Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
815 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

by -
0 83
The site model for the Concern for Independent Living apartments in Port Jefferson Station. Photo from Concern for Independent Living

The Concern for Independent Living affordable rental complex in Port Jefferson Station is hosting a lottery for 31 units for people making below the area’s median annual income.

The application deadline is Monday, Aug. 10 with the winners of the lottery announced over Zoom Aug. 17 at 10 a.m.

In a letter to community leaders, CEO of Concern for Independent Living Elizabeth Lunde said the point is to ensure local residents apply for the apartments located at 1599 Route 112.

“During the community conversations about this project there was significant amount of discussion about wanting to ensure that local residents, local students, local veterans, young people and seniors etc. who are from the Port Jefferson Station and immediately surrounding community are able to apply and take advantage of these affordable housing units,” Lunde wrote in the letter.

According to a flyer by Concern for Independent Living, there are 30 one-bedroom apartments available rental prices at $924. People applying must have a total annual income of between $36,960 to $44,350 in a  one-person household, and between $36,960 to $50,650 for a two-person household.

There is also a single two-bedroom apartment available for a household size between two and four for families with an annual income of between $37,997 and $63,300, depending on the household size.

For more information and to download the application, people can visit http://www.concernhousing.org/ and scroll down to the space about the Port Jeff Station facility.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) addressed those gathered about his goals for the 2019 Legislative session. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the morning of Aug. 7 that all regions in New York are given the green light to reopen in the fall.

The governor said he based the decision off of the infection rate in each region in the state. Much of New York has been hovering around a 1 percent infection rate for the past several weeks. 

Cuomo previously said if the infection rate in any region breaches 5 percent the state would immediately order schools’ closure.

“You look at the infection rate — we are probably in the best situation in the country,” Cuomo said during a media call Friday. 

Most school districts submitted reopening plans by the deadline of July 31. Some, like South Huntington and Northport-East Northport, submitted their plans after being granted an extension. Many have come forward with hybrid plans at at least some grade levels, meaning students will spend a few days in school and then the rest of the week learning from home. Some parents have criticized districts like Three Village for deciding on a full-time schedule for all grade levels. Other parents in districts like Smithtown have rallied for children to be back in school full time.

Still, Cuomo has said multiple times that each school district’s reopening plan is dependent on the district officials in communion with parents and teachers, saying “this is not a bureaucratic decision, this is a parental decision.” 

However, there were still many questions left open over what policies districts can hold, especially regarding the safety of teachers. Yesterday, Aug. 6, teachers union New York State United Teachers put out a news release calling for any school to close if any one individual in a school that tests positive should mean an immediate 14-day closure. The release also requested specific answers to how districts should conduct quarantining of potential cases and contact tracing.

The governor largely left the questions of those two elements up to individual school districts, though state Department of Health guidelines do mandate school districts conduct testing of symptomatic students. They also mandate people to wear masks when they are unable to socially distance at six feet, and if a student does not have a mask, the district is mandated to provide one.

“I can’t fashion a plan that would work in every school district because the circumstances are too different,” he said during the media call.“

Though school districts are mandated to take the temperature of every student that comes through its doors, the fear of asymptomatic spread, of the virus infecting people from carriers, is still a big concern. Cuomo called that a continuing “conversation.”

The tenor of the governor’s announcement revolved around the notion that parents, teachers and districts all had to agree to the plans. The next few weeks, Cuomo said, should be spent in even more discussion amongst the community to try and reach more common ground.

“I believe in New Yorkers, and New Yorkers will do it and they can decide how they will do it,” he said.

 

As Federal Assistance Runs Out, Pantries/Soup Kitchens Anticipate Greater Need

Vicky Rybak, front, stands behind the many volunteers at Open Cupboard in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Liam Cooper

In front of what was the old nuns’ quarters of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, the volunteers of the church’s food pantry stand amongst bag after bag of food items. Inside, even more goods line the main hallway, all before they can be taken in and sorted. 

Alex Valentine and Sabrina Duan, of Mount Sinai, help with the Open Cupboard pantry’s back to school drive. Photo by Kyle Barr

In just a few hours on a Monday morning, a crowd of regular volunteers have brought in the new hoard. Even after they leave, several more local residents swing by the front door of the Open Cupboard food pantry, dropping off clothing items, food, toiletries — a machine of giving.

All of it will be needed, according to food pantry leaders and volunteers, as by the end of the month so much of that food will be gone. The pandemic has led to a massive increase in food insecurity. Open Cupboard now regularly serves 30 to 60 families that come to its doors, and now they arrive every two weeks instead of every month, compared to what it was before the pandemic. 

