The Port Washington School District’s Board of Education held a meeting on Aug. 10 to announce their plans for reopening schools for the 2021-22 school year.
The meeting began with a public comment portion, in which many parents passionately spoke both in favor and in opposition to having their children wear masks during the school day. Some parents urged the district to enforce mask wearing, citing guidelines released from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and speaking about the overall health of their children and the efficacy of mask wearing. Others disagreed and stated that children are having trouble learning in schools with the masks on and that they are not at high risk of transmitting the virus.
After listening to the community comments, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Hynes stated that the New York State Department of Health provided little to no guidance about the reopening of schools so the district was left with no option but to conduct research and render a decision on their own.
“The New York State Department of Health has failed in my opinion,” Dr. Hynes said. “They did say they would provide information for schools at the end of last year, but needless to say I am proud of our school district, not only for last year but for what we have been doing this summer.”
Dr. Hynes then announced the district’s plans for the upcoming school year for all students, faculty and staff.
“Masks will be required indoors for all students and staff,” Dr. Hynes said. “We are following the CDC and AAP guidance that prioritizes in-person instruction and the district will not follow a fully remote virtual learning platform. We want our kids in school. It’s incredibly important that we have them physically in school. Social distancing of three-feet is a priority while students and staff are inside the schools and CDC guidance on quarantining will be followed. We will be using the daily health screeners, and this will be required for all students, staff and visitors. All transportation will return to normal schedules. We want to make this year as normal as possible. I do believe we can and I know we will. Masks will be required for everyone riding the school bus. We will continue to follow the CDC guidance on cleaning and disinfecting our schools. All athletics and school activities will resume in the fall and yes—we want visitors in our schools once again.”
Dr. Hynes further stated that the district will be reevaluating these measures, including the mask mandates again in November, and that this is “not something that is set in stone for the entire school year.”
“It’s incredibly important that we reevaluate what we are doing and then we come back to the board with recommendations to see how we proceed forward,” Dr. Hynes said. “The things that we have learned we can certainly apply now moving forward.
One of them is to continue to pivot when we have to and then readdress and reevaluate and to make sure that the school community knows why we are doing what we are doing.”
Dr. Hynes spoke with The Port Washington News regarding the district’s decision to enforce mask wearing, stating that several factors contributed to the decision.
“Going back to last year when we reopened, we had a district-wide reopening committee,” Dr. Hynes said. “When we looked at and reviewed the CDC guidance and took into account what the state education department was leaning towards—also the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations—that made it a lot easier for us. If you look at the metrics on Long Island and in Nassau County and you see that there’s an up-tick in cases—the decision wasn’t an easy one but we felt very comfortable moving in that direction.”
In the event that the district has to shut down, Dr. Hynes stated that the district will implement the remote learning plan they had used last year.
“I don’t foresee that happening,” Dr. Hynes said. “But of course, in case that does happen, that’s why we do have our [reopening] committee. They would come together and then make recommendations about what we need to do. But I think if you look at all the mitigating factors in terms of what we are doing in our schools, last year there was very little, if any, indication that when a student or staff member happened to have COVID that it was because it happened in school—it’s what’s happening outside of school.”
The superintendent stated that the district will be working closely with the Nassau County Department of Health regarding quarantine measures should a student or staff member test positive.
“They will give us direction as far as what would need to happen with quarantining,” Dr. Hynes said. “One thing we are not looking to do is to have a whole class stay home and quarantine if possible.” Dr. Hynes further stated that the district will only be offering livestreaming in the event that a student must quarantine.
The district also hopes to offer voluntary weekly COVID testing for the students, faculty and staff at as many of the school as possible for the school year.
“Hopefully the more we test the more information we will have and then we can hopefully keep more of our kids in school by doing so,” Dr. Hynes said.
On the topic of mandating vaccines for teachers and staff, Dr. Hynes stated that the district will not be mandating that faculty receive the COVID-19 vaccine and stated “that mandate should come from either the governor’s office or the Department of Health.”
The Board of Education will hold their next meeting on Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Livestream of the meetings are available on the district’s Youtube page @portwashingtonUFSD.