Town of Huntington

Northport Middle School closes after decades of contamination concerns.

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District Superintendent Rob Banzer has decided, effective immediately, to close Northport Middle School for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year after P.W. Grosser Consulting, the environmental firm who has been testing soil around the school property, found on Saturday elevated levels of benzene in two separate septic systems on site.

Classes for the Northport Middle School students were cancelled for Tuesday, Jan. 21 and Wed. Jan. 22, and will resume on Jan. 23 in new locations.

“It is important to note that preliminary air testing indicated no observable detection of volatile organic compounds or VOCs, which includes benzene, inside the building, or from soil samples, as well as at the source of the septic tanks,” Banzer said in an email notice to parents sent at 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. “However, in the best interest of students and staff and in consideration of ongoing testing and remediation, the building will be closed for the balance of the school year.”

During an unscheduled workshop with board members Wednesday,  Jan. 15, Banzer presented and reviewed a decisive contingency relocation plan for Northport Middle School students that ultimately became necessary to implement just days later.

The plan, developed with goals identified by all stakeholders, maintains the school’s curriculum, allows for spring sports, and enables students to access science labs. It was considered the best, least disruptive option.

As discussed during the workshop, transportation is feasible, but may require that some students change buses at the William J. Brosnan School building on Laurel Avenue. Additional drivers and buses might alleviate the need for transferring, Banzer said, but could be tough to secure.

“Although a great deal of the plan is already in place, we will need Tuesday and Wednesday to refine the logistics for staff and students, including scheduling, transportation and food service,” Banzer stated in his note to parents.

As explained to parents and reviewed in the Jan. 15 workshop:

  • Northport Middle School 8th graders will relocate to a special wing of the high school.
  • Northport Middle School 7th graders will relocate to East Northport Middle School.

Originally, Northport Middle School 6th graders were expected to be relocated to either Norwood Avenue or Bellerose Elementary schools. But, as explained in a letter sent to parents Jan. 20, the district opted to keep all of the 6th graders together at Norwood Avenue school. The gifted and talented program will instead be relocated to Bellerose

Suffolk County Department of Health Services requires that the site be remediated to remove the benzene. The health department also requires remediation for high levels of mercury and silver found in the leaching pools outside of the schools G-wing. Remediation plans are still under development.

Many parents have been conflicted about sending their children to the school. Students and staff have complained about unidentified foul odors that regularly surface inside the building. Some parents, retired teachers and community members blame chemicals previously identified on school grounds as a potential cause for their illnesses. As the environmental investigation continues, some parents are breathing a sign of relief.

“We are happy to know that the testing can be completed with the children and staff relocated to safe locations,” said Bethany Watts.

N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran in Albany with his daughter for the 2020 legislative session.

NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is heading to Albany for the 2020 legislative session, and after a productive first year in office, he said he’s determined to again tackle a long list of issues. With Andrew Raia stepping down as assemblyman as of Jan. 1 to fill the role of Huntington town clerk, Gaughran will be the area’s only representative in the state house unless a special election is held. 

With a state budget of $179 billion and budget deficit of $6 billion, ethical reform and corruption, he said, are at the top of his to do list. 

The Times of Huntington sat down with Gaughran Jan. 12 to get an overview of his agenda. 

In the new year, citizens can look forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) energy initiative. He’s formulating an environmental bond for voter approval in November designed to address climate change. Gaughran doesn’t know how it will work. Details will be unveiled with the governor’s pending budget, he said. 

He plans to support sewage treatment plants and is behind plans to address clean water initiatives for the Long Island Sound and the groundwater, which is the sole source of Long Island’s drinking supply. 

On the topic of taxes, Gaughran said that he’s opposed to raising taxes on the middle class and notes that half of all state revenue comes from the wealthiest 3 percent of residents. Those taxpayers, however, are declaring legal residencies in other states to escape New York’s tax burden. According to President Donald Trump (R), that’s why he declared Florida as his legal residence. That situation is compounding the state’s budget woes. 

Lost Medicaid revenue is also a fiscal concern. Of the $6 billion deficit, $4 billion is lost federal funding to cover Medicaid costs. 

“People are living longer,” Gaughran said. “More advanced technology translates into higher health care costs.”

Overall, Gaughran suggests that citizens pay attention, as many already do, and to demand transparency in government. Toward that effort, he said he will continue to host town hall meetings with constituents. He expects to schedule an upcoming town hall on Long Island Rail Road issues. 

To address ethics issues, Gaughran is supporting a law that limits lawmakers’ outside income to 15 percent of their annual $110,000 salary.

