Major Happenings at January Board Meeting

The Jan. 12 school board meeting was a particularly eventful one, involving major discussions and the announcement of a virtual learning option for students who test positive or are quarantined due to COVID-19. There was a large turnout, and the LHS cafeteria was filled with strong, varying opinions from parents, students, teachers, and administrators in the district. A full recording of the meeting is available for viewing in the “BOE” section of the district website. 

The conversation surrounding remote learning began with a speech from seniors Emma and Sophie Ward, who are student leaders within the school community and members of the Student Government Association (SGA), Key Club, and SCOPE (Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education) club. In their speech, they requested that teachers livestream their class for students who are required to be at home due to confirmed infection with or exposure to COVID-19. They were backed by the signatures of 231 LHS students who agreed with their cause.

Sophie began by expressing that many students were fearful about contracting or being exposed to the virus because it would mean missing five days of instruction, leading to them avoiding getting tested. She then shared personal anecdotes from senior Kyla Nembach and sophomore Bianca Dublin, who both expressed how stressful it was to catch up on schoolwork after being quarantined without having virtual learning. 

Emma then presented another point: many students who are quarantined may have very minor symptoms, be entirely asymptomatic, or have been merely exposed to the virus and not have it themselves. Thus, they are stuck at home, although they feel physically well. After mentioning that both the Hewlett-Woodmere and Rockville Centre school districts provide some form of virtual learning, Emma asked “…Why is the education of Lynbrook students not being prioritized?” 

Superintendent Melissa Burak then made a major announcement: beginning the following day, all teachers in the secondary level who have students in quarantine would be required to livestream their class to those students. “Let’s put our words and our actions, and let’s match them,” Burak said. 

Later in the evening, Burak announced that in March, all high school students will take an anonymous NYS Youth Development Survey in their English classes. The survey will measure the habits of teenagers, particularly regarding the issue of drug abuse. “The instances of students taking substances has increased dramatically,” Burak explained. 

Burak also alerted the crowd to a warning issued by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder about a disturbing increase in drugs laced with lethal doses of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid. On March 8, Ryder, an LHS alumnus, will come to LHS and speak to students about drug use. 

The floor was then opened to public discussion. First at the microphone was senior Chloe Moskowitz, who was advocating about the importance of keeping the mask requirement in schools. “How can a school tasked with educating our youth send a message that we don’t care about the health of our friends and our neighbors, people in the community, and our grandparents?” Moskowitz asked the crowd. She also shared that she has observed that most students in the high school have been complying with the mask mandate.

Lynbrook resident Adrianna Alberton came up to speak out against the mask requirements and COVID-19 testing. “We now have hundreds of studies showing that masks are not effective in reducing transmission or infection,” she claimed. “Long-term mask use poses a serious danger for ‘mask-induced exhaustion syndrome’…they affect children’s development, interaction, and mental health,” she continued. 

Alberton claimed that requiring masks is “unconstitutional” because wearing a mask is a “medical decision that should be left to the individual.” BOE President William Belmont reminded her that the school board does not currently have the power to remove the mask mandate. 

After several more residents came to share their varying opinions on the masking requirements, English teacher and President of the Teachers Association Craig Kirchenberg came to speak about the livestreaming issue. He expressed that the Lynbrook Teachers Association (LTA) desired other methods of supporting virtual students instead of live streaming, but those requests had allegedly not been responded to by the district. The proposals included offering virtual extra help sessions or tutoring to quarantined students.

“Flipping a switch on a camera so they’re a fly on the wall, honestly, it’s a lazy and ineffective method for trying to give the kids an opportunity to learn something,” Kirchenberg said. “We believe that interacting with students is good, educationally sound practice.”

Trustee Ellen Marcus said that the district did respond to the LTA’s proposals. “You just didn’t like the district’s response,” she added. She also stressed that “…nobody wants to make anybody look poorly.”

Burak responded to Kirchenburg by stressing the importance of making quarantined students feel a sense of belonging instead of “icing them out” and provided more information about the discussions between the BOE and the LTA. Burak explained that teachers were offered $42 per period last summer to hold an audio livestream, which is the same rate they earn for covering an in-person class. According to Burak, the LTA responded with, “No money in the world will make us turn our cameras on,” which caused the conversation to cease for a period of time. 

The Teachers Association countered in the fall with a request of being paid $60 per half hour of one-on-one virtual teaching to quarantined students during prep periods. Burak said that this request is “logistically unmanageable” because then every teacher would choose to tutor virtually during their prep periods for $60 instead of covering a class for $42. During this difficult time, coverage for classes is very much needed. 

“I know you to be an honest person. Please don’t mislead the people,” Burak said to Kirchenberg.