Three months down. Seven to go!

In the last three months I have seen teachers accomplishing miracles daily. The hurdles and obstacles confronting us each day remain immense, but many teachers have adapted to these conditions in a way that makes me proud to be a teacher and a union leader. I know too that parents are tremendously appreciative. During parent conferences I was told repeatedly how glad parents were to have their children back in school with a semblance of normalcy in their daily schedules and a chance to interact with their peers in person.

This is the time of year to emphasize gratitude. I’m grateful for many things: a healthy family, fantastic friends and colleagues, a secure job with a regular paycheck, health insurance, a well-funded pension and a chance to work at what I love to do. Many members of society are not as fortunate, and we need to remember those in need this holiday season. Thank you to everyone who donated to the Thanksgiving Food Drive. 

Much has happened over the last few months, so it seems a good time to update members on what we’ve been working on. The list is long!

Contract Ratification

At their most recent meeting the Board of Education voted unanimously to ratify the memorandum of agreement between the District and the STA. Teachers should expect to receive a 0.5% salary increase retroactive to July 1st, and all provisions of the agreement are now in effect.   Please be aware that at this time the nurse’s unit has not reached a successor agreement. Our next scheduled negotiating session is on December 2nd. We know our teacher members support our nurses in their desire for a fair contract.

Parent Conferences

The issue of middle and elementary parent teacher conferences was a recent subject of discussion between the district and the STA. This came about after the district elected to change the two half-day middle school conferences to a single all-day conference. The change was problematic for middle school teachers, but we were able to work productively with the district to find a compromise that improved the situation. The conversation continued regarding elementary conferences, which at the time had not been put on the calendar or announced. Although we would have preferred to delay conferences until later in the year, we were able to work with the district on how the time for conferences would be divided between spring and fall. We also agreed on a strategy for a creative way to find time for spring conferences that won't add more to the immense responsibility elementary classroom teachers are already shouldering.

SOCE (Special Education)

Much work was done last year by the district to make it easier for members holding special education certifications to apply for the necessary extension required by the State. Recently it came to our attention that members’ applications were being rejected because of missing information from the district. Once again, we were able to work cooperatively to find the problem and fix it. The matter has now been resolved.


As morning temperatures dipped into the 30’s last week, and with windows opened wide for ventilation, I found myself teaching in a heavy coat and hat. Some teachers wore gloves. Two of my students who sit near the windows brought fleece blankets to class. I know teachers are frustrated that three months have passed without the planned infrastructure improvements being completed. I share your frustration. The good news is that a solution is on the horizon. Here is a little background.

According to the District’s architectural firm, H2M, while elementary schools have more modern mechanical ventilation systems, many of the rooms in the secondary schools do not. Although rooftop units exhaust air out of these buildings, there is no dedicated path for fresh air to enter other than through “leaks” in the building’s envelope. This limits the rate of fresh air exchange. Opening windows solves that problem, but with freezing temperatures now upon us, time is running out. Anyone who watched the Board of Education meeting on October 8th heard a presentation by H2M engineer Alexander Hochhausl on the options available to remedy this situation and a subsequent debate by the Board on the costs and benefits of taking action. There is now a revised plan in place that I have been assured will unfold quickly (windows in many rooms in our secondary schools should remain open until it does). Rather than describe the plan to you in detail, I have asked Dr. Rogers to communicate directly with the staff to explain the reason for the delay and what we can expect going forward.

Positive Cases, Contact Tracing and Quarantine

You are no doubt aware that cases have risen dramatically in Nassau County over the last few weeks. In a short amount of time we have gone from a long stretch where the positivity numbers were around 1% to a situation where they are now over 3%. In Dr. Rogers’ Family Conversation (November 18th) he shared data on COVID metrics for Nassau County and the Syosset Woodbury community. The presentation also included detailed information about New York State’s new microcluster strategy as well as the contract tracing process after a positive case. I urge members to watch the presentation. Among other things you will learn that Syosset High School will soon become a COVID-19 Rapid Test Satellite location to prepare for the possibility that we will soon meet the criteria for a Yellow Zone designation.