Though as the number of people needing assistance has increased during the pandemic, according to multiple local soup kitchens and food pantries, so has the number of volunteers hoping to make even the smallest difference.

Vicki Rybak, director of the Open Cupboard food pantry at Infant Jesus, has been on the job for the past 16 years. The pantry serves the surrounding area in Port Jeff, Port Jeff Station, Mount Sinai and parts of Coram and Setauket, and in her words, it serves “the working poor.”

“Now that the working poor aren’t working anymore, we’re servicing the people who aren’t getting anything — whether they’re undocumented and they’re not able to collect, or they’re essential like me and have been struggling,” she said.

During the worst months of the pandemic, the assembled group were Rybak’s “lifeline,” she said. People sent checks when she and others were limited on the number of certain foodstuffs and other essentials they could purchase.

People like Frank Davi, a retired NYPD officer who has been standing in front of the Miller Place Stop & Shop and Giunta’s Meat Farms in Port Jeff Station with his truck since March, asking people to donate food. He has given that food away to Open Cupboard and the pantry at St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station. He says he gets a truckload a week from people willing to help out.

“I was in Stony Brook [hospital] for six days, had some complications, came out of it fine and wanted to give back,” Davi said. “Everyone’s really generous in the community.”

The Open Cupboard is also in the midst of its back-to-school drive, and one of the downstairs rooms is piled with school supplies such as backpacks, pencils, erasers. It normally services around 185 children for back to school. Open Cupboard volunteer  Jennifer Valentine, of Mount Sinai, said in a few weeks time, most of it will be gone.

Father Patrick Riegger of Infant Jesus RC Church next to bag after bag of donations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But the need will likely increase even more than that, as the pantry plans to work with local shelters as well to provide school supplies. Harder this year is so few schools have been posting what kinds of schools supplies students will need cover September. 

“Even if we don’t go back to school, they will still need the supplies at home,”
Valentine said.

The pantry does much more than just food donations. It helps people apply for mortgage and rental assistance, helps people muddle through social services applications, assists people whose insurance doesn’t cover a particular procedure, all of which have seen a renewed need because of the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

The Open Cupboard director has seen people with leases on nice cars pull up to seek aid, having lost their jobs and being on unemployment, having never before stepped foot into a food pantry in need of aid, whether it’s food or help getting their budgets in line.

“They’re lost, they’ve never done this before,” Rybak said. “People don’t even have the gas to come down here anymore — we’re doing a lot of deliveries.”

Now that a federal program that gave people an extra $600 on their unemployment checks has ended, she expects even more of a need. The hard part will be deciding what the organization is capable of doing, and what it can’t with the resources at hand.

“People are just really bad off, or they’re just barely making it with unemployment,” Rybak said. 

Needy Numbers Likely on the Rise

According to Newsday’s latest nextLI survey about the impact of coronavirus, of the 1,043 respondents, close to a third said their financial situation has been negatively impacted due to the pandemic. 

Things could get worse for the thousands still on unemployment. New York State statistics show Suffolk County had a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in June. Data for July is not yet available. 

Long Island Cares delivers a shipment of food to Island Heart Food Pantry in Mount Sinai. Director of the pantry Kathy Lahey said they have received a near doubling in clients since the start of the pandemic. Photo by Lahey

Paule Pachter, CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said LIC has seen about 75,000 people coming for the very first time to the its distribution centers looking for emergency food since March 13. Most came after losing their jobs.

In normal times, the food bank operates six stationary and several mobile distribution centers. During the worst of the pandemic, the nonprofit saw the closure of close to one fifth of pantries it distributed to. Things have gotten better, and now they see only 31 closed. The rate of people LIC has seen seeking help has also dropped some small degree.

Still, Pachter has a strong suspicion that with the loss of benefits such as the unemployment funding will lead to a new wave of people seeking aid. He estimates another 50,000 will come in for food in the long run.

“The fact that people are laid off, furloughed, permanently terminated from their jobs and these are people who historically are living paycheck to paycheck … the whole unemployment scenario has been driving people to the food pantries or food distribution centers,” Pachter said. “If we don’t pass another stimulus bill or another extension on unemployment, that’s going to drive even more people to seek aid.”

Though as of the start of August, the federal program that put an extra $600 on top of people’s unemployment checks ended. Congressional leaders from the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-led Senate are locked in a debate over reinstating that relief, along with billions upon billions of dollars in other potential aid to people, businesses and local governments. The Senate is scheduled to take a recess, but it is unknown whether congressional leaders will leave such aid hanging. Republicans have balked at the idea of additional money on top of unemployment checks, saying it disincentivizes people to get back to work.

