Long Island school officials are increasingly taking measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as canceling events, sanitizing buildings, and transitioning to online classes.
The moves came after New York State officials said that a school must shut down for at least 24 hours if a student or staff member is diagnosed with the virus. Within those 24 hours, schools are to be thoroughly cleaned and state officials will assess the situation. But in some cases, schools are being closed as a precaution even if there hasn’t been a coronavirus case in the school — the goal being reducing opportunities for the virus to spread.
“We need to look at this in two priorities: The first is safety and the second is education,” said Rockville Centre School Superintendent William H. Johnson. “There is a possibility that we may end up closing for two weeks or more, and we are working with our teachers, principals, and administrators to put together plans that enable us to provide electronic connections with our families in the community.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced Wednesday that all SUNY schools would transition to internet-based classes for the rest of the semester. Several private Long Island colleges and universities were already doing the same before that mandate came down.
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School officials are preparing for the possible needs for online classes by gathering electronic devices, such as iPads and Google ChromeBooks, and researching means of providing wireless hotspots in certain neighborhoods for students who may not have access to the internet. In addition, officials are providing time for teachers to plan lessons with school administrations that can be sent home to students.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this. As some of you may or may not know, you can go on YouTube or you can access things like the Khan Academy,” explained Johnson. “Teachers who are trying to develop lessons on their own are encouraged to visit the websites, find things that would be compatible with what they are learning in the classroom, and utilize what they find effectively to provide some continuity of learning.”
Many local schools and colleges are cancelling classes and campus events as a precaution, while others are directly effected.
“As you can imagine, events are a fabric of our institution,” said Jermaine F. Williams, president of Nassau Community College, which canceled classes and events after someone with ties to NCC tested positive for coronavirus. “However to continue to ensure the health and safety of our NCC community this step needed to happen.”
When it comes to closing schools as a form of social distancing students from infection, particularly within grade school, local health officials warn that there are multiple factors to consider.
“The good news is there are no documented cases of pediatric deaths from coronavirus anywhere, [but] one of the challenges with closing schools is now the kids aren’t at school…Are parents going to be able to stay just home with their kid[s], or will there be play dates and trips to the movies and the mall?” said Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence E. Einsentein. “At that point, the exposure is beyond the school district. The worst thing that could happen is we keep kids home from school, and they go spend the day at grandma’s house and potentially bring the virus to them. Social distancing has to be done with guidance and done correctly for it to be effective.”