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‘We do not know what lies ahead’

Uncertain school years begin in Lynbrook, East Rockaway

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Editor's note: East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School had to close for three days due to a positive Covid-19 test after this was written.

In what was a very different return to school than past years amid the coronavirus pandemic, students and staff in Lynbrook and East Rockaway attended school in person on Sept. 8 for the first time in six months, wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another.

How the school year will play out is an open question, as health guidelines continue to change and fear of a second wave of the virus remains.

“We do not know what lies ahead, but we do realize our operations could change often, and those changes could be sudden,” Lynbrook Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said in a statement. “We need to continue our efforts to social distance and wear masks to protect each other and stay in school as long as possible. However, when we are forced to make a change, we will be flexible and do so and ask families to be just as flexible. Covid-19 has made us strong partners with a mission to keep everyone healthy and safe.”

In the Lynbrook School District, students returned with half days on Sept. 8 and 9 to acclimate to the many changes. The first full day was Sept. 10 as the district began new instructional models and methods. Elementary school students are either enrolled in gold (in-person) or green (remote) instruction for the first marking period, while at the secondary level, students are taking part in the blue (rotating between in-person and remote) or green (all-remote) options.

Since spring, a district task force of administrators has prepared for reopening, researching instructional options and hosting discussions to develop plans. Among the safety measures, students and staff must have their temperature taken before entering a school. Also, hand-washing stations, social-distancing markers, desk shields and signs have been added throughout the buildings, and desks have been spaced six feet apart.

“It was so wonderful to see our students back in the building,” Burak said. “You could tell by looking in their bright and gleaming eyes how happy they were to be with their friends and teachers.”

East Rockaway schools opened their doors on Sept. 8 in what Superintendent Lisa Ruiz described as a “smooth opening.”

“All of our students and staff members adapted extraordinarily well to our new mandated health and safety procedures,” she said in a statement. “We’d like to thank all of the parents for their understanding and support the last few months, as well as thank all of the teachers for doing an exceptional job managing both in-class and remote learning for our students, and our administrators for their outstanding leadership during this time.”

Over the past few months, the district engaged more than 100 stakeholders from the school and community to develop plans to reopen the schools. They laid out three options students in all grades, including full in-person, hybrid and remote-only models.

Families also completed a survey about returning to school. Students who chose the remote-only model take part in all classes via live-stream, following their regular class schedule. Classrooms in all schools were outfitted with cameras to allow for live-streaming. Remote students may switch to the hybrid model at the end of the first marking period. Should state officials close schools because of a Covid-19 spike, the district would be required to revert to a version of the remote-only model.

Teachers were trained on new instructional tools needed to support students, assess their academic progress and provide regular feedback. Social distancing, wearing of face coverings and face shields, use of polycarbonate dividers, daily health checks of students by parents, frequent hand washing and use of sanitizing stations are all required.

Staff members were also trained in providing trauma-informed care for students who are most significantly affected by the pandemic and a potential resulting school closure. At the elementary level, students now eat lunch in their classrooms, while secondary students eat in the cafeteria and in a classroom in the middle school wing.

“I look forward to sharing more positive news from our schools in the coming weeks,” Ruiz said.