Education

Law enforcement representatives from Suffolk County Police Department and local police departments discuss armed security personnel in schools at a Northport board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Northport-East Northport school district has been taking it slow and steady in considering hiring armed guards for its school buildings. The board of education is in the process of soliciting professional opinions from local police and security advisers to determine the path forward for its schools.

About 70 people filed into a public meeting hosted by the school board Oct. 11, which included members of the Suffolk County Police Department, Northport Police Department, Asharoken Police Department, the school district’s retained attorneys from Ingerman Smith LLP, the district’s insurance provider New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal and the district’s security adviser to answer the board and the community questions about the potential impact of hiring armed security guards.

“There is a lot of interest about this throughout the county,” said Suffolk County Police Department Inspector Michael Romagnoli, the commanding officer of the department. “All are debating this topic at similar levels.”

The board hosted a previous meeting March 1 where the community came out in droves to voice support for the district hiring armed guards, though when asked whether he would want armed guards Leonard Devlin, the district’s security consultant, said he would prefer not to.

It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools.’

— Leonard Devlin

“It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools,” Devlin said. “If we were to have armed security personnel, the officer would only respond if there was an active shooter, not if there was a physical confrontation with a student, teacher or of any nature.”

The district said it has upgraded multiple security measures since the start of the year. Devlin said the district hired 12 new unarmed guards, which now totals 30 guards who patrol campus grounds during the school day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The district also purchased six new security vehicles to complement an existing six, which should arrive in about a month.

Security vestibules are already installed or close to being installed for all schools except Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Ocean Avenue Elementary and Northport Middle School, which the security consultant said would be completed in the future as part of the district’s ongoing $40 million capital bond project. The district said it has installed 30 new cameras this year for a new total of 400 throughout the buildings, though these are monitored sparingly throughout the day and in the late-night hours, Devlin said.

One of the biggest questions raised surrounding the need for armed guards in schools is whether local police response time is fast enough to deal with an armed assailant. Romagnoli said their response time for local cars was four to five minutes, while Northport Police Chief William Ricca said their response time was three to four minutes. The inspector said that a school shooting comes in as a Priority 0, the highest priority, the same as if a call came in that an officer was shot. Romagnoli said since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado cops are trained to enter an active shooter situation immediately upon arriving at the scene.

“Our involvement in the schools has increased tremendously within the last five years, our number of school incidents in the 2nd Precinct has gone up 50 percent, and the officers have more familiarity with the schools just from their daily patrols,” SCPD Deputy Inspector Matthew McCormick said.

Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island.”

— David Stein

Board Vice President David Stein said he was concerned it was not possible for every member of every police department to be intimate with the district’s six separate school facilities.

“Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island,” Stein said.

Romagnoli said the 2nd Precinct has one school resource officer assigned to cover all school districts in the area, not accounting for the other police officers who sometimes take up SRO duties part time on top of their normal police work. The SRO is responsible for being a liaison from the district to the police and for safety and crime prevention in schools.

While some members of the board questioned if guards should be on the premises for longer than regular school hours, to protect kids in after-school activities and sports, but Devlin said it came down to money. He estimated armed guards working at approximately $15 an hour for an eight-hour day would cost the district $208,200, if one guard for each of the district’s nine school campuses were allotted. Though Devlin added if the district wants total coverage for the day, including an hour break for each guard, it would have to hire another three to cover them on their breaks, adding up to just under $400,000.

Police representatives admitted armed guards and police arriving on scene of an emergency could present other problems. There is potential for a “blue on blue” situation, where two armed responders potentially confront each other. Current school security recently changed their uniform to be a bright gold color, but there is no consistency in the uniform between armed presences in other schools. Romagnoli said because of these inconsistencies it’s important the district keep a clear line of communication to the police departments and for dispatch to know of the armed presence inside the school.

We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

— Michael Romagnoli

“Our protocol is the uniformed officer responding is in charge,” Romagnoli said. “We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

Those on the panel representing the district’s liability concerns said insurance would cover the district in most cases should an armed guard be present. John Peppard, the senior vice president of NYSIR, the school’s insurance handler, said the only time the school might have a problem is if the guards, as school employees, went rogue in some way.

