‘Return To Learn’ Gets Detoured In Carle Place

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In normal times, the high school would mount a spring musical. However, the pandemic has changed how the arts and music education and programs will be conducted when students are allowed back in school. (File photo)

District delays in-person classes due to COVID-19 cases

At least four Carle Place School District students tested positive for COVID-19, leading to a delay in the start of in-person classes.

The district’s “Return to Learn” plan for the 2020-21 school year called for all 1,345 students to be in the district’s three buildings on Sept. 9, the opening day, along with 445 staff.

But the plan also warned that “the situation remains fluid, [and] staff and families should be prepared to close at any time.”

In a letter to residents dated Sept. 7, Superintendent Christine Finn wrote, “We regret to inform you that we have made the extremely difficult decision to delay in-person instruction for all buildings until further notice. This decision was made in conjunction with the Department of Health, who will help us determine when students can safely return to in-person instruction.”

Instead, on Sept. 9, all students will be taught lessons remotely as they begin their school year.

On Sept. 4, Finn had informed district residents that “four students in the community have tested positive for COVID-19. Please be advised that these students have not been inside our school buildings, nor will they be permitted to enter our schools on Sept. 9. We are working with involved families to ensure that anyone who was in proximate contact with these students will also stay home. The individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who have been in close or proximate contact with them, will not be allowed to return to the school until they are symptom free for at least 14 days, or until a negative test result is provided to the district.”

Finn noted in the Sept. 4 message that the district was still planning on in-person opening, since the affected students had not been inside the buildings.

However, the situation changed and in her Sept. 7 missive, Finn announced the delay and stated that “many of the positive COVID-19 cases appear to be related to attendance at end-of-summer parties. Since our last communication with you, we have learned that some of those testing positive have had close or proximate contact with other students throughout our district. As such, we have no choice but to put the safety of our staff and students first. As we are learning the hard way, the actions of a few can impact the many. Please, be sure to practice social distancing protocols: refrain from large indoor gatherings, stay six feet apart, and wear a mask.”

Early in August, Governor Andrew Cuomo authorized schools to reopen for in-person learning. However, if infection rates reach 9 percent or more over a seven-day period, the governor will shut down the schools. As of Sept. 5, according to the governor, the state’s COVID-19 infection rate had been less than 1 percent for 29 consecutive days.

Carle Place, in its reopening plan, announced that it was ready to institute remote learning, or a mix of distance and in-person as necessary.

The district, in a plan narrative, “believes that all day ‘traditional’ in-person school is imperative for both the instructional and social/emotional needs of our students.”

In her Sept. 7 letter, Finn wrote, “While we are deeply disappointed that we will not be opening in person, our many, many hours of preparation have us ready to begin instructing our students remotely immediately beginning Sept. 9.”

Finn told Anton Media Group earlier this summer that the board of education had authorized the purchase of iPads (kindergarten through second grade) and Chromebooks (third through 12th grades) for every pupil.

“That is one of the silver linings of [the shutdown], and it’s fabulous,” Finn commented. “Regardless of whether we’re in class or remote, they’ll have that tool. That was one of my five-year plan goals.”

The other silver lining, according to Finn, was that “all our teachers are now experts in Google Classroom and Zoom and other things that they had never been required to know before. They learned how to do [remote learning] well.”

According to the plan, “The virtual learning platform has been significantly advanced and will provide an improved experience for students, staff and families.”

But, she concluded, “It does not take the place of the classroom.”

Finn said many parents answered the call and joined staff to craft a reopening plan.

A survey drew 1,487 responses from parents and 77.9 percent replied that they would send their kids to school if safety protocols were put into place. Further, 81.9 percent would be willing to drive their children to school if bus transportation was limited or unavailable.

Like her counterparts, Superintendent Christine Finn has had to face unprecedented situations. (File photo)

Mental health support and other therapies will be made available as the district recognized that “Our students have suffered losses: loved ones, economic instability, routine, friendships, and ‘normalcy’ in non-school setting.”

Parents may choose to not have their kids attend classes, for health or other reasons. These pupils, according to the plan, “will receive virtual live instruction from certified teachers on a daily basis. These teachers will work with the students’ teachers of record to provide a comparable virtual instruction experience.”

Safety procedures will be followed, with temperatures being taken, and masking, social distancing and hand-washing required. Disinfection and cleaning protocols will be put in place.

Desks will be outfitted with plastic shields on top for further protection.

If anyone tests positive for COVID-19, “the district will follow additional deep cleaning protocols, and may choose to close areas of the school, a particular building, or the entire district, depending on each unique situation.”

Younger students will be served lunch in class. Those in the middle/high school “will use the cafeterias and additional seating areas to ensure social distancing.”

Further, according to the plan, “The student schedule will allow for breaks and recess opportunities” and will create “opportunities for students to go outside during the school day, including during instructional time for any and all subjects.”

If weather permits, all phys ed classes will be conducted outdoors.

In her Sept. 7 letter Finn wrote:

As your superintendent, I have five goals this year:

Keep everyone as safe as I can

Keep everyone as calm as I can

Keep everyone feeling cared for

Keep everyone smiling (even if we are learning remotely)

Keep everyone learning.

In that order, especially in times like these.

We will bounce back from this set back, and look forward to seeing smiling faces on our new devices on Wednesday [Sept. 9]. Be well, and be safe.

Visit http://www.cps.k12.ny.us/covid-19/covid-19 to get the latest information.

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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