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Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

Two local school districts have closed up shop two separate days this week over concerns staff had been in contact with people with coronavirus.

Parents on social media confirmed receiving a call the evening of Tuesday, March 10, that all schools would be closed Wednesday due to a district member having had “third-party” contact with somebody who was confirmed to have the virus. The district website said schools would return to normal Thursday, March 12.

Despite the closing, the planned senior trip to Disney World in Florida went along as scheduled. Students left on nonstop planes early Wednesday morning, according to district parents.

School district officials were out of office and did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time. 

Earlier in the week, Shoreham-Wading River school district closed all schools early Monday morning over coronavirus fears. The call went out to parents as some students were on buses on their way to class.

While SWR students were back in class by Tuesday, the event paints a picture of the decisions schools are having to make as all look to manage public places during the spread of COVID-19.

Residents in the Shoreham-Wading River school district reported receiving a robocall from Superintendent Gerard Poole in the early morning of Monday, March 9. Students that were on the bus by a little after 7 a.m. were being kept on the bus, then being turned around to be dropped off at home.

Poole said Tuesday the decision to close Monday was made shortly after they received information about one of their staff just before 7 a.m. Instead of reaching out to the New York State Department of Health and awaiting any of their recommendations, the superintendent said they made the call based on information they had at the time. According to district statements, a member of the high school security team might have been exposed to an individual with the coronavirus. The district said the DOH has said no individual in the district has tested positive for the new virus.

“School districts don’t have the luxury of waiting two or three hours for a conference committee call for officials to make those decisions,” he said. “We have to make those decisions immediately.”

The district received further guidelines from the DOH and Department of Education late on Monday, though the superintendent said there were still holes in those guidelines he wished they could fill, specifically any recommendations about students going on field trips. The district has already canceled two that were to happen this month. They will be rescheduled for later in the school year.

“They leave it as an initial 24-hour closure in consultation with state health officials and county health officials,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Glen Arcuri said the district is well stocked on cleaning supplies at least for the next two months. The district has also invested in doing additional cleanings of commonly touched surfaces throughout the day and additional cleanings at night.

In fact, every district now has on its website a link or notice about precautions districts have taken toward the coronavirus. Most speak about additional sanitary measures.

Events, at least in SWR, have calmed since that Monday morning, split-second decision making, though the threat remains real. SWR simply has become one of the first few test cases for the kinds of decisions districts all across Long Island may have to make in the future, especially as the coronavirus story develops.

SWR officials have said that any days the district is closed after that would impact the school calendar, including spring break, which runs April 6-14; superintendent’s conference day, April 28; and the Friday before Memorial Day, May 22. The lack of snow days this past winter has been a boon for the district, at least in this regard.

“Fortunately, this year we have had it very easy with the weather,” Poole said.

If the school were to close for any amount of time past a threshold of days that it could stay closed, then the district would have to consider moving all education online. 

The options include using Google Classroom and learning platforms such as i-Ready. The district encouraged parents to confirm the log-ins for i-Ready and ALEKS are functioning on home computers. Those log-ins can be found in the Parent briefcase in the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. 

Schools in Seattle have already made the decision to close schools and host all learning online. The New York Times has reported how the sudden shift has impacted schools in and around the city that has been an epicenter for the outbreak of COVID-19. Instead of crowding around desks in a classroom, teachers and students hover over individual screens, though educators found they were spending many more hours working to reach students.

Poole said they have been working on those plans for potentially going online in the case of school closure, though they were still working out details, including giving access to students who may not have that technology at home.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai parents will begin to see portions of the school district’s 2020-21 proposed budget figures in the next few months. At a Jan. 15 board of education meeting, district officials unveiled 12 percent of the budget, which included central administration, insurance, central printing, BOCES, transportation, technology and debt services among others. 

The tentative total budget figure for 2020-21 looks to be $61,009,700, a slight increase from last year’s number. 

Board of education/central administration costs would be increasing by $19,000 in the upcoming school year. 

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the chunk of that increase would go into costs for an additional budget vote and cover the translation of all documents/public notices into Spanish. That would cost the district $14,000. 

“It is a state mandate that hit us and other districts this year,” he said. “Any election/public notices has to be translated into Spanish. The state says we have to do this, but they are not giving us any money to do this.”

Another mandate that will be implemented is the addition of a data protection officer in response to a number of school districts experiencing hacks last year. 

Purchasing cost will increase by $2,050 in 2020-21 due to the district utilizing a co-op organization that assists in securing materials and supplies. 

“We have been using Educational Data Services — they do a lot — they work with vendors and we don’t have to do the bidding,” Brosdal said. “In the long run it will save us money.”

Technology will see an increase of over $65,000, in part due to the district getting rid of antiquated equipment as well as adding sets of laptops, replacement items like projector lamps, printer repairs, iPads and smart board parts. 

Tax Anticipation Notes for 2020-21 are estimated at 3 percent. Debt services would decrease by over $6,000. Central printing, insurance, BOCES administration will increase collectively by $22,000. 

The next budget meeting will be Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Topics discussed will be pupil personnel services, building principals, instructional and adult ed/driver’s ed.