Local resident Denise Schwartz said despite assurances from local police departments promising prioritized response, the comments made by the panel members did not instill much optimism, especially considering the presence of just one SCPD SRO and the little time the district monitors the security cameras.

“Several things they said made me feel even less safe,” Swartz said.

For Northport resident Tammie Topel, who said she’s still on the fence about hiring armed guards, the meeting did little to eliminate the catch 22 inherent in the decision.

“I think that it opens up whether you do, or you don’t, you’re either not indemnified, or there’s going to be a lawsuit, or there might be an accidental shooting,” Topel said. “There’s 400 cameras that are not being monitored at all times, so what’s the sense of wasting that money on cameras … they should be monitored if that’s what we’re going to be using them for.”

The district will be hosting another workshop Nov. 1 where it will discuss the emotional and psychological impact of having armed guards in schools. On Nov. 8, the board will discuss whether it will put the item on the agenda for vote at a subsequent meeting.

Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo

Most people only think about Lyme disease when taking a hike in a park, but for many doctors, the condition weighs heavily on their minds every day.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, director and principal investigator of Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program, is one of those doctors. He is currently working on two clinical studies examining the disease. One involves those who continue to present symptoms after being treated, and the other study involves Latinos on Long Island who work in the landscaping and agricultural fields.

In a recent phone interview, Luft said the clinical study involving Latinos is a straightforward one, where the aim is to help a population that has been underserved and understudied due to their work schedules. The other study is more involved.

After being bitten by a tick infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, many people with a bull’s eye rash or flulike symptoms may receive treatment and feel better; but there are those who will continue to suffer for a prolonged period, even years, with a variety of complaints like aches, pains and brain fogginess. Luft said at times there may be no clear signs of the disease in the body, but doctors may find evidence of it after thorough neuropsychological exams that can detect subtle abnormalities.

Dr. Benjamin Luft is one of the doctors at Stony Brook Medicine looking for answers when it comes to those who continue to suffer from Lyme disease after treatment. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

“This study is really geared toward diagnosing and to find ways to be able to monitor the disease,” Luft said, adding in the future his hope is to conduct studies testing new ways to treat Lyme disease.

The doctor said it’s essential to receive a diagnosis because if Lyme disease is left untreated, it can lead to joint swelling, arthritis, neuropathies, meningitis or cardiac problems.

When Stony Brook University recently began making a more significant investment in its imagining facilities, Luft said he saw a chance to find an answer for those with chronic symptoms.

“I thought this is the opportunity to see what is going on in the brain of these patients with using X-ray techniques and radiological techniques which may give us some insight,” he said.

He said with cutting-edge neuroimaging studies researchers can look for evidence of inflammation in the brain which may be a reaction to the infection.

“That would be an important thing to do because it may give us another target for therapy,” Luft said. “A lot of the therapy that we now use is really just geared toward the organism itself, but it’s not really geared toward the body’s reaction to the organism which may also have to be treated in order to alleviate some of these symptoms.”

The doctor has studied Lyme disease for more than 30 years. When he arrived at SBU from Stanford University Hospital, he was involved in work with AIDs and age-related diseases, but he said at the university’s clinic in the 1980s many people complained of Lyme disease problems and there were no effective therapies at the time. Many of the first therapies and treatments used today were developed at SBU, he said, but there have always been people who haven’t responded well to those treatments.

“So that’s been something that’s been bothering me for many years as to why that is,” Luft said.

He said he will present initial data, which is promising, from the clinical imagining study at a conference in Barcelona, Spain, later this month and hopes to get more patients for the clinical study. Those who are interested can call 631-601-5615. Subjects must meet stringent criteria including not having any other disease, having serological evidence of Lyme disease and a clear history that they had the rash.

In addition to Luft’s studies, Dr. Christy Beneri, assistant professor of pediatrics at SBU, and her team are working on a pilot study to look at newer diagnostic tools to establish a better way to diagnose early Lyme disease.

“We also will be doing work on understanding tick epidemiology in our area and working with the local health department to understand potential new tick-borne pathogens,” Beneri said.

Stony Brook Lyme Disease Laboratory has been performing Lyme disease testing on clinical specimens since 1984. Both inpatients and outpatients can have a Lyme ELISA screening test and Western blots confirmatory test at Stony Brook Medicine. Almost 10,000 screenings were done in 2017 at the hospital, which has been actively working with state senators for funding for Lyme disease outreach and research, according to Beneri.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai school district swore in a new board member Sept. 26 to replace three-year trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August.