Gaughran is also pushing for election reforms. Last year’s early voting initiative was an initial success. But he said communities need more polling places. One polling place in each town is too few. He’d like to see one voting place for every 50,000 citizens. He said he’s opposed to schools being used for early voting. 

Bail reform is another troublesome issue for Gaughran. If he had not voted for last year’s budget, which included the bail reform legislation, it would have cut state aid to schools. So, this year he’d like to restore judicial reviews for 64 crimes and set bail as needed. Bail should not be waived for hate crimes, he said. He said other senators are supporting his initiative and he continues to get calls about it. 

He also wants to help drug addicts with arrests find treatment and is alarmed that Long Island real estate agents discriminate, as reported in a recent Newsday expose. He is supporting legislation that suspends or revokes a broker’s license when they are found to discriminate against minorities. 

Gaughran has been a proponent of better laws that crack down on unsafe driving for limousines. U-turns, blamed for a deadly crash in Cutchogue in 2015, will soon be illegal. That crash resulted in the death of four young women from Kings Park, Commack and Smithtown. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Gaughran introduced nine bills to address the problems. 

“I so admire these families that have channeled their grief into something positive,” Gaughran said.  

With regards to the Long Island Power Authority, he’s waiting on the courts to see how the case unfolds and is following the Town of Huntington to see what it will do. He plans to reintroduce legislation this session to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax certiorari suits. LIPA’s aggressive lobbying in the assembly derailed the initiative last year, after his senate bill passed with overwhelming support. The costs behind LIPA’s lobbying and public relations campaigns need to be reined in, he said, and need more oversight. 

“Citizens have no consumer protection with LIPA,” Gaughran explained. 

His plan is to authorize regulatory oversight of LIPA to the New York Public Service Commission and require annual audits. Currently, if fraud or misrepresentation is found, he said the state can’t take action. He’d also like to better understand the relationship between LIPA and PSEG. 

Parents listen as consultants from an environmental testing firm explain their findings to date and their future testing plans at a school board meeting on Jan. 9. Photo by Donna Deedy

In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, at 12:35 a.m., after an exhaustive five hours of presentations and comments from board members and the public, much of it heated and emotional, the Northport-East Northport school board members revealed that they are in fact considering closing the Northport Middle School, not necessarily immediately, but in September 2020.

Declining enrollment and the Long Island Power Authority tax certiorari case, they said, are driving the decision. The site’s ongoing contamination concerns, they added, are an underlying factor. The decision, they noted, is still exploratory. 

A weary crowd welcomed the comment but still wondered what plan, if any, the district has in place, if the environmental consulting firm it hired, P.W. Grosser Consulting also known as PWGC, continues to find toxins on-site.

Superintendent Robert Banzer explained to the community that while the school has options, none of the choices are ideal. Split sessions, consolidation and relocating students to other districts that have offered space were mentioned as potential temporary solutions to a “code red” situation.

Board member Larry Licopoli asked the superintendent to outline a plan to present at the next board meeting. 

So far, PWGC has found unsafe levels of arsenic on a sports field and extraordinarily high levels of mercury and silver in a leaching pool 10 feet underground and just outside science classrooms in the G-wing. Mercury levels of 632 ppm were detected there. The county requires action at 3.7 ppm. 

The consultants said, when asked by parents, that they did notice an unusual odor in the building. So far, though, none of their air quality tests detected a presence of contaminants in the building that would warrant its closure. 

An Abundance of Caution

The overarching public debate of the Jan. 9 board meeting centered on the seemingly relative nature of risk assessment. 

After finding the toxic chemicals on-site, the district determined that it would close three classrooms, G-51, G-52 and G-53. Those three classrooms, the environmental consultants explained, were science rooms with sinks that drain into the leaching pool, where the chemicals were found. Odorless fumes could potentially migrate through the piping into classrooms, but the drain systems rely on P traps that prevent that from occurring, they said. While the results of air quality tests were completed, the district closed those classrooms out of “an abundance of caution.” Air quality results in the G-wing classrooms were later found to be normal. But many families said the cautionary closure didn’t go far enough. 

The consulting firm explained that building evacuation would be justified only after pathways of exposure were identified when unsafe levels of a toxin are found on-site. Since no mercury levels were detected in the hallways, closing other portions of the school were unwarranted. 

 The consultants explained that toxic vapors could potentially rise from contaminated ground under a concrete foundation beneath classrooms. So far, the consultants said, they have not found any unsafe measurements in the school building to suggest that vapor migration is an issue. Testing is ongoing. The consultants could not say how far or wide the high concentrations of mercury would be found. The G, L, K and H wings could potentially be impacted, the consultants said. If it’s under the building, demolition may be called for, they said. 