In the meantime, local pantries and soup kitchens expect the loss of those extra funds on unemployment checks could mean even more people needing assistance.

Lori Presser, the director of Trinity Friends Kitchen, a soup kitchen that operates out of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point, said she has no doubt it will get more people coming in within the coming weeks. While the kitchen before the pandemic was serving the same recognizable faces every Thursday, a host of new people showed up at its doors every week to pick up a hot meal, some hearing it from the church’s food pantry that’s now open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Before the pandemic, the kitchen was serving 250 meals per month, but now she estimates it serves about 350 per month.

“The $600 really helped keep everybody in a good position, but without that you will see many more people looking to stretch whatever available funds they have,” Presser said. 

While the soup kitchen head said it is currently up to the task with current volunteers, she also worried about having to potentially bring more people into the kitchen should numbers pick up once again.

The Middle Island-based Island Heart Food Pantry, which hosts its food donations at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church on North Country Road, has felt the devastation of the pandemic. “It’s been the perfect storm,” director Kathy Lahey said.

The food pantry has experienced visibly longer lines since March, which is exacerbated by a decrease in volunteer staff. 

Legislator Sarah Anker joins the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, in a food drive. Photo from Anker’s office

“There is at least a 25 percent increase in customers,” Lahey said. “In a month we’ve fed about 500 to 600 families.” 

On an average Wednesday before the pandemic, the food pantry would feed around 35 families. Now, it feeds 62. Lahey expects these numbers to continue increasing. The pandemic has caused many more families to be in need of the pantry’s services. 

On top of its longer lines, Island Heart has also been trying to give more food to each family as well. With many kids doing online classes during this time, more families who depended on school food programs now need more food in the house during the day. 

“Because kids were home from school, we also tried to give more food,” Lahey said.

Although the lines are getting longer, the volunteer staff is decreasing. Many of Island Heart’s volunteers remain skeptical about coming in, considering that, although they wear masks, remaining socially distant at the food pantry is difficult. Numbers are down to a skeleton crew of just three a day. 

Between more patrons and less volunteers to work with, Island Heart was unsure if it was going to keep open. 

“We’re taking it day by day,” Lahey said. 

People Are Helping However They Can

What has surprised Rybak and others is just how much people have been willing to give, even while they too have been impacted by the global pandemic. While the Open Cupboard pantry normally has over 60 volunteers, even more people have put themselves out there to help since the start of the pandemic, a contrast with some of the difficulties Island Heart is dealing with.

“This is a 6,000 family parish, the volunteers really represent the heart of the parish, but we’ve noticed how more people have taken an interest since the pandemic,” said the Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus. 

Frank Davi, second from left, has filled up his truck every week to donate to local food pantries. Photo from Davi

Brain Hoerger, a trustee on the board of Theatre Three, and Doug Quattrock, a longtime actor with the company, have helped host two huge food collection drives with the theater in June and July, filling several carloads and the theater’s van “floor to ceiling” with items which they donated to Open Cupboard, enough to completely line the pantry’s main hallway, The theatre is now working on its third such drive for August.

“Now I come home and I find bags by my door, people just dropping stuff off,”
Hoerger said. 

Quattrock said he knows many of the people donating are still unemployed, yet they are still looking for ways to give back, “doing what they can,” he said.

Port Jefferson Rotary Club has also lent a hand in a big way the past few months, having been a regular supporter of the pantry for years. In addition to their Stuff-a-Van food collection events four times a year, fall food collection and their backpack packing event for back to school, Rotarians are also expected to bring in a specific product once a month.

The Selden Hills Warriors, an online group of runners based on Facebook, have also started hosting drives for eight pantries all over Long Island. There are currently four separate teams among the several hundred members buying food with a budget of about $100 each team per week.

“We’re just trying to keep it going, especially through the summer,” group leader Lou LaFleur said. “We have a generous group, and we want to do what we can because we saw the need.”

Despite its hardships, the Island Heart director said the pantry has experienced an increase in donations, both food and monetary. Many churchgoers at Mount Sinai Congregational have even been donating fresh produce from their own gardens, just so the food pantry can remain open. 

Selden Hills Warriors group head Lou Lafleur, right, next to members Bob and Barbara Haughn. They, among many others from the online running group, have donated to several local food pantries. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We’ve seen so many donations from people even outside of our church,” Lahey said. “People just want to help.”

Food pantries and soup kitchens are relying on each other to keep open during these difficult times. Island Heart has gotten a lot of its food items from stores and food banks. 

“Trader Joe’s, Long Island Cares and Island Harvest have been extremely helpful,” Lahey said. “We keep having to order more and more food.”

And as more needy people are potentially on the way, keeping those donations coming in could be make or break for a lot of shelters.