AnneMarie Henninger, a physical therapist and Mount Sinai resident, was unanimously voted in by the six remaining board members several weeks after the seat became open.

The board decided to vote internally on a new board member soon after Riggio announced he was stepping away from his position. Board President Robert Sweeney said the entire board spent two nights for four hours each in September reviewing the 10 applications submitted by district residents.

“We were looking for people who were looking to build consensus, listen, participate and learn,” Sweeney said. “In our process one of the questions we asked was ‘how have you worked for the support of the community and volunteered for the community previously?’”

Henninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The board had three options in choosing a new member to fill the position vacated by Riggio. It could have either held a special election, leave the seat vacant until the scheduled trustee elections in May or request applications from interested community members and then vote on a new board member internally. Sweeney said the board did not want to miss out on having a seventh member and not have a swing vote, and that it did not think it was financially viable to hold a special election so soon after the last community board and budget vote in May.

Candidates for the position needed to be a qualified voter in the district, be a resident of the district for at least one year and could not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai looked for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate. Sweeney said Henninger fit all those qualities, and more.

“It was very interesting to listen to her perspective on how she has often been called into special education committee meetings,” Sweeney said. “We had 10 good community members come forward – all good people with varying degrees of participation in the community, but it was also her knowledge of the district, her participation in the district and its board meetings that made us choose her.”

Riggio was elected to trustee position during the May board elections, though he decided to officially step down Aug. 5 after receiving an offer for a new job in Florida. The job would take too much of his attention from his responsibilities that he didn’t wish to become a detriment to the work of the board, he said.

Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again in May 2019. Three at-large seats will be up for grabs at that time, and the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats.

Shoreham-Wading River's fitness center is closed while the board of education decides what to do next. Photo by Kyle Barr

Shoreham-Wading River High School students looking to make gains have been impeded with the loss of the school’s fitness center, and now the district is looking at its options for a new one.

The high school’s fitness center, which has been around since the late 1980s and is detached from the main building, was closed down in July this year because an assessment of the building by the school district’s internal engineer showed the flooring was not up to code for constant physical activity.

“The flooring in the fitness area needed structural support in order to meet that code requirements, and the amount came back for that being $200,000 to conduct those repairs,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Over the summer the board asked that we look with our architect to take a look at decision making process alternatives within the school district to make a fitness center or a fitness room.”

With the loss of the old fitness room, the district has moved exercise equipment to room 102, located in close proximity to the high school’s lower floor cafeteria, on the other side of the school from the locker rooms and gymnasium. Current amenities for the temporary facility include a TRX cable-based exercise machine, medicine balls, dumbbells, bench presses and some cardio equipment, according to Poole.

At the SWR Sept. 25 school board meeting members said the district was considering three options. One is to fix the flooring in the old fitness center, which might be the most expensive. Another is to combine rooms 102 and 101 next to the high school cafeteria to create a new 1,400 square foot fitness space. Lastly the district could section off a portion of the auxiliary gym and combine it with an existing storage space to create another 1,400 square foot fitness center.

Shoreham-Wading River’s fitness center is closed while the board of education decides what to do next. Photo by Kyle Barr

Poole said the district did not have an exact date when they will come to a decision.

“I do not have a deadline, but as always we want to come to a decision as soon as we can,” Poole said. “It’s good to take out time for a decision as long as we’re spending money.”

While replacing the floor would cost $200,000, other options currently seem to cost much less.

Ken Schupner, an architect for Patchogue-based Burton Behrendt Smith Architects, whose services are retained by the school, said it would cost approximately $75,000 to $100,000 to break through the high school’s auxiliary gym to make room for a 14,000 square foot fitness center. Because of the work already done to room 102, extending that space into room 101 should also cost less than patching the old facility’s floor, the architect said.

Board President Michael Lewis questioned whether students will be able to utilize the space if the fitness center is located on the other side of the building from the locker rooms.

“Getting it close to physical education [facilities] is maximizing utilization for the sports teams, and with having it on the lower floor next to the cafeteria are the students really going to travel all the way there to work out?” Lewis said.

Schupner said while the room is located far from the gym, it also has an exit to the outside of the building, making it easier for students to access after practice on the sports fields.

