With the start of classes only two weeks away, Long Island parents and schools are feeling the mounting stress of planning for back to school in a post-pandemic world.
On August 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave all New York schools approval to continue in-person classes this September. According to the press release, COVID-19 infection rates statewide have measured below the threshold in every region. Health officials believe these trends inspire hope that the safety measures we have been implementing are effective and predict these same measures applied in a school environment could result in similar effects.
In light of Governor Cuomo’s approval, schools across Long Island have been scrambling to submit reopening plans in line with both the safety measures required of the state and the wishes of the school community they serve. It has not been an easy task. The reopening plans must consider multiple factors, including building capacity, students’ needs, the number of staff, and parental concerns, which differ significantly from district to district.
Mineola Public School District announced their reopening plan on July 31, inviting students back for in-person daily learning five days a week with new COVID-19 safety protocols. These safety measures include:
- Requiring in-person students to participate in cohort learning;
- Restricting cohort group sizes to 14-22 students for elementary school classes, 15-22 students for middle school classes, and 22-27 students for high school classes depending on space available;
- Requiring masks to be worn in all areas where 6-ft social distance cannot be maintained;
- Requiring all students to stay with the designated cohort teacher except for special areas such as gym or art. Those teachers will push in;
- Scheduling elementary students to eat lunch in classrooms while middle and high school students will be allowed to eat in cafeterias or outdoor spaces at a 75% reduced capacity in 20-minute shifts, maintaining social distancing at all times;
- Allowing outdoor recess to be provided daily with additional opportunities for cohorts to go outside; and
- Disinfecting all buildings and classrooms daily with frequent multiple cleanings of high traffic areas.
Other districts, such as Riverhead Public Schools, do not have the building capacity to allow all students to attend in-person classes at the same time. The district unveiled their plan to teach a hybrid model for the upcoming year, implementing both in-person learnings in cohort style classrooms and remote learning at home.
Regardless of what type of learning model your child will be participating in this fall, safety education beginning at home is the key to a successful school year. There are several topics parents can review with their children that can be applied across all spectrums and can prepare your child for any situation they may encounter in school or in the community.
Know the Learning Models
Parents can expect to see three types of learning models roll out with the 2020-2021 school year. Long Island COVID-19 trends in Suffolk and Nassau counties will ultimately determine when and how these models will change throughout the year. However, each model’s basics can help parents prepare their students for safety in all learning areas.
- In-Person: Students attend class at school with a teacher, most likely in cohort style classes that list the number of students and teachers exposed to a group.
- Hybrid: Students may attend in-person courses two to three days a week and complete the remainder of class instruction through live-online lessons or remote assignments.
- Remote: Students will complete all classwork from home via online resources, individual assignments, live-classes, or packets of information picked up by students/parents before the start of classes.
In lieu of public education, an increased number of New York families have been opted for homeschooling and private tutors this fall. According to Newsday, fears surrounding safety, dissatisfaction with distance learning, and concerns of gaps in education are fueling demand for homeschool resources to provide parents with more control over their child’s education and health.
Reviewing the learning models with your child can help them to understand what safety responsibilities are expected of them, even when learning from home. Determine the times of the school day your child is most at risk for exposure and practice the daily safety measures required of them by the school and your community frequently. For guidance on how to practice, Safe Kids Worldwide as several kid-friendly resources that can help.
How To Keep Kids Safe
As health and safety advocates, our team at Siler & Ingber wishes everyone a safe and happy start to the new school year. It takes everyone to help reduce the chance of a secondary outbreak of COVID-19 on Long Island, including children of all ages. Help your child understand their power in reducing this unpredictable virus’s spread by reviewing the best safety practices for prevention below:
- Personal Screenings: Parents should encourage their children to frequently discuss their health and help them identify when they do not feel well enough to attend school. Start with reviewing how to identify the signs of COVID-19 as defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) to ensure your family is aware of the symptoms if they arise.
- Masks: All students who attend in-person classes must wear masks and face coverings in school that completely cover the nose and mouth while inside of the building. Talk to your child about the importance of wearing a mask to keep others safe. Ensure they can take their mask on and off independently and create a plan for switching out masks if one becomes dirty or wet.
- Social Distancing: Practice social distancing with your children at home to prepare them for the new norm at school and on the bus. Being in a familiar environment with friends can cause children to revert to their typical methods of engaging with peers. Here are some tips for practicing at home.
- Transportation: If your child is riding the bus to school, review the importance of following the new and old safety rules of being a passenger. Encourage children to wear seatbelts (if available), keep face masks on, sit down when the bus is moving, and reduce distractions for the driver.
- Hand Washing: Schools are mandated to practice frequent hand washing before and after activities. Parents can review with their children how to properly wash their hands at home to promote the continuation of good health habits in the classroom.
- Hand Sanitizer: Hand sanitizers will be provided in classrooms to reduce the spread of the virus when hand washing is unavailable. Young children who are not mature enough to dispense hand sanitizer should not be given these items to bring to school as they can be dangerous when ingested or used in excess.
- Social-Emotional Needs: Communicate often with your children about how they are feeling about school. All learning models will be a tremendous change for students entering the 2020-2021 school year. Parents who are concerned with their child’s social-emotional well-being should contact teachers and staff for suggestions on addressing your child’s needs. For more information on positive mental health practices on Long Island, check with Nassau County and Suffolk County Departments of Health to find services near you.
Have a safe and healthy start to the new school year, Long Island!
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