By Tyler Mroczek
Nassau County schools made an official return to in-person learning in September, despite many pandemic-related complications brought by classroom technology issues, which were made apparent in a remote Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) meeting late that month.
“Two years ago, I talked about [the pandemic] being a war, and it’s nonstop,” said BOCES Superintendent Dr. Robert Dillon, who suffered technical difficulties and was unable to turn his camera on for the Zoom conference. “We’ve been placed in a position as a municipality [to follow mandates], and there are serious repercussions if people do not comply.”
BOCES, which is headed by board President Susan Bergtraum, provides financial and academic resources to multiple school districts across Nassau County.
Both Dillon and Bergtraum emphasized the importance of medical and technical compliance with state mandates by BOCES educators and administrators to ensure a safe, seamless school year.
During the meeting, Dillon expressed optimism about the upcoming school year, saying he and the entire BOCES community “want the best for our kids and our staff.” The superintendent also assured viewers that he is “very pleased with how things have been handled so far.”
Bergtraum introduced BOCES Telecommunications Associate Director Pamela Christensen to provide information about available virtual programs for students and staff.
“The [technology] requests that were made — I’ll even use the word ‘demands’ — that were made by staff as a result of the pandemic are overwhelming,” Christensen said. Teachers’ “primary inquiries revolved around being coached and guided about which devices might be available. Their concerns were about what will be available for their classrooms.”
Christensen said it was vital to provide accessible technological and communicative support services to school districts that may experience difficulties while simultaneously teaching in-person and online students during the semester. “Districts have a tendency to sometimes keep these things under wraps. We want them to know that we are here and we are aware. We must try to proactively help them,” she said.
Chris Reinertsen, the Nassau BOCES curriculum, instruction and technology associate director, who works with school districts on technology integration in classrooms, compared the concurrent health and academic setbacks to those experienced during Superstorm Sandy, which disorganized school programs on Long Island for weeks in the fall of 2012.
“In the context of an event like the current pandemic, [Sandy] was a blip,” Reinertsen said. “Everything that we’ve done since then, we learned very well from Sandy.”
Reinertsen indicated the need for inexpensive, easy-to-use video conferencing software for teachers as preparation for both the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the possibility of another environmental disaster temporarily closing schools.
“Right now the licensing we pay to Microsoft for Teams is heavily discounted,” Reinertsen said. “As an administrative platform, we have selected [Microsoft] Teams as the thing we are moving forward on. It allows us to use much more useful and complex tools for our students. Google does not offer the same options.”
When asked by BOCES board member Lawrence Greenstein about the use of Zoom in schools, Reinertsen said, “Zoom is primarily only used for the board among other operations.”
Though the 2021–22 school year is proving to be challenging already, Reinertsen and Christensen encouraged educators and parents to contact BOCES with concerns and questions about academic protocols.