If the school were to opt to use the auxiliary gym, it could disrupt current physical education classes. Poole said five classes are currently scheduled in that room, which is also used extensively by the wrestling and cheerleading teams.

Schupner said renovations to the detached current fitness center are less applicable for state aid compared to facilities located inside the building.

Shoreham resident Robert Badalian regularly used the old fitness center in the hours when it was open to the public, and he and others didn’t want to be left out of the conversation.

“We don’t want to be excluded,” Badalian said. “It was a place for people to exercise and feel comfortable — not be intimidated like you could if you go to another gym.”

Badalian also said he hoped the district would focus more on modernizing the fitness center, saying that compared to high schools like Ward Melville, which have a more modern fitness center, SWR is lagging behind.

Carolyn Baier, another Shoreham resident who was a regular at the fitness center, said having it open to the rest of the community helped get people more involved and in tune with their local school. Baier was on the SWR school board in the 1980s, back when the decision came down to create the fitness center.

“The young people who used it were so nice, they would pick up my weights for me when I hurt my hand,” Baier said. “This was a community thing.”

Port Jeff schools' 2018 Wall of Fame honorees Heather West-Serignese, third from left; Elizabeth Schwartz accepting on behalf of her mother Honor Gracey Kopcienski, fourth from right; and David Okst, second from right, pose with high school principal Christine Austen, left, and the students who introduced them after the Oct. 5 ceremony. Photo by Alex Petroski

Some of Port Jeff’s best and brightest had their day in the sun as part of the school district’s homecoming weekend.

Port Jefferson School District welcomed three new honorees to its Wall of Fame during an Oct. 5 ceremony in the high school library. The 2018 inductees are Heather West-Serignese, a 1999 graduate who became a chef and was the winning contestant on the cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen,” in addition to her work establishing a support group for mothers suffering from postpartum depression; David Okst, a 1985 graduate who excelled in high school and at Penn State University as a student and track & field athlete and has since volunteered his time to coach several high school athletic teams; and Honor Gracey Kopcienski, a Port Jefferson High School graduate who died in September 2016 at 84 years old, and was the organist at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in the village for more than 50 years, known for her compassion, kindness and dedication to serving the community.

The Wall of Fame was created in 1996 with the goal of honoring former students and faculty members for achievements in their chosen field who were part of the school community for at least two years and have been out of the district for at least five. Honorees must be nominated by another member of the school community.

“They all possess a passion for community service and they have all dedicated their lives to helping others, and I think that is a very important point for our graduates and our students that are sitting here,” high school principal Christine Austen said during the ceremony.

Heather West-Serignese

West-Serignese described herself as someone who overcame many challenges growing up, including learning disabilities and battles with depression. She studied at The Culinary Institute of America after graduation and earned an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College. She excelled professionally in the kitchen, winning Season 2 of Gordon Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2007 and later becoming the head chef at a casino in Las Vegas.

Heather West-Serignese. Photo by Alex Petroski

In 2016, she and her husband John had their first child, Jackson, which led to a period suffering from postpartum depression. In June 2017, the couple lost their second child when she was 22 weeks pregnant.

West-Serignese and her friend Emily Ciancarelli, who also suffered from postpartum depression, started East End Play Dates in 2017, a group meant to help moms deal with the condition by getting out of the house and arranging play dates with others sharing the same experience. The organization achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and has helped more than 8,000 moms since its inception.

“It’s kind of awesome because I had severe problems in high school with learning, and a lot of teachers were very supportive, but at the same time there were kids that you knew weren’t going to succeed and I was probably below that line,” she said. “I was told even in college that I wouldn’t amount to much and I got bullied a lot in high school, and I got bullied a lot in college, and then to kind of come back as one of the successful people, it’s kind of like a ‘told you so.’”

She said she struggled through her school years and embraces that she can be held up as an example for people achieving success even when it seems unattainable early in life.

“When I was in high school I was put at risk for almost committing suicide because things were difficult — things were really hard,” she said. “I’ve been there, I’ve been at that low point where I thought that I wasn’t going to accomplish anything, and I thought that anybody would care, but now looking back, I’m looking back at all the things I would’ve missed out on. Nothing was perfect. It was really, really hard — but if you want something it’s completely possible.”

