Our Mission

To deliver the best education possible while ensuring members are able to meet the need their personal needs and the needs of their families.

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This is gonna be a long one, with lofty 'halftime' speeches interspersed, so I'll just dive right in. Though we have discussed much more than what's below, and I could probably spend an hour on each bullet, I've tried to summarize where we stand on the things members reach out the most about. If you want more, as always, feel free to dive into my minutes from our out committee meetings. This weeks' have been posted in the shared folder as usual.

General Points

  • We're all looking for answers to all our questions quickly. Though many people have been working around the clock, there's still much to be answered. Reopening frameworks were due today, and those have been most critical. Our schools are slated to open in more than 5 weeks, and we will certainly be working through the remainder of the summer to answer everything we need to answer, so please be patient. Even within the frameworks themselves, there are many details to work out.
  • On a personal note, it takes me about 14 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep up with the work being done right now. Hundred hour work-weeks are not a great way to spend the summer  (especially with young kids at home)! I spend a few hours each day responding to personal emails and calls about things that really affect all members and usually end up in the next weekly briefing (like this one). Please remember we have 1,200 members, and that I can't possibly answer every question as a 'one-off' email. So please try to differentiate between things that should be done through a personal email and things that it's reasonable to expect will be communicated to the entire staff.
  • There are about 120 districts on Long Island. Each will do things slightly differently, especially given how little 'guidance' our state Guidance documents provided. None will be perfect. Communities will need to come together and be flexible to get through this unprecedented challenge. How well things go depends largely on how people approach them.

Instruction

We've tried to be clear and consistent about our core principles since March. Among these are

  • the belief that students learn best when they're with us in school;
  • the critical importance of ensuring the safety of students and staff;
  • the commitment to providing our kids the best education we can; and
  • the determination to provide our members what they need to deliver it.

Our work has aimed to keep these principles in mind at all times. We want to see and connect with our kids, and for school to feel like the thing we know and love- the thing we decided to devote a large part of our lives to. We approach the coming school year with the genuine desire not just to make it to the end, which was what spring felt like at times, but with an understanding that "this is what 'school' is," and the conviction that we're awesome at it.

And truth be told, I think without listing it among our core principles (we can't think of everything, even when we're thinking of it) we aimed not to drastically reimagine school, despite what some elected leaders may have thought this was the time for. There are some wild plans out there, and I fully respect the creativity that's been used to approach solving the problems we all face. Depending on who you are, maybe you would like to have tried a plan that looks like the one your kids will experience. For many of us, we like school the way it was - that thing we understand and are awesome at.