Some parents were outraged. The strategy lacked sufficient level of precaution for their comfort. As the investigation continues, they said students should be removed, since unsafe exposure levels might later be found. Some kids feared going to school while others resented their parents for not sending them. Many people said they could not sleep at night. The social and emotional effects of the situation weighed heavily on most people who spoke, including some board members and residents who recently bought homes in the community. 

No current teachers addressed the board, but a retired teacher did.

John Kobel describes his experience with contamination during Jan. 9 school board meeting.

“That’s the classroom that poisoned me,” said former science teacher John Kobel, who addressed the consultants during the meeting. “That’s the classroom I was carried out of and taken by ambulance to Huntington Hospital.”

Kobel said that he was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning from mercury and lead and suffers from occupationally induced asthma. He said he witnessed the removal of contaminated soil 20 years ago, when contaminants were found in the same location. Kobel said that he has identified 48 teachers who are sick and 34 diagnosed with some form of cancer, 20 of them have died. 

Parent groups have identified 18 students diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and other rare blood diseases over the last 10 years. 

Parents asked the consultants if their investigation included reviewing the data of sick kids. They said “no” but would consider it going forward. 

“This is not my community, but I will fight if I feel there is a problem,” said Heather Moran-Botta, a representative from PWGC.

Consultants could not say where the contamination was coming from but speculated that it could be from improperly disposed thermometers. A remediation plan is being developed they said. Ongoing testing would dictate the scope of the plan. 

Several parents said that they were not sending their students to school under the circumstances. Board officials, when pressed, advised families that keep their kids home from school to call the absence “parent sanctioned.” They advised anyone with contamination concerns to discuss having their child’s urine and blood tested with their pediatrician.  

Out of the three potential exposure pathways — ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact — the most likely scenario that could impact students and staff at the school was inhalation, according to the consultants.  

On Saturday, Jan. 11, PWGC continued testing. Results have not yet been reported. 

On Monday, Jan. 14, parents held another sickout. The district did not respond to requests for information about absenteeism in the school, since mercury, silver and arsenic was detected Jan. 6.

Suffolk County Health Department said that school boards have jurisdiction over the issue, but noted that their toxicologists are answering questions from families in the community at the request of the state health department. The New York State Department of Health said that school boards ultimately have jurisdiction over air quality concerns. 

N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport)has requested the involvement of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to help with the investigation.  

Residents of all ages participate in the annual regatta and barbecue, one of several events that the group coordinates with the help of the foundation’s student board. Photo from Nissequogue River Foundation

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and the marina. 

In 2008, the community formed the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation. Its mission: to enhance and beautify the park for present and future generations. 

Since New York State began incrementally transferring the hospital’s grounds to the park’s office first in 2000 and then again in 2006, the foundation has worked tirelessly to make important improvements to the 521-arce site. 

“I’m proud of the work the board has been able to accomplish, it’s been hard work but we’ve been successful on a lot things.”

– John McQuaid

John McQuaid joined the organization as a volunteer seven years ago and in 2013 became its chairman. He said the non-for-profit has contributed remarkable improvements to the park, like removing buildings, forming youth groups and getting a master plan approved in Albany. 

“I’m proud of the work the board has been able to accomplish,” he said. “It’s been hard work, but we’ve been successful on a lot of things.”

Improvements began back in 2006, when the state demolished a number of buildings, tunnels, roadways, walkways and removed hazardous materials thanks to funding secured by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The objective now is figuring out what to do with the other existing buildings on the old hospital grounds. There have been discussions about repurposing some land for sports fields, a concert area and a community center.

Three years ago, the foundation created a student board and began working with local high school students. 

“It has been terrific on a lot of levels; it has given them a voice on the [foundation] board and real-life experience they can use in the future,” McQuaid said. 

The members of the student board are tasked with helping to fundraise, promote and run a number of events for the foundation including the Regatta on the River, the annual Turkey Trot and 5K Sunset Run. 

“We are very proud of the work they’ve done, they are really passionate about our mission and promoting this ‘diamond in the rough’ to the community,” the chairman said. 

The group has also been backed by Charlie Reichert, owner of five IGA supermarkets in Northport, who sponsors all the foundation’s events. Reichert said the park has the potential to be the Central Park of Long Island. Over the years, the business owner has given his time and resources to the foundation. In 2018 alone, he donated $1 million to the NYS Department of Parks to help complete renovation of the park’s administrative offices.