David Okst

David Okst. Photo by Alex Petroski

During high school, Okst was a member of the National Honor Society and a stand out performer on the track. He continued both of those trends while at Penn State University, and upon graduating, returned to the community where he joined the Port Jefferson Fire Department, a role he has filled for more than 20 years. He currently volunteers his time as a coach for boys varsity cross country, winter track and spring track.

Five years ago, Okst made a substantial contribution to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, which went toward expanding the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

The runner turned firefighter and coach called the induction an incredible honor.

“I think sometimes when we come to school to work or teach or coach we don’t realize sort of the impact we have on kids,” he said. “Every day the things we say and do, even the mood we’re in, you know the kids see all that. I just love being around the kids, seeing them every day, seeing the crazy things they say, the ridiculous things they do, it’s really a lot of fun for me, and I would never trade that for anything.”

Honor Gracey Kopcienski

Kopcienski was awarded with the recognition posthumously, as her daughter Elizabeth Schwartz, pictured below, attended to accept the honor on her behalf. She and her husband Johnny, who also went by Alfred and was also a graduate from the high school, were community members through and through, having married in 1952 and producing eight children and 24 grandchildren.

Her more than five decades at Infant Jesus made her a pillar in the community, contributing her musical talents to hundreds of weddings, funerals and Masses. She was also generous with her gifts, teaching music and accompanying countless children and local performers. She played for the Manhasset Glee Club, Port Jefferson Choral Society, Southold Town Choral Society, Choral Society of Moriches, SUNY Stony Brook, and master classes given by the opera singer Eleanor Steber in her Belle Terre home, according to Schwartz.

Elizabeth Schwartz. Photo by Alex Petroski

Kopcienski was also generous beyond her musical talents, actively supporting the Port Jefferson Rotary Club in charitable efforts, as well as donating a piano to Infant Jesus Parish Center and contributing funds for another at her old high school. She was also a regular contributor and supporter of Hope House Ministries.

“My mother Honor and her husband Al were the kind of people that never said ‘No’ to a need in the community,” Schwartz told the students attending the ceremony. “And when you walk by someone who’s homeless and think, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ or you see somebody who is struggling with mental illness and you say, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ or when you hear about famine in other countries and you say, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ those somebodies were my mother and my father, and I hope today, that being on the Wall of Fame, you’ll walk by that every day and think, ‘I want to be that somebody.’”

She summed up what the day honoring her mother was like.

“Being here is a validation of the importance of people every day giving back to community, and that’s how I feel coming back here,” she said. “This is the way we want to be — this is who we want to be as a society, and I’m hoping that a little bit of that will be left with Honor’s picture behind.”

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Mount Sinai School District is asking the community to pay higher taxes in exchange for upgrades to its buildings.

The district unveiled a capital projects proposal that will require passage of a bond by the community at a board meeting Sept. 26. The list of projects contains a number of renovations and upgrades officials hope will keep MS schools in line with other local districts and prepare its facilities for future generations.

“We’re not looking to do this all for tomorrow – we’re looking for providing for our kids 10 to 15 years from now,” board of education President Robert Sweeney said.

The planned total for the bond currently sits at $24,695,663, which would raise taxes by $235 for a household in the Mount Sinai community with an assessed value of $3,700, or $362 for an assessed value of $5,700, for example. This tax increase will be in addition to whatever tax value will be released for the 2019-20 budget.

Items to be included in the more than $24 million in projects are a large swathe of renovations and repair work to all three of the school buildings on campus, as well as the athletic fields and grounds. The bond proposal seeks to replace the public address and master time clock system across all three buildings. In addition, it asks for money to replace several exterior doors, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems across all school buildings on the campus.

In line with the district’s push for stronger building security, the bond details a number of security upgrades, including new surveillance cameras and intercom systems, exterior door automatic locking systems and film-lined glass windows to make it more difficult to see in.

The high school is receiving a substantial share of attention, with funds in the bond to finish replacement of the roof, which has long suffered from leaks. It also calls for the construction of new music practice rooms along with renovations to the art room, ceramics room, fashion/tech room, locker rooms and science labs.

In terms of outdoor facilities, the bond proposes two new field surfaces, one a multipurpose turf field at the high school and another a natural surface girls softball field.

