Long Island families hold rally protesting for in-person learning

LINDENHURST, Long Island (WABC) -- Some parents and students on Long Island believe their school districts are not trying hard enough to offer five full days of in-person instruction this fall.

Parents and students in Lindenhurst held a rally on Friday, calling upon the school district to offer a full instructional in-person schedule.

"If they've been making everything else work - doing restaurants inside, unnecessary things like that, and this is very necessary and more necessary than restaurants, I'm sure that we can do this and we can make things work," said rising Lindenhurst High School senior Patrick Mathews.

In Lindenhurst, middle and high school students are scheduled to attend in-person classes only one day per week.

Elementary school students will attend school three days one week, and two days the next in a rotating fashion.

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Charlie Pace said his son, who's in kindergarten, will have to attend daycare the days of remote learning because he and his wife have to work.

"He's just going to be exposed to another set of germs and then the very next day go back to the classroom. To me that makes absolutely no sense," Pace said. "Parents aren't going to quit their jobs."

When Eyewitness News asked the Lindenhurst school district why it was not able to offer five full-days of in-person classes, the district issued a statement through its public relations firm, Syntax Communications, saying "When asked about the parents' preferences for the 2020-2021 school year, 35.8% of parents responded that a hybrid model should be in place, and 16.5% felt that instruction should be exclusively remote. Thus, over 50% of respondents were uncomfortable with a full return to school as we know it."

In Smithtown, the school district did not offer parents the option of five days of in-person instruction - only remote or hybrid.

Parent Stacy Murphy has organized several rallies with parents demanding more answers from school district officials about why they are not able to offer in-person instruction.

"They can't keep our kids away from their teacher, away from their education when they have empty schools, resources," she said.

In both school districts, parents point to school buildings which aren't being used as avenues for offering in-person instruction.

In Lindenhurst, school district officials said opening two school buildings would cost $20.5 million dollars.

School district officials in Smithtown said reopening Branch Brook Elementary School and Nesconset Elementary School would still not provide enough room for students.

The school district said furthermore, "The District would have to hire approximately 170 teachers as well as the administrative, PPS, and other support staff necessary to ensure adequate supervision of the students and daily operation of the buildings. The currently vacant buildings would also require multiple infrastructure, technology, and security upgrades that would be needed to meet state requirements prior to approval for use by the NYSED."

Parents in Smithtown, however, challenge the argument that the district can't afford to offer in-person instruction when taxpayers have been paying for two superintendents and the school district recently hired another administrator.

Parents also point to $10 million in the district's financial reserves which could be used for five days of in-person learning.

The school district told parents, "These funds could be utilized for any purpose however both restricted reserves and the Unassigned Fund Balance should be preserved and be available for emergency, unanticipated expenses and/or revenue shortfalls including state aid reductions. Citing the economic difficulties created by the pandemic, the state has signaled the strong possibility of a 20% reduction in budgeted state aid."

Murphy said the pandemic is the definition of unanticipated expenses and money could be saved by not paying for so many administrative positions.

"To say we can't use that because state aid isn't going to come. Well, how about we use that money and we'll trim some fat here to account for that state aid?" she said.

A spokesperson for the Town of Smithtown said the town is hopeful it will be able to offer child-care for working parents.

Parents of students with special needs are also concerned with the lack of in-person teaching.

Heather Reado, who lives in the Lindenhurst School District, said her son has learning disabilities and according to his state-approved Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is a legally-binding document, he is supposed to be taught "within a school setting."

Reado said the school district is telling her because her son will be in a general kindergarten class, he needs to follow the schedule of the other kindergarten children.

"It states he needs a structured setting and it's not going to work if he has to be home-schooled or Zoom," she said.

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