2020-21 will still be both different and difficult, though, and we've worked hard to find ways to help you meet the challenges. We've aimed to preserve flexibility, to reduce workload where possible, and where it wasn't, to help recover some of the time it takes to do that work. All of this was just to get to a framework (three, technically) we could call a starting point. There are weeks of work ahead. Members have been overwhelmingly thankful, patient and gracious. Your spirit is the most immeasurable asset we have in doing this work, so I want to thank you for all the outreach and support over the last few weeks.
Elementary Updates - 
Up until a few days ago, we've all been working off this notion that we're starting hybrid in the fall. We, like many, rightfully have focused most discussions and energy on developing that model. It's the hardest to build, and the one we thought we'd need most imminently. Then guidance came out literally two weeks ago. And a few days later, the first plans emerged. Some early districts found ways to bring all elementary kids in every day. Since then, parents across the Island have increasingly urged districts to do everything they can to do the same. Whether or not we can pull this off depends on how many families opt for a 'full remote learning' plan (yes, this is now a thing). If enough students are remote to help reduce class size and create remote sections, and if we can solve our transportation problems, HHH will try to do the same. We're not there yet, but a normal school day with no remote instruction and small class sizes - even if group work looks different, and kids wear masks, and rugs are gone - would be as close to regular school as one could hope to get. If we don't get there, we'll start with the hybrid model outlined in the emails put out by the District today. To meet the challenges of balancing different cohorts of students in a hybrid model, we've added additional prep time to every day by capturing time in the morning otherwise used for traditional extra help and adding more prep time in during the day.
Middle School Updates - 
Sticking with the premises outlined above, our middle school day will look mostly like it would in a normal year, with the obvious exception of classrooms having only a dozen students, all of whom are wearing masks. The difference will be in delivering instruction to students who are at home. We've ensured that there is no mandate for teachers to stream their lessons, but many may choose to do that. For those who don't teachers have the option of pre-recording content and posting activities as they did in the spring. Recognizing that this takes time, we've done a few things. We've removed formal extra help hours. (Teachers will still be expected to watch email and respond to questions from kids who are at home during the day.) We're eliminating as many duties as possible. And we've shortened periods to reinsert a '9th' non-instructional period back into the day. Details of how that period will work are still to be determined. We are confident this will help teachers find the time they need.
High School Updates -
As with other levels, high school days will look mostly like they would in a normal year. Again, class sizes will be roughly half of what we're used to, with another half of our students at home during any given period. As with other levels, there is no requirement for streaming to students who aren't physically in school, and again, teachers who elect not to stream will have options for pre-recording content to share with their classes. Because there are already 9 periods at the high schools, there was really no room to shorten classes and introduce an additional prep, so we had to get creative. A number of classes will be designated as 'onsite only.' For these classes, students may still be assigned work on remote days, but there will be no expectations for streaming, pre-recording videos, etc. The Course Offerings book is being reviewed to make these determinations, but as a rule of thumb, courses for which we control the curriculum are more likely to see this adjustment. Courses that lead to Regents, are governed by the College Board, etc., or whose curriculum is otherwise dictated by an outside entity, won't apply. With many teachers teaching at least one of these courses, we're confident this will help mitigate some planning needs. In addition, many teachers will have their duties removed in the coming school year, and again, there will be no formal extra help hours required (*see MS description). Finally, we're working with the District to provide teachers who have significant planning / remote instruction responsibilities additional 'prep days' or curriculum writing compensation each quarter to help them get their work done.
For all levels... this is a monumental task. We think the frameworks you see here are a great starting point, but we're certain many of you have questions. Give us some time to keep working through the details. 🙂
 

Now, since many of you have questions about non-instructional stuff, here are some updates on other items. Again, there's much more, but I'm trying to 'focus' on the things people ask about most...

Facilities

Ventilation -
  • Appropriate and regular air flow are important. This includes proper use of existing HVAC and, when possible, keeping doors and windows open.
  • For non-modified occupied spaces, unobstructed and properly maintained existing systems are designed to appropriately handle air flow needs.
  • Univents will basically be running at all times, and staff should avoid turning them on or off or adjusting them in anyway. We'll be erring on the side of running systems more than necessary, as opposed to following schedules that might otherwise aim at efficiency.
  • All intakes and exhausts will have to remain clear.
  • The district has supplies and staff to repair the vast majority of issues that might take down a unit in a room within the day.
  • All systems will be cleaned regularly and fitted with appropriate MERV filters according to State guidance.
  • HEPA designations don't really apply to univents or rooftop HVAC systems.
  • We're aware that each building has interior rooms without windows and where proper ventilation may be a concern. We'll be conducting walk throughs of each building in the coming weeks. Part of those will include identifying areas that may need to be left unoccupied in the fall.
  • The effectiveness of social distancing is predicated on the scientific belief that the COVID droplets fall within that 6 foot window we all talk about. Placing a box fan in front of someone who coughs, for example, can completely negate the safety that distance might otherwise provide by projecting droplets further.

Cleaning - 

  • Each classroom will be provided cleaning materials appropriate for use in schools. 
  • The District has budgeted and planned for the need for additional custodial staffing, and each building will designate staff to routinely disinfect high touch areas. 
  • Bathrooms will be cleaned and stocked regularly throughout the day. 
  • Hand dryers are discouraged by the CDC, so they will most likely be disabled in all bathrooms. 
  • Shared spaces will have logs posted for documenting cleaning history. 
  • Aside from high touch areas, buildings will be cleaned throughout the day and disinfected at the end of each day. 
  • It's important that surfaces in classrooms (student and teacher desks, etc.) be clear at the end of each day so that work can be done. 
  • Classrooms should be kept free from clutter, in general, and all soft / porous materials like rugs and cushions should be removed. 
  • State guidance forbids students from doing any cleaning themselves.

