congressional District and 1st State Senate District Democratic candidates. 

Some of the negative attacks in Suffolk were detailed in The Point last week, including Laura Ahearn’s attacks on Southampton Town Board member Tommy John Schiavoni, and anti-Perry Gershon campaign literature from 314 Action Fund, a PAC associated with a pro-scientist group that endorsed CD1 hopeful Nancy Goroff. 

Schaffer’s weekend missive called some of the recent attacks “destructive.” 

“As we near Election Day and with the finish line nearly in sight, consultants and outside groups who may or may not live in our community are urging you to attack your fellow Democrats,” he wrote. “In some cases, these attacks have already begun.” 

The email said that a “scorched earth approach in the primary” will make party unity impossible for the general — a key issue given that the 1st Senate District hasn’t “voted Democrat in 100 years,” Schaffer wrote, and Rep. Lee Zeldin is “well-financed and has the support of ruthless outside groups.” 

The Democratic leader called on all candidates to “cease personal attacks and focus on issues” and “condemn and discourage any such attacks from Super PACs.” And he wanted the positivity in writing: “Please email me your statement by tomorrow at 5 pm.”

Gershon, who posted the Schaffer letter on Facebook, was quick with a statement of agreement. 

Goroff said in a statement, “I would have preferred that everybody participating in our race remain positive and focused on promoting the candidate of their choice.” She noted that “I have no oversight, review, or influence over 314 Action's efforts.” She disavowed the group’s message, which she helpfully included for readers. 

“It is unfortunate that 314 Action chose negativity to draw attention to Perry Gershon's investments in oil and coal.”

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Biden his time

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Quick Points

  • Some Long Island business owners commenting on smaller-than-expected crowds after the region moved into Phase 2 of recovery said customers must not realize stores are open. Actually, customers do know – they’re still afraid to come out.
  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says New York has had the most dramatic turnaround of any state in dealing with the coronavirus. It’s certainly easier to have the biggest turnaround when you start with the highest number of cases.
  • In his commencement speech at West Point, President Donald Trump stressed unity. Now there’s a first.
  • Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Langford said he hasn’t decided whether to wear a mask to President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa this week. “I assume I’m going to have it,” he said, referring to a mask. Hey, James, you don’t have to assume anything. Just wear it.
  • White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said disclosing every company that has received a Paycheck Protection Program loan is not “necessary” but that making sure all rules were followed in dispensing loans is essential. But Larry, how is anybody going to know whether the rules were followed if they don’t know who got the loans?
  • COVID-19 has been diagnosed in at least two workers constructing the border wall in Arizona. Which seems appropriate given the sickness of our current immigration policies.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie