Hempstead teachers fear school buildings not ready for classes; district says they are

HEMPSTEAD, Long Island (WABC) -- Teachers in Nassau County's hardest hit area of coronavirus cases held a rally on Monday to express their concerns about returning back to the classroom.

More than 100 teachers in the Hempstead School District rallied outside the school district building on Peninsula Boulevard.

"We want to teach. We're ready, but we want to be more prepared in the school," said Hempstead teacher Luz Arenas.

The teachers said they do not trust that school district officials have ensured a safe learning environment.

Students in the Hempstead School District are set to return to school next Tuesday on a hybrid learning schedule. Teachers at the rally said they want students to do remote learning only, at least for the time being.

"I feel like they need more time to make sure the ventilation is right, there's enough distance between students. We're just nervous. We just want the best for the students and the staff, that's all," said teacher Robert Graziosi.

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School district officials allowed Eyewitness News into Prospect Elementary School on Monday afternoon to show the safety protocols they have put in place. A classroom had desks and chairs spread out well beyond the six-foot minimum distance. School supplies were organized by cohort and for each individual student. The school's principal also showed Eyewitness News countless PPE supplies, including multiple face masks for each student and face shields for every teacher. The school also had a generous amount of cleaning supplies, including chemical sprays and disinfecting wipes.

"Our re-opening plan not only meets the standards as outlined by the State Department of Health and the State Education Department but was, and continues to be, informed by deep engagement with school community stakeholders including staff, parents and students," said District Interim Superintendent Regina Armstrong. "Majority of families want as much in-person instruction as is safely possible, and we will work to maximize it at every turn, consistent with health and safety requirements. We are very sorry that our teachers feel otherwise."

Nicole Brown, the head of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers' Association, said she has requested that the school district allow union members to conduct walk-throughs of the school buildings.

"We cannot take anyone's word for granted," Brown said. "We cannot conduct ourselves as business as usual when it comes to the lives of students and staff. We have to make sure that our buildings are ready."

Armstrong said she told Brown she would allow the union representative at each school to do a walk-through of the school building with the building custodian. Armstrong said no union member has booked an appointment at any of the schools.

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