Residents of all ages participate in the annual regatta. Photo from Nissequogue River Foundation

 Mike Rosato, former chairman and current board member, said Reichert’s contributions over the years have been instrumental to the organization. 

“He has been the anchor of the foundation, we’ve been able to accomplish so much and make a lot of progress on the park,” he said. 

Rosato lauded McQuaid for his efforts to get the younger generation involved. 

“It is great to be able to get young people involved in the foundation and that care about the park in general,” he said.

Rosato also praised the group’s efforts into bringing the community together for its event. 

“[On average] 2,000 people have attended the annual Turkey Trot, it has become a family tradition,” he said.  

While the foundation has made strides throughout the years, McQuaid stressed the need for a master plan for further development of the park. 

In June, New York State lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would require state park officials to begin a master plan for the park. The foundation is still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signature on the bill. 

The introduction of a master plan would include input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolishing of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

“The master plan is for the next phase and the future of the park,” McQuaid said. 

In the meantime, the chairman is encouraged by the progress the foundation has helped steward at this point. 

“The foundation is a vehicle for the community, it is not just one individual, it takes a group effort to get things done,” McQuaid said.  

Guide Dog Foundation honored Townwide Fund last year, naming a puppy “Charity” as a special tribute to the group. Photo from Guide Dog Foundation

By Daniel Dunaief

They put their money where their heart is. The dedicated volunteers at The Townwide Fund of Huntington contribute to charities that provide everything from meals to visiting nurses to guide dogs. Founded in 1961, Townwide Fund, which was originally called Huntington Township Charities Inc., has donated over $12 million to charities with the hope of ensuring that the town meets the needs of its residents.

Times Beacon Record News Media is pleased to name the members of Townwide Fund as its People of the Year.

Executives from several area charities appreciated the ongoing financial support from Townwide Fund.

“The need is greater and the funding gets less,” said Susan Shiloni, the executive director of Literacy Suffolk, which has received financial backing from Townwide Fund since 2001. “We are so grateful for these other sources of revenue like the Townwide Fund that help us out. I don’t know where we would be” without places like the fund, which provided $3,000 this year.

Literacy Suffolk helps build literacy among adults. Townwide Fund’s contribution supports training for one-on-one tutoring.

Charity, one year later. Photo from the Guide Dog Foundation

Guide Dog Foundation, meanwhile, has received financial assistance from Townwide Fund for over 20 years that adds up to about $60,000. In the past three years, the fund has helped with new puppy vests and equipment and supplies for the nursery. This year, it also helped buy a portable ultrasound scanner for a home whelping program.

“With this vital piece of equipment, we can scan a mother dog after she has given birth to ensure everything has gone well,” Theresa Manzolillo explained in an email. “We don’t have to bring her to a vet, which reduces any potential health risks to the puppies and helps keep the mom’s stress level low.”

For Island Harvest Food Bank, Townwide Fund has stepped up with $15,500 in the last four years, which helped provide about 31,000 meals.

“The Townwide Fund of Huntington enables us to provide residents who may be struggling with hunger and food insecurity with supplemental food support and essential services to help guide them from uncertainty to stability,” Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest, wrote in an email.

One of the longest standing organizations supported by the fund, Visiting Nurse Service of New York has been receiving contributions from the fund’s inception, in 1961. Prior to the creation of Medicare, the fund helped support a wide range of expenses. In recent years, the fund helps support services Medicare and insurance don’t cover, like acupuncture, which helps with pain control and symptom management, said Linda Taylor.

The fund is “very community oriented” and “supports the people who live here,” Taylor said.

David Altman, a founding partner of the law firm of Brown & Altman, became the president of the fund this year.

The money the fund provides is “really affecting our community to make a better life,” said Vita Scaturrro, who

is on the board of the fund and is also the co-chair of the grants committee. “The grants we give have a return.”

Scaturro said the grants committee reviews all the applications, writes up its recommendations and then presents them to the board. Grants need to be submitted by the end of July.

Townwide has several fundraising events. They host the Charity Gala, St. Patrick’s Run, Classic Golf Outing, Comedy Night and Thanksgiving Day Run. The fund also collects donations through a year-end annual appeal, Corporate Sponsorship Program, Coin Box Program and online Round Up Program.

Scaturro is pleased with the way the funds benefit people who live in the area.

“I’ve been involved with different not-for-profit organizations,” said Scaturro, who has lived in Huntington for 36 years. The money from Townwide Fund “is given for the right purpose.”

People interested in learning more about the fund can visit the website, at www.townwidefund.