Despite the uptick in cases, it is the consensus among experts that schools are not the place where the virus is spreading. Support for this position can be found in several publications including the Washington Post and the Atlantic Magazine. There is solid evidence of this within the district as well; in no instance does it appear that a positive case has resulted in a close contact contracting the virus.

Since early September 150 individuals in the Syosset learning community have been placed into quarantine for close contact exposure. Some of our members have registered surprise that more members of the school community haven’t had to quarantine given what they perceive as imperfect compliance with district safety protocols. Whatever imperfections exist, either in tracing efforts or compliance, it appears that those imperfections have not led to the spread of the virus in our schools.

Keeping Schools Open

Despite rising positivity rates and the rapid approach of the holidays, it is quite clear that government officials as well as most parents and students feel strongly that school should remain open as long as possible. So do many teachers. On Friday (11/20/20) an article in Newsday entitled On LI, a Chorus of Calls to Keep Schools Open started with this lead:

Long Island school officials and county leaders said Thursday that they will do everything they can to keep schools open, even as the counties’ infection rate exceeds the 3% seven-day threshold that has shuttered schools in New York City.

Teachers are rightfully nervous about the increasing number of cases in the County and in our schools. It’s hard not to notice how quickly email announcements of new positive cases have been coming.

Additionally, many teachers believe that, given the likelihood of increased virus transmission associated with holiday celebrations and returning college students, it would be prudent for the district to go “all remote” following Thanksgiving. Nassau BOCES announced plans last week to go fully remote between November 30th and December 6th. Districts like Hempstead and Westbury are doing something similar. But many other districts have no such plans. Dr. Rogers and I have discussed the issue and it is clear that he has a strong preference for keeping schools open for in-person instruction for as many days as possible, absent any order to do otherwise by the Governor or the Department of Health. 

Deep Cleaning

From the beginning of the pandemic members of the custodial staff have done incredible work and deserve our utmost gratitude, support, and respect. The head of the Teacher Interest Committee (TIC) as well as the head STA building representative are ideally communicating regularly with the head custodian to discuss concerns and share information. If issues arise, the TIC should work with the building principal and the head custodian to find a solution.

With regards to deep cleaning after a positive case, state guidance calls for sanitizing and cleaning the room. Both should be done. The STA has encouraged the district to consider hiring more staff, if necessary, to compensate for the greater workload associated with following the state guidance.  


It is also worth noting that many experts have concluded that the importance of sanitizing surfaces may have been overemphasized early in the pandemic. As recently as Wednesday, the following article appeared in the New York Times: The Coronavirus Is Airborne Indoors. Why Are We Still Scrubbing Surfaces?, with the subtitle “Scientists who initially warned about contaminated surfaces now say that the virus spreads primarily through inhaled droplets, and that there is little to no evidence that deep cleaning mitigates the threat indoors.” You can find a similar conclusion here: Low risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by fomites in real-life conditions

Quarantine After Travel

Experts and government officials have made it clear that traveling or hosting large gatherings this Thanksgiving will increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.  Both the CDC and the Governor have strongly discouraged doing so. At the same time many people have relatives in other states whom they have not seen in many months. The District issued guidance on travel via email on 11/17/20. If you want more information, please visit

Quarantining Elementary Students

As the number of elementary students having to quarantine has spiked, and in anticipation of further increases after Thanksgiving, the district has been working on a plan to accommodate those quarantining elementary students so they neither lose ground academically nor lose their connection to their classmates. A draft of the plan was shared with me last week. I had some minor suggestions but overall the plan appears to strike the right balance between keeping quarantining students from losing ground and imposing a live streaming requirement on teachers that would necessitate significant changes in pedagogy to juggle the in-person students and the virtual, quarantining students. We are hoping that our suggestions make the plan even stronger and provide teachers with maximum flexibility when it comes to how best to help their quarantining students.

I’d like to end with wishing each of you a fantastic Thanksgiving in whatever way you choose to celebrate it. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have five days off!

In solidarity,


Related Content