The board will hold a special meeting Oct. 10 to discuss the merits of certain projects on the list. Sweeney said he wanted to be careful to only go out to bond for projects the district wouldn’t normally be able to complete with excess fund balance.

“If I can pay for it, why should I put it on credit?” he said.

The board also detailed a number of potential projects not included on the main list to be discussed prior to approving a final menu, like replacing stage lighting at Mount Sinai Elementary School and reconfiguring the library in the middle school. The high school could see the auditorium seating replaced along with additions to the orchestra room and the main office. The biggest extra projects included the construction of a new 6,500-square-foot maintenance storage garage and the creation of two new synthetic turf fields, one for softball and another for baseball.

The total for the additional projects is about $26 million. If the district were to include everything from additional projects and the bond as currently proposed, the total would equal $50,483,500, which would add $480 or $740 per year in additional taxes for homes assessed at $3,700 or $5,700, respectively.

Board Vice President Lynn Jordan said that several months ago the original list of projects provided to the board equaled close to $68 million, and she thought the 20 Mount Sinai residents and school employees on a bond committee formed during the summer did a good job in focusing down on what was most critical.

“They put their hearts and souls into this, and I’m very impressed with how they all handled deliberations,” Jordan said.

Mount Sinai resident Brad Arrington said he hoped the school would be conscientious not to make extensive changes just to keep up with other local school districts.

“It can be easy to feel envious of what other districts have, but we need to focus on what we can afford,” Arrington said. “We need to take a balanced approach, with some of our focus dedicated to sports, some to the arts.”

In May district residents approved a $5 million capital project referendum. The funds have already gone toward finishing refurbishing the school’s football field, and replacing perimeter fencing and fixing a portion of the high school roof is also underway.

Residents are encouraged to attend or send in comments to the board before the Oct. 10 meeting.

Once the board votes to approve the bond, there will be a mandated 45-day period before the bond can be brought to a community vote. The board will determine when a vote will be held after its Oct. 27 board meeting.

Library director open to hosting it again, though no plans currently in place to do so

Drag Queen Story Hour takes place at Port Jefferson Free Library Sept. 22. Photo by Amanda Schleisner

A Port Jefferson Free Library event aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity achieved its goal for some but also inspired the opposite reaction from others.

The library hosted an event entitled Drag Queen Story Hour Sept. 22, during which a drag queen trained by children’s librarians reads picture books, sings songs, and leads children ages three to eight in craft activities. The event took place at the PJFL and about 100 people attended, according to library Director Tom Donlon. The organization, Drag Queen Story Hour, has chapters across the United States and conducts the events in an effort to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real,” according to its website.

I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

— Kyleen Burke

The library promoted the event on its online calendar as “a program that raises awareness of gender diversity, promotes self-acceptance, and builds empathy through an enjoyable literary experience.” During the event in Port Jeff Sept. 22, several protestors stood outside the library holding signs and verbalizing their opposition to exposing children to the message promoted by the event.

Donlon said the board of trustees got the idea from a patron of the library who said they had heard of the events taking place elsewhere.

“We liked it because the program was just about diversity,” he said. Donlon added the goal was not to get into gender or sexuality. He said in the lead up to the event he received many calls both in favor and against, though the program filled up completely in just five days.

“We kind of knew that people were going to be upset,” he said. “I was a little dismayed people saw it as an indoctrination.”

Donlon added he was disappointed people who elected to protest or oppose the event “co-opted” it to promote their own agenda. The social media buzz leading up to the event and the subsequent protests likely led to what Donlon and board President John Grossman each characterized as an unusually large turnout for its monthly public board meeting at the library Sept. 24, during which several community members spoke in favor of and against the program.

“I don’t know a lot about living in this community as an adult,” said Kyleen Burke, a 2008 graduate of Port Jeff schools who said she has just recently moved back to the community as an adult. “I was thrilled to learn about this program because going to school in Port Jeff schools, it was a really small district, and I watched kids who diverted from the norm in any way get bullied and not feel represented here unfortunately, even though this is, in large part a really loving, really beautiful place to grow up. So embracing this opportunity totally blew my mind of what this community could be, and represents just a tremendous opportunity to continue to embrace every single kid, and to make this a welcoming space despite what the norms might be. So thank you for wading into this water and for standing up for unpopular people. I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

Others stressed their concerns about the event didn’t come from a place of hate or discrimination.