 Prevention Program Sparks Interest in Emphasizing Community Wellness

In 2006, the Northport community created the Drug and Alcohol Task Force. The program today has evolved into an important part of the community. Photo from the Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force

In 2006, at the age of 21, two young adults in Northport died of an opioid overdose. To honor these lives and help prevent other overdoses and addictions, the Northport community created the Drug and Alcohol Task Force. The program today has evolved into a very exciting part of the community. TBR News Media would like to recognize the efforts of all those involved in their community’s drug prevention efforts.

In 2017, after being awarded a Drug-Free Community grant, the Northport/East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force created a youth coalition, called 1LIFE, and hired social worker Catherine Juliano to develop the curriculum.

“Everything we do focuses on health, wellness, kindness and connection,” Juliano said.

“We want to let people know that it’s OK to ask for help.” 

Catherine Juliano

The idea is to empower teenagers and build their leadership skills so they can identify issues impacting the community. Once the group zeros in on a concern, they strategize and implement an action plan.

“The kids are very smart,” said Juliano, a 2007 graduate of Northport High School. “If you only say: ‘Don’t do drugs,’ people will be turned off.”

She meets once a week with a core group of 25 kids and together they talk about issues that impact their peers. In 2018, the coalition sponsored a mental health awareness day. This year it became a mental health awareness week, which was comprised of a series of speakers. They sponsored an after-school retreat to teach coping skills that included using music, yoga and meditation to reduce or eliminate stress. More than 250 students attended. 

“It should be all year,” Juliano said. “We show students that teenagers struggle, and mental health is real. The idea is to promote self-care health and wellness.”

The program also informs students about the school’s resource center, which includes free counseling services with access to a drug and alcohol counselor. Reducing stigma, creating a culture that sees addiction as a disease, is part of their mission. The program helps students identify feelings and teaches how to reduce stress in themselves and recognize the qualities in others.

“We want to let people know that it’s OK to ask for help,” Juliano said. 

Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said the program is making a difference.

“Since 2006, the task force has made a big impact in our town,” he said. “Working together with students, parents and educators, they have successfully engaged the community to reduce the use of drugs.”

Developing healthy relationships is also part of the curriculum.

Every year for the last three years, the group has pulled together a community fundraiser called The Color Run. Students dress in light-colored clothing and traverse a trail, where they encounter event sponsors, typically community groups, who ultimately splash them with colored cornstarch in spray bottles. Last year, more than 700 people participated in The Color Run.

“It’s such a great thing,” said Juliano. “Kids find it thrilling; elementary kids are running around and want to be sprayed.”

The money they raise is used to support the coalition’s activities.

They are currently planning a workshop for fifth-graders on how to use technology in a safe way.

Juliano and her co-chair, Anthony Ferrandino, also implemented a popular Family Feud night, morphing the Too Cool for Drugs curriculum into a trivia game show with two tables of fifth-graders. A high school student dresses up like Steve Harvey to MC the event. 

1LIFE also partners with the local library and Suffolk County police to coordinate a medication take-back, which gets unused pills out of the home for safe disposal.

It also does environmental cleanups at known hidden drinking areas, documents paraphernalia that is found and shares the data with the adult task force. The aim is figuring out ways to prevent kids from going back to that spot.

Ultimately, they are teaching children to make healthy choices: Instead of drugs, let’s do something else.

The Faces of Addiction

For many Long Island families whose members are struggling with an opioid addiction, recovery can seem like an endless financially and emotionally draining cycle of rehabs and relapses. Increasingly, though, people who have miraculously overcome their own narcotic dependencies are openly sharing their stories to deliver a welcomed message of hope and a promise of freedom.

Their testimonies are among society’s most effective tools to beat this epidemic. As one reformed narcotic user put it, “If you could see inside my head you would see the light bulb. It finally hit me: I needed to listen to other recovered people and rely on their guidance.”

We would like to recognize a few of the many people in our circulation area who have overcome their addiction, their sponsors and the families and organizations that have supported everyone’s efforts as People of the Year.

“Yes, It is possible to recover, and it is so worth it.”

Chase Bernstein

Some reformed narcotic users were teenagers struggling with anxiety who started drinking alcohol or experimenting with drugs at a time when powerful opioids were abundantly dispensed, hooking many young children. Others sought relief from chronic physical pain often caused by injuries and accidents. Each circumstance is unique. So is their recovery story. Success, though, has a common denominator: It is often spiritual in nature. The virtues of faith, hope and charity play a role.

Chase Bernstein lost his father one year ago. He now works as a behavioral health technician and is one year sober. His entire recovery and his quality of life, he said, rest on his spiritual frame of mind. If he doesn’t pray in the morning, it impacts his whole day.

