If there was ever a moment for the myriad school districts on Long Island to cooperate, this is it. The Covid-19 pandemic in New York State has been held down thanks to rigorous social distance rules. Sending hundreds of thousands of children back into close proximity on a daily basis threatens to upend that progress. By working together across district lines, schools can help reduce the risk of a renewed outbreak.
The most likely scenario for returning to classes in September is a hybrid of in-person, distance, and staggered learning. For that to work, the different schools must work together now. The quality of online teaching depends on many factors, and not every educator is cut out for it. Combined talent and electronic resources will be essential, even classroom space. This includes private institutions like the Ross School in East Hampton, for example, which has opened its college counseling expertise to the general public. Retired teachers, too, might want to volunteer as mentors or step into a virtual classroom.
Suffolk County has 69 distinct school districts, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. For small districts, a team effort would provide students with access to educators with specific expertise. Districts with large enrollments, for example, could offer online learning by ability level, so that struggling students might get the attention they need. Learning specialists — more than ever needed now — could be shared. Flexibility will be essential.
Many parents will seek a stay-home option, while others will want their children back at their desks. Both of these paths must be open. The stay-home group might have a vulnerable relative living with them, for whom the risk of a child’s bringing the virus back at the end of a school day is too great. For others, sending children to school might mean they are able to work. These are personal choices, and schools must be adaptable enough to allow them.
Working together does not mean the end of cherished autonomy for school districts. It means sharing the best of what each has to offer to serve all children — and their families.