“I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

— Ruben Cruzate

Ruben Cruzate, who said he participated in the protests, said his picture and contact information had been circulated on social media, leading to harassment and attacks, he said.

“The reason I’m here is because I’ve never experienced such hate and intolerance,” he said, attributing his experience following the protests to members of the LGBTQ+ community. “I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

Children’s librarian Margaret Smith said during the meeting the event was a “joyful” occasion featuring sing-alongs and stories about inclusion.

“Thank you for your courage and for sticking with this program that was proposed, investigated and was planned,” she said.

Smith and Donlon each said the library plans to hold “story hour” events with people from other walks of life on a monthly basis going forward. While no date has been set, Donlon said the library is open to hosting Drag Queen Story Hour again if the community is interested.

This post was updated Sept. 25 to remove mention of Ruben Cruzate as a resident of Port Jeff. This post was updated Sept. 26 to remove a quote from Theresa Bendel at her request.

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Most school district administrators and staff, like students and teachers, are able to take the summer to recharge and unwind. In Port Jefferson School District, Fred Koelbel, director of facilities and transportation, gets no such respite.

The overseer of all things buildings and grounds in the district was at the Sept. 17 board of education meeting to fill the board and the public in on the work done during the summer months and beyond. Some projects were completed using capital reserves while others were handled “in-house” by district employees, though virtually all were completed prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“We had the opportunity to see a lot of these improvements firsthand, and I certainly would commend the staff that worked on them, it was impressive,” board President Kathleen Brennan said.

Koelbel spoke about some of the bigger projects accomplished by his team of workers.

“The biggest project we undertook, and it actually started before the summer, was the complete renovation of the electrical distribution system in the high school,” Koelbel said.

Beginning during spring break, Hauppauge-based All Service Electric Inc. re-fed power lines through underground trenches. Previously, power lines from outdoor polls into the school were fed along overhead lines, susceptible to the elements and to trees. The job was completed during the summer.

“This did two things for us — now if our power goes out, part of the grid went out and we’re much higher priority to get restored,” Koelbel said. “Before when it was, a tree knocked down a line on our property, it was just our property was out, and the neighborhood might still be on and we might not be as high of a priority. But now we also have more reliable service because it’s underground, so it’s not affected by the trees.”

He said the task wasn’t easy for the vendor and commended the job.

“It snowed on them, it rained, the trenches filled up with water, their boots were getting stuck in the mud and the clay, but they persevered and got lines in,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with the work they did.”

The new underground feeds will soon also house the school’s cable and phone lines, eliminating the need for any cables fed to the school overhead.

Many of the projects were simpler to complete, though not necessarily less time consuming. The high school track was torn up and resurfaced. The second phase of a multiyear roof replacement project continued. Sidewalks in front of the high school were replaced, as were crumbling bricks in the façade of the exterior of the building. The section of the high school driveway nearest to the main entrance on Barnum Avenue was repaved.

One of the more visually noticeable upgrades took place in the high school gymnasium. Koelbel said a new sound system and video board were installed, and the walls were repainted purple and white.

“It really has a flavor of ‘welcome to our house,’” he said of the refurbished gym.

In the elementary school, the floors of two classrooms were removed and replaced, as were the carpeted floors in a couple of hallways.

“It’s like a huge Petri dish, it’s not a good choice,” he said of carpeting in elementary school hallways, which was replaced with tile flooring.

Several doors to classrooms in the elementary school were replaced as part of another multiyear implementation, as many were beginning to show their age, according to Koelbel. Door locks in both school buildings were upgraded as well.

Blinds on the windows of classrooms in both buildings were replaced with rolling shades. Additional security cameras were added across district buildings, as were fire extinguishers for every classroom, and several fire alarms were also upgraded at the high school.

District Superintendent Paul Casciano and Assistant Superintendent Sean Leister each commended Koelbel and the district’s staff for completing the projects in time for the start of school.

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Teachers and students observe the new monitors installed in district buildings to depict the effect a newly installed solar energy system is having on Miller Place’s energy consumption. Photo from MPSD

Miller Place school district is trying to do its part to reduce its carbon footprint by embracing renewable energy sources.

