Viewpoint: How to Keep Our Schools Open
Pictured Above: Aquebogue Elementary School has been hosting monthly “hybrid” assemblies to recognize students’ accomplishments. | Riverhead Central School District photo
by Gary Bixhorn and Ronald Masera
Since schools opened in September, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) has analyzed data from approximately 900 positive COVID-19 cases reported by local school officials.
Based on their analysis, they have found that our school reopening plans are working, as they have not seen evidence of school-based transmission. The increase in cases we are now seeing across the region, the anticipated second wave of COVID, results from community spread.
The SCDHS has indicated that students are safer in school than outside of school. Their findings confirm that it is more important than ever to keep our schools open, which also allows us to keep our economy viable and our workforce productive by enabling our essential workers to remain available. Furthermore, it helps limit community spread and, most importantly, allows our children to learn and interact in a safe school setting.
There are a few steps all Long Islanders can take to assure that our schools remain open and safe. These include taking the precautions that health officials have been promoting for months: wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene and adhere to social distancing guidelines. These basic steps that we’ve heard so much about are the underpinning of our schools’ success in responding to the pandemic. The Suffolk County School Superintendents Association has been diligently cooperating with the SCDHS since February to coordinate schools’ Covid-19 response.
Second, it is essential that community members cooperate with school and county health department efforts to increase testing, and when necessary, participate in contact tracing. Increased testing is essential in order to respond to anticipated community spread. The state has embraced a micro-cluster approach to addressing outbreaks.
Accordingly, increased testing will be required to keep schools open in certain hot zones. Schools will be asking community members to cooperate in these efforts to assure that testing sample sizes are large enough to accurately determine the concentration of cases and to meet state requirements for remaining open.
Third, all Long Islanders should be advocating for a federal stimulus package that includes support for state and local governments. On average, Long Island school districts have spent nearly $1.7 million responding to the pandemic.
This includes everything from keeping the schools disinfected, to PPE, to laptops and Chromebooks for remote learning, to increased classroom staffing and transportation costs due to social distancing requirements. Schools are incurring these costs while the state is threatening to reduce aid due to revenue shortfalls. The schools and local property taxpayers cannot afford such a loss. Long Islanders must join their school districts in advocating for more federal support.
Finally, individuals have to start making better decisions in order to halt community spread. We must adhere to state attendance limits at essential family functions, forgo or delay nonessential family and social functions, and cancel nonessential travel. Why jeopardize the education of our children and the health of family and friends by failing to take these common-sense steps?
So that’s it, an action plan for all Long Islanders. Four simple steps we can all take to help move beyond this pandemic and limit the impact it has on our next generation.
Gary Bixhorn is Executive Director and Ronald Masera is President of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association