Student Movement - 

  • Efforts will be taken to reduce congestion and clustering of students. 
  • How pickup and drop offs are handled is yet to be determined, and may vary a little from one building to another. 
  • At the elementary level, specials will most likely occur as push-ins. 
  • At the secondary level, the plan is to avoid locker use at least in the beginning, and passing time will likely be extended to accommodate staggered release of students to travel from one class to another. 
  • Expect to see a lot of signage throughout our schools, and hallways and stairwells may be designated as one-way in some areas. 

PPE, Barriers and Social Distancing - 

  • The district will provide masks (I believe at least 2) for all students and staff. 
  • Employees whose positions require it will be provided additional PPE such as N95 masks and face shields as needed.
  • Students and staff will be expected to wear face coverings at all times and required to wear them when social distancing can't be maintained. It's expected that there may be need for safe 'mask breaks' during the day. 
  • State guidance requires 12 feet of social distancing for PE, chorus and music ensembles with woodwind instruments. 
  • Some districts are taking a "masks / barriers / social distancing (circle one)" approach. Every district will be different, and within each district, differences in facilities, staffing and scheduling may mean handling things differently from one space to another. Our goal is to err on the side of safety. 
  • Barriers may help address safety / distancing needs in some circumstances. As with any solution, they too present a number of concerns. For starters, it's important to know that plexiglass is not allowed in NY schools. I believe allowable barriers are some other form of polycarbonate. Our air quality consultants warn that barriers placed throughout classrooms can actually interfere with the natural air flow and make proper ventilation harder to achieve. If used in lieu of masks, barriers become the surface meant to catch virus droplets. This means additional surface area to be cleaned at the end of each day, and in a secondary setting where students may travel between periods, an even bigger obstacle to cleaning. 

We're not all going to agree on the best way to handle any of this. Instead of thinking there's a right way, work from two understandings: (1) the belief school leaders care about the people in our schools; and (2) that the purpose in doing everything we're working to do is to reduce risk, but we can never eliminate it fully.

 

Shared Resources -

We're aware, and have shared with the District, that teachers will need space to work safely when they're not teaching. Some of us are used to having classrooms that will end up repurposed. Some traditional teacher work spaces or department offices will be limited to half the people who usually work in them, etc. After we figure out where to safely fit students and classes, each building will be evaluated to find people the space they need to do their jobs. While doing this work, we're also mindful that we need to look closely at shared resources that may require additional cleaning, like copy machines, Lexmarks, etc.

Human Resources

  • Absences and Leaves - Our human resource committees have been working to create simple guidelines for different types of absences and leaves that may occur in the coming year. In addition to those provided for in our contract, there are COVID-related leaves provided for by state and federal legislation. The document we're preparing clearly answers questions like, "What if my kid's school closes and I have to miss a day?" Fortunately, the law is actually pretty clear on most of these questions.
  • Expectations for Isolation and Quarantining - Our committees have also been preparing simple guidelines and a visual aid that clearly identify expectations for isolation and self quarantining, etc. based on symptoms and contact with others. Aside from clearly specifying what to do to ensure the safety of others, when coupled with the guidelines on absences and leaves, it becomes clearer which kind of absences are covered by COVID relief bills.
  • High Risk Employees - As I mentioned in last week's Briefing, the District mailed home letters this week asking employees who are high risk to contact the personnel office with any leave or workplace accommodation requests. As I've also shared in prior emails, it's important for staff to plan on returning to work if schools open; that is the expectation. It's yet to be determined what workplace accommodations will be available, but it's important to ensure members' safety. If you suffer from a medical condition identified by the CDC as potentially putting you at higher risk, please be sure to respond to the District's letter by the August 7th date.
  • Childcare - Hopefully, as districts continue to find ways to bring in all of their elementary students, most members with young kids at home will find this concern resolved. In the meantime, I have been in conversations with the District and our local Reach to try and create an affordable childcare option for members in need. This is a huge lift, and may not be possible to achieve (for starters, we need a building!), but it is on our radar and something we're working on alongside all of the other standing committees. Since district plans are being published today, most members should have a better sense of whether or not their elementary kids will be in school full time, so if conversations continue to progress, I'll look to put a more formal survey out to members again soon. In the meantime, it's important that members who anticipate these needs continue to make their own plans for meeting them.

That's it for today. Trust me when I say there's a lot more, but this is already a lot to process. If you made it to the end, congratulations! I'm gonna go join my family for what's left of 'movie night.'