The district announced Sept. 17 it had completed the installation of solar panels in each of its four school buildings, which are capable of supplying the district with 1.3 megawatts of solar energy, according to a district press release. The initiative was part of the district’s ongoing energy conservation plan, which was announced in 2014 as part of an energy performance contract approved by the board of education. The system was fully operational as of the start of the 2018-19 school year earlier this month. The system is expected to save the district about $240,000 annually in energy costs, which the district plans to reallocate to other expenses and capital improvements, according to the release.

“This investment is a testament to the district’s forward-thinking financial philosophy and will help reduce the community’s carbon footprint,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a statement. “This is something to be celebrated and we are incredibly excited that this initiative has now come to fruition.”

To quantify the energy and cost savings and to add an educational component to the system, the district has installed monitors in the front lobby of each building that will show the amount of energy the solar panels are producing at any given time, the release said. In addition to depicting the number of kilowatt-hours the system has generated, the monitors will also display the system’s environmental benefits — including the amount of electricity no longer needed to power the building and the amount of carbon monoxide no longer emitted into the environment.

“Implementing solar panels was part of the board of education’s long-term strategy to reduce costs, make the district’s facilities more eco-friendly and do our part to enhance the Miller Place community,” board President Johanna Testa said in a statement. “The board of education is committed to facilitating and organizing opportunities that will improve our district’s facilities and our students’ educational experiences. The solar energy system is one that we are thrilled to announce, and we look forward to experiencing the many benefits that this energy program will provide our district and our community.”

The project will cost about $5.4 million including interest over the 18-year span of the lease agreement with Johnson Controls.

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Significant upgrades are underway for Mount Sinai’s football field, bleachers, track, press box and surrounding areas. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai Mustangs football team will soon be cantering down a new turf field as part of the school district’s ongoing capital bond projects.

By the end of the school year, the district hopes to have completed an upgrade to its turf field, track, concrete plazas, fencing, press box and bleachers for the varsity field. Plans are also in place to repair the high school roof as part of the district’s $5 million capital project that was approved in May by residents with a 787 to 176 vote. The district hired Melville-based architectural and engineering firm H2M to help design the new sports amenities and fencing, and Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said right now all projects are on or ahead of schedule.

“You have to take care of your houses — all your stuff,“ Brosdal said. “If you don’t maintain them it becomes a big expense.”

The district has ripped up its old turf surface, fearing that its age could result in it being condemned, and replaced it with a new one that prominently shows the school logo and mascot name. Amityville-based The Landtek Group Inc. is currently building the new track and new concrete plaza that will border the football field, both of which will be finished by mid-November.

The new upgraded bleachers and press box should arrive in mid-November as well, according to district officials. The total amount for the athletics upgrades, including the new field and amenities, cost about $2.3 million.

Brosdal said the field would be finished by Sept. 21 when the Mustangs will be hosting its first home game against Port Jefferson.

“We tried to schedule the start of our season to be away games, but we should definitely be ready by that date,” Brosdal said.

About $1.4 million went to fixing a patch of the high school roof that has caused problems for the building during rainstorms. Construction will take place after school hours and is expected to be completed from late October to mid-November.

The district is also planning to invest in new perimeter fencing. Some parts will be amending torn down chain link fencing, some of which borders residential properties. For fencing that borders the road, the plan is to build “ornamental” black iron fence to match the rustic character of the surrounding area. This includes a new gate stretched across the school’s front entrance off Route 25A with stone supports that will match the electronic signs stationed at both entrances.

The fences, along with other security measures, cost the district $800,000. The plan is to start construction in late September and is expected to be completed by mid-November.

Several new security updates have finally come at the start of the new school year as well, though not part of the capital project. All faculty must wear security badges that are color coded to their school building. Athletics personnel have a purple badge while substitute teachers are yellow. High school students must also now wear badges, colored differently depending on their class year.

The badges and guard booth were not part of the capital project and were instead included in the district’s security funding in the general fund budget. Mount Sinai’s 2018-19 budget included $400,000 in security funding, which was $305,000 more than the 2017-18 school year.

Students and staff are now required to scan their badge into an electronic system upon entry. To go along with this change, a new front gate guard booth was installed in May that is wired with a phone, computer and cameras. Persons approaching the front gate need to either show a driver’s license or school badge to gain access to the campus.

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