“Yes, IT IS POSSIBLE to recover, and it is SO WORTH IT,” he said. “I am a member of an anonymous 12-step fellowship and owe my life to the program. If it wasn’t for the steps, my sponsor, the meetings and helping other people even when I’m not getting paid, I would be dead, in the hospital, in jail, or … and I think this would be the worst of any of them: still actively using.”

Bernstein finds sobriety thrilling. 

“My life isn’t boring or bland, it is fulfilling and exciting, another misconception I had about sobriety,” he said. “I’ve started working at a job I love, I have friends, my family relationships have never been better, and I’ve even been able to experience the trials and tribulations of dating, while in recovery as a young person.”

Another reformed narcotic user, Sarah Smith, was addicted to opioids and alcohol as a young teenager. Today, eight years sober, she works full time as a treatment specialist. Helping others has given her life deeper meaning.

“I don’t know if I would have stayed sober, if I wouldn’t have had this sense of purpose,” she said.

In high school, Smith was an all-county champion softball catcher. Two years ago, she had the idea to form a softball team comprised of people recovering from narcotics use. She pulled a team together, with the help of Will Astacio, who worked at the time as a peer-to-peer mentor for veterans combating depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues. People were so enthusiastic they managed to form two different teams. With Smith as captain, the team, called THRIVE , won the 2019 county title.

“If it wasn’t for Sarah, they wouldn’t have won the championship,” Astacio said. “She’s great at bringing people together.”

Sarah also regularly advises elected officials who want to know what they can do to help address the epidemic. Her recommendations in a nutshell: more access to effective treatment, more emphasis on continuity of care, removal of insurance obstacles and offering more jobs and better pay to mental health professionals. In regard to legalizing marijuana, her advice is a firm NO.

Medical schools are also relying on reformed narcotic users to inform their curriculum.

This past summer Stony Brook University’s medical school invited several recovered narcotic users to act as teachers. One eloquent speaker, who wants to remain anonymous so we’ll call her Claire, shared her story with first-year medical students. The session was impactful, according to Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, the assistant dean of the medical school. She expects the instruction to stick with the medical students their whole life. Claire also found the experience rewarding.

Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

She doesn’t consider herself a religious person but said that the power of prayer somehow opens you up. She came to terms with her own spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. 

Recognizing your own self-centeredness also prompts you to change, she said. It’s a key part of the 12-step program.

Bernstein has also found this to be important, “There’s a popular line from a Biggie Smalls song that goes something like ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ I think about that line all the time. I know it sounds corny that an old rap lyric helps me in my recovery, but it does! If I leave my motives unchecked, I start to make selfish and careless decisions without regard for the people in my life.”

This type of mindfulness is also used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Often called CBT, it also incorporates being honest, goal setting, establishing incremental steps toward reaching a goal, rewarding or celebrating successes and verbalizing happiness.

Patricia Tsui  practices nonpharmacological approaches to pain at Stony Brook University Hospital’s pain center and has helped Long Islanders overcome addiction after they were prescribed narcotics for chronic pain.

Artemis Shepard and Nick Giulintano are among her patients. Shepard suffered with three herniated discs and couldn’t get out of bed. Giulintano worked as a construction laborer for 30 years. He was seriously injured in a four-car collision driving at 60 mph. He was given bags of medicine, he said, including opioids that he took “like tic tacs.”

“You get used to taking medication and the induced-high,” Shepard said. “But it changes you.”

She lost friendships and developed kidney disease, she said, from the medication. Their quality of life without narcotics, they both agree, is far more satisfying.

Giulintano now has a spinal implant, which has helped with the chronic pain. In group talk sessions at the pain center, they ultimately found alternate ways to cope to overcome their addiction.

Talking with the group at the pain center was an important part of their healing.

 “I know, I’m not the only one,” Giulintano said. “And I’m always happy helping other people.”

This tribute is for them and for all the other unnamed people who shared their recovery story with our newspaper and all the people hoping for recovery. Help is a phone call away.  

The 24/7 hot line is 631-979-1700.

Bossert meets monthly with the student body to brainstorm and get input. Photos from Heather Mammolito

The 5-square-mile hamlet of Elwood is known as a tight-knit community with a strong sense of heritage and pride. So, when Kenneth Bossert joined the Elwood school district, four years ago, to take over as superintendent, he wanted to bring that sense of closeness to the district community as well. 

In those four years he has done just that, and so much more. 

“He has such a dynamic personality, he has made a lasting impact in the community,” Heather Mammolito, district board of education member and Elwood resident said. 

