Parents rally against school district's reversal from in-person to hybrid learning

PORT WASHINGTON, Long Island (WABC) -- Parents in the Port Washington School District rallied on Monday afternoon to reject a decision by the school district reversing its back-to-school plan for elementary students from five days of in-school instruction to only two days.

"The community is not accepting this hybrid model. We're rejecting it," said parent Jessica Rosenberg.

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Students in grades 6-12 were always operating in a hybrid model.

Last Thursday, school district Superintendent Michael Hynes informed parents of elementary school students via a virtual town hall meeting of the change. He said staff, teachers and some parents made him aware of safety concerns.

"The concerns that were brought to my attention I believe warranted for us to pivot and make a hybrid plan that really focuses on what's best for kids," he said. "This decision did not come easily."

In a letter to parents following the town hall meeting, Hynes wrote, "Over the past week, members of the Port Washington Teachers Association communicated to both the Board of Education and Central Administration that even with the safeguards put in place to bring children, teachers, and building staff back safely to our elementary schools, they still did not feel safe in a five-day in-school model. The continued reluctance to accept a five-day in-school plan for elementary students by the PWTA and safety concerns expressed by some elementary parents/guardians, made it clear that to ensure a smooth reopening for all elementary students we had to make the change to a hybrid model."

In a letter to the school community, Regina McLean, the President of the Port Washington Teachers Association, said "After progress had been made toward developing a Hybrid Plan and a Remote Plan for Pre-K-12, the District decided to pivot to a full return to school for all elementary students without any input from teachers, nurses, paraprofessional, parents, etc. The District committed to the idea of 'all in' before it was vetted and without evaluating the complexities of this idea."

Parent Justin Renna organized the rally on Monday because he said he has not been getting answers from Hynes and those with the teachers' union.

"I've emailed them 13 times since Thursday. I've gotten not one response. I've emailed the teachers' union - not one response," he said.

Renna questioned why school district officials did not arrange to use vacant St. Peter of Alcantara School less than a mile away.

"If we were smart and took time and figured out how to hire the teachers, how to rent the facility, we could have moved some of our elementary school kids to that school," he said.

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Rosenberg questioned why neighboring school districts, like Manhasset, Great Neck and Roslyn, are offering five days of in-school instruction for their elementary school students.

"Port Washington failed us," she said.

Parent Adam Block said he and his wife are now hustling to find childcare for his three children and, beyond that, someone who can help his children with remote learning three days per week.

"It was incredibly hard in the spring for us to balance working full-time and that was from home and teaching our kids and now it is only that much more hard when we all have to go back into the office much more frequently," he said.

Hynes told parents the district's elementary instructional advisory committee will continue to meet to find ways to offer a five-day in-school plan by October 5.

Eyewitness News requested interviews with both Hynes and McLean, but our phone calls and emails were not returned.

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