Port Washington school board defers to state on masking decisions

Port Washington school board defers to state on masking decisions
The Port Washington Board of Education deferred to state guidelines with respect to mask mandates. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)


The Port Washington Board of Education will defer to state guidelines on enforcing mask mandates in the district, despite the executive order signed by County Executive Bruce Blakeman last week.

“We are bound to follow the mandates by the state,” board President Emily Beys said at a meeting on Tuesday night.

Blakeman’s executive order said school districts have the right to decide whether to follow masking guidelines, but the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association said he has no legal authority over the issue.

Beys said that Superintendent Michael Hyne’s decision to allow students to stay home and livestream from January 4 to 11 resulted in the meeting so the board could hear from staff, teachers and the community.

Christopher Shields, an assistant superintendent, discussed the district protocol committee meeting last week, saying, “Since Nassau County has such high infection rates, visitors are no longer allowed in school during the day.”

All field trips, concerts, sports and after school activities will continue. The district protocols document, updated on Sunday, emphasizes the importance of mask wearing and proper social distancing. Shields also said that the committee would further discuss the guidance about cutting  the quarantine period to five days from 10.

“Effective immediately nobody’s going to be kept home any longer than necessary,” interjected board member Adam Smith.

Michael Hynes said, “We meet weekly and discuss guidance that we receive by the Department of Health and we adapt from there.”

Beys said, “These are temporary changes but the no mask breaks were from the state, so we have to wait for the state to change that mandate.”

Phil Cafre, a parent, said, “School mask mandates are harming our children and have no public health benefit.” He said Blakemen’s executive order has given control back to the parents and to the school board to fight these “senseless restrictions.” He added, “Everyday the mandate stands is a day of normal childhood stolen.”

Silvia Ostrovsky, a speech pathologist for the district, said  livestreaming is not beneficial for her or her students. “Livestreaming has radically impaired the necessary organic nature of speech language therapy. In a livestreaming environment there is virtually zero connection, no comprehension or retention in this regard,” she said to the board, calling it “a completely ineffective teaching method.”

Another  teacher, Andrew Vinella, concurred, saying  “livestreaming is not a substitute for in-person learning.” He said teachers are unable to build relationships and connections with students via livestream.

“Livestreams have constant interruptions and troubleshooting issues, such as no sound, no wifi, or camera glitches,” said first-grade teacher Gail Martin.

After hearing multiple public comments the board unanimously agreed that in-person learning is the best and most efficient way to educate students.

Hynes said, “Teachers are the lifeblood of every district, especially in Port Washington.” His recommendation is for teachers and administrators to get together and brainstorm ideas to figure out how to solve the livestreaming problem.

Vice President Julie Epstein said she is “very much in support” of Hynes and the teachers to facilitate a new plan.

Trustee Rachel Gilliar commented that livestreaming has been the district’s “second-best option” so far and said she is open to different options but only if they are “as good or better.”

Beys agreed and said, “We should listen to the recommendations of the experts.”

As of now the  district will not be going remote. Further discussion will take place at the next board meeting.

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