Mammolito said before Bossert took over, the district was in a weird place, with a lot of administrative turnover. 

“The goal was to bring someone that could rein everyone back in, and that’s what we did,” she said. “I haven’t seen a greater sense of pride in the district community in a while.”

The board member said Bossert’s presence at the district has already paid dividends.  

Elwood celebrates members of its community during homecoming festivities. Photos from Heather Mammolito

Last year, Elwood-John H. Glenn High School was designated as a National Blue Ribbon school, which was a huge honor and designation for the district. His other accomplishments include the creation of the Elwood school district Wall of Fame, which honors people who have made a mark on the community before the homecoming football game. He’s opened board of education subcommittee meetings to the public. Under his leadership the district has seen significant increase of reading and writing scores. He also hosts roundtable talks with John Glenn seniors. 

“I feel like he has really started a domino effect … he knows how to work with people, it is infectious,” Mammolito said. “It starts from the top, it has been a culture shift.” 

She said Bossert makes sure every staff member feels accepted and welcomed and is very approachable. 

“He is really present, he goes above and beyond. He makes it a point to get out of his office and visit every building in the district, every classroom,” Mammolito said.  

In April, Bossert was elected to the Executive Committee of New York State Council of School Superintendents. He has also been past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendent’s Association and a member of the Suffolk Superintendent’s Legislative Committee. Over the years, Bossert has worked in the Middle Country, Longwood, Eastport-South Manor, Three Village and Port Jefferson school districts.

Ronald Masera, superintendent of Center Moriches School District, has known Bossert for more than 20 years. They were both in the same Stony Brook University educational leadership program. 

Bossert, left, along with other school officials honor a student-athlete. Photos by Heather Mammolito

“Very early on you could tell he was one of those individuals that had that presence and insight,” he said. “He has always been an engaged and committed person.”

After completing the program, the duo went on to work as assistant principals in the Longwood school district. 

“He just hasn’t been a colleague of mine but a friend as well over the years; this job can be a little isolating with a network of people you trust,” he said. “He’s one of the first people I reach out to if I have an issue or question and we text back and forth.”

Lars Clemensen, superintendent of schools at Hampton Bays, had similar sentiments to say of Bossert. 

“He is my top go-to person to reach out whenever I have a question,” the superintendent said. 

He said Bossert is a student-first and community-oriented administrator. 

“He really looks at the big picture and tries to do the best he can for the public,” Clemensen said. “It is not surprising to hear of he’s been able to build at Elwood.”

The Hampton Bays superintendent said as they both became parents over the years they become close friends and is proud of the work Bossert’s been able to accomplish. 

“He has that gene, whenever he walks into a room he is seen as a leader,” Clemensen said. “When you are a superintendent you are the face of the school … he has done great work and the community is proud.”

Dogs will be permitted into Huntington’s Heckscher Park begining Jan. 1. Photo by Media Origins

On Jan. 1, the Town of Huntington will begin a three-month pilot program to allow leashed dogs in Heckscher Park, subject to certain limitations. If the trial period is successful, the pilot will extend in three-month increments to gather data from use of the park in different seasons.

The program is the result of a town board resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), developed in response to a petition that circulated this past summer calling for better access to the park for dogs and their owners.

Greenlawn resident Karen Thomas helped draft and circulate the successful petition campaign this past summer.

“Over 2,500 dog owners have spoken and the Huntington board listened,” said Thomas.

Cergol announced her position on opening up the park to dogs on a trial basis in a Sept. 5 Times of Huntington news article. The resolution she drafted was unanimously approved at the town’s Oct. 16 board meeting.

“The relationship between dogs and humans continues to evolve, and it is becoming increasingly common to see dog owners and their canine family members together in public places,” Cergol said. “I am excited that we are about to extend this option at Huntington’s downtown signature park and look forward to our partnership with [the nonprofit Long Island Dog Owners Group] in ensuring the pilot program’s success.”

LI-DOG is a nonprofit advocacy group looking to increase access for dog owners to public spaces. It’s president, Ginny Munger Kahn, was designated as the lead public education campaign coordinator.

“Our job is to make sure all the dog owners know that it’s in their best interest to follow the basic guidelines,” she said. “Overall, respect other park users. That’s the key.”

Specifically, this means keeping dogs on a leash less than 6-feet long and under control. No retractable leashes are allowed, and people are limited to no more than two dogs per individual. People are also expected to clean up after their dogs once they do their business. People, Kahn said, are good with this part.

“People have precedence over dogs on the path,” Kahn said. “Step off the path onto the grass as people pass by unimpeded.”

