Smithtown families are keeping their eyes on district administrators.
Two dozen parents and children gathered in front of the Smithtown administration building on Jericho Turnpike and New York Avenue for the fourth time in a month Aug. 27. The families were representing the Facebook group Smithtown Parents Watchdog Group: Holding our Board of Education and Administration Accountable! The group was formerly known as Open up Branch Brook and Nesconset El! which was initially started to persuade the Smithtown board of education to reopen up the closed elementary schools. The parents are in support of five days in person for K-12 and believe the opening up of the two elementary schools would allow for proper social distancing, even though the district has stated that it would not. Currently, Smithtown Central School District students will start the school year off following a hybrid model where they will spend two or three days a week in-school and the other days learning remotely.
The Facebook group’s founder, Stacy Murphy, said the group members feel there are other issues to keep their eyes on and decided to change the Facebook group name. The timing of the Aug. 27 rally was to coincide with the board’s Zoom meeting at the same time. Murphy said parents have been frustrated that the board members won’t agree to an in-person meeting even though gatherings of 50 people are allowed, and the attendees could socially distance in a room that can hold 2,000 people.
“They’re using what our country went through, and our state went through, to be their shield of defense to hide,” she said, adding she wonders how much longer they can hold solely virtual board meetings.
Murphy said she feels that with the increased number of parents getting involved more will vote in school board elections and run for the board themselves next year. The mother said another issue parents have is that students will be required to bring their Chromebooks back and forth from home to school.
“You’re telling me when my second- and fifth-grader are in class they’re going to have their face in a screen again, because 50% of the time isn’t enough?” she said. “I want them writing and looking at their teacher’s face and their classmates.”
Murphy and others are asking the district to have a benchmark date for considering when schools can go to a five-day plan.
Republican state Senate candidate Mario Mattera stopped by the rally. He said his family, especially his daughter, who is a senior and captain of the kickline team, is upset when they hear surrounding districts such as Three Village and Hauppauge have a five full-day in-person option. He said he believes students need interactions with teachers and friends, and with parents and school administrators working together, in-person can be accomplished safely. He added he worries that children will fall behind in their studies or suffer emotionally.
“Our educators are doing a great job, but it’s not the same unless you’re in that classroom,” he said.
As a parent, Mattera echoed Murphy’s sentiments that the hope is the board will closely evaluate the situation and offer full in-person classes sooner rather than later.
Parents rallied in front of the building once again Sept. 1 to protest the school’s updated mask policy. In an Aug. 31 letter to the district community, families were notified that masks would now be required all day, even when social distancing is capable. Signed by Russell Stewart, interim superintendent, and Mark Secaur, deputy superintendent, the letter stated that mask breaks would be provided and there would be partitions to every student desk.
“We will be monitoring our processes and reviewing feedback and data daily,” Stewart and Secaur wrote. “Additionally, we are convening an advisory committee to look back at regular intervals and make recommendations for transitioning to a full return to school for all students.”