Heckscher Park’s trails, which are more narrow than other town pathways, suggest that this is an important part of the guidelines to remember.

Cergol formed an advisory committee that includes representatives of her staff, various town departments, LI-DOG and the town’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities to create the educational program. The group has met twice and has developed program guidelines from those gatherings and individual conversations.

The committee has so far planned to post signage at various spots in the park, including all the major entrances. A video to be aired on the town’s government access television channel and on its social media pages and LI-DOG’s pages will demonstrate what is allowed and what is not. They’ve also developed informational cards to hand out to dog owners in the park.

“We believe ultimately having leashed dogs in the park is a really good thing,” Kahn said. “For one thing, dogs influence socializing among people who don’t know each other.”

They also deter geese, which are fouling the parks pathways.

 

Government officials, Town of Huntington Public Safety officers, the Town of Huntington Fire Marshall and members of the Huntington and Dix Hills Fire Departments came together to announce that the Town of Huntington will be cracking down on people who choose to violate the law and park in marked handicapped spaces and fire zones. The town will be ramping up their efforts and will be out making sure to check that all cars parked in handicapped spaces have valid permits.

“The holiday season is here and parking lots are full. When there is an unoccupied handicapped parking space, it is tempting to park there for just for a few minutes to quickly run into a store. Parking in handicapped spaces violates the law. Valid permit holders must then park further away forcing them to walk longer distances endangering their health or they return home unable to do their shopping. We must remember that only those that have a valid New York State permit are permitted to park there.” stated Councilman Cuthbertson. “Parking in marked fire zones puts everyone at risk by obstructing those areas that are reserved for first responders in case of emergencies or evacuations. Please consider people’s needs before you park in a place that inconveniences another person or puts lives at risk just to park closer to the entrance of the store”

For anyone who chooses to park illegally in a handicapped parking space will receive a minimum fine of $230. If you park in a fire zone you can expect a minimum fine of $200. Both carry maximum fines from $600 to $630.

Supervisor Lupinacci stated “The Town is doing everything it can to ensure accessible parking is available for those who need it. This year, we made substantive amendments to the Traffic Code that introduces real consequences when there is a failure to respond to a parking ticket, which is making drivers think twice about parking in handicap spaces.”

“It is imperative to remember to respect the designated handicapped parking spaces and those who need them, especially this time of year. The Town of Huntington will be enforcing parking restrictions and any infractions will be met with a high fee. Park a little farther away during your trips around town and enjoy the crisp holiday air” said Councilman Edmund Smyth.

For anyone that would like to request a New York State Disability Parking Permit application can contact to Town Clerk’s office at 631-351-3206 or online athttp://www.huntingtonny.gov/disability-permits

Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

Northport Middle School students were once again evacuated from several classrooms on Monday Dec. 9 and Tuesday Dec. 10 in response to foul “rotten-egg” odors. The school’s new heating and ventilation system is being blamed. 

“There are a number of factors that can lead to odors in a school building,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We believe the source of the latest indoor air quality issue at NMS may be related to the substantial amount of rain over the past few days.”

The district has hired an outside consultant to review the latest situation and will provide an update to the community once it is complete.

The district has said that laws prevent it from providing information on student health visits, but one parent on social media stated that five kids in one class went to the nurse’s office in response to the odors, according to the child’s account. 

Just last month parents and former teachers held protests, called sick-outs, demanding that the 65-year-old building be closed to address ongoing serious health concerns.

One of the classrooms involved in this week’s evacuation is a newly renovated science room G-51. In 2017, the room was found to sit above a storage area for hazardous chemicals, which have now been removed.

No formal health studies have yet to be initiated, to potentially link the school environment to disease, though Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) has requested that the state’s health department conduct a longitudinal study of students and teachers at Northport Middle School. 

More than 18 Northport Middle School students over the last 10 years, according to parent groups, have been diagnosed with rare, environmentally induced diseases, including blood cancers. Retired teachers have also conducted an informal survey that they say raises serious questions about the building’s safety. These health studies, state health officials have said, are often inconclusive. 

For decades, contamination issues have been the subject of ongoing concerns at the school, which has a history of storing hazardous chemicals, in some cases improperly.

Residents are invited to attend the Dec. 12 school board meeting, where Banzer will provide details about relocating the district’s bus depot and refueling station, which is located on the middle school grounds. 

Board member Larry Licopoli has been appointed to a subcommittee comprised of board and community members that is looking to test the soil for an array of chemicals. The subcommittee will be presenting some recommendations during the Dec. 12 board meeting.