“We’re seeing a lot of new families coming in,” Open Cupboard’s Rybak said. “We had people who used to come to us, they were documented and they’re getting $600 a week, they’re buying us food. They’re giving back, so we know we’re doing the right thing, but the people who come in to us, they’re really getting hammered.”

Brookhaven officials said bay constables have been alerted to several instances of illegal shellfishing over the past month. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Brookhaven town Bay Constables issued summonses against a group of people they said were illegally harvesting oysters from Mount Sinai Harbor. Officials suspect the group was harvesting for use in a restaurant upstate.

Brookhaven officials said bay constables have been alerted to several instances of illegal shellfishing over the past month. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

On Tuesday, July 28 Brookhaven Bay Constables were patrolling Mount Sinai Harbor by boat and observed approximately eight people harvesting oysters. They radioed a senior bay constable who was on shore patrol to respond to a road ending where these individuals were. The constables found that the group had approximately 100 oysters in their possession and issued a summons for taking shellfish from uncertified waters.  

A town spokesperson said bay constables had been alerted to several incidents of illegal shellfishing over the past several weeks in Mount Sinai Harbor, where the taking of shellfish is prohibited by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from May 1 through October 31.

The town said the vehicle the group were travelling in was registered to Wasabi and Ginger Sushi Restaurant in Larchmont.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a release that taking shellfish from uncertified waters can be a health risk, and he urged state and Westchester county officials track the oyster robbery back to the restaurant “to investigate the restaurant these individuals were associated with to ensure that the food they are serving is safe for the public.”

Brookhaven Town operates one of Long Island’s largest municipal shellfish hatcheries in Mount Sinai Harbor, growing more than 2,000,000 oysters and 1,000,000 clams at the mariculture facility. These shellfish are planted in bays and harbors throughout the town when they reach maturity to help clean local waters and revive local fisheries. 

“Our harbors, bays and waterways are tremendous assets, and part of the reason so many of us call Brookhaven our home,” Romaine added.

by -
0 190

The Mount Sinai School District released its preliminary reopening plans July 31, and though documents state the district would prefer to have all students in school five days a week, it has instead put forward a hybrid model for all students in grades 1 through 12.

Documents state that Mount Sinai simply does not have the building space to comply with New York State guidelines on remaining six feet apart. All students will be put into two cohorts separately in the elementary, middle and high schools. Cohorts will be alphabetically based in order to keep students in the same family going in at the same time.

Monday through Tuesday and Thursday through Friday will be taken up by one of the two cohorts, and all students will share Wednesday for remote learning.

Meanwhile, students in kindergarten will be able to attend in-person four days a week, with remote learning one day a week. In the elementary school, each room will need to be thoroughly disinfected in between cohorts usage.

Students in special education which normally learn in “self-contained classrooms” will be able to attend in-person instruction four days a week, with remote learning one day a week.

Kindergarteners will be assigned to classrooms of 18 to 20 on average, which the district said it should be able to do with current accommodations. For Grades 1 through 4, students will be placed into cohorts of 10 to 15 students depending upon the physical size of the classroom. This will be accomplished by taking a traditional classroom of 20 to 25 students and splitting into two groups alphabetically. The elementary school will prevent intermingling across cohorts by limiting movement of the cohort throughout the day. The only movement of the cohort will be to lunch and potentially physical education. Faculty may travel in and out of the classroom for art and music instruction.

During remote learning, the district said attendance will be taken through Google Classroom recording a student’s logon. Remote learning may consist of synchronous, with a teacher present live online, and asynchronous instruction dependent upon the course or teacher.

Teachers are also expected to communicate with parents weekly, for elementary students, and biweekly for parents with kids in the middle and high school.

In order to attempt to maintain social distancing, the district will put signage and markings on the floor to designate traffic in the hallways and for standing on lines in places like the cafeteria.

Cohorts in the middle and high school will be broken up into last names starting with A through Kh and Ki through Z. Music lessons will be created within each cohort group. Students will also be assigned one of several doorways in each building to both enter and exit the school, and no student is allowed to use their gym or hallway locker, and they will often rely on online textbooks.

Upon arrival, students that do not have the required proof of temperature from home will be directed to a screening area. The district will conduct temperature checks outside the building at a designated location upon arrival via touchless thermometers. If the student has a temperature above 100 degrees, the nurse will be called by radio to escort the student to isolation waiting room for pick up.

The district’s survey showed that out of 1,085 responses, 86 percent said they would send their children to school for in-person instruction in the fall. 66.5 percent said they would need to use buses for transportation.

Still, some number of respondents said they would require district help. Approximately 112 respondents said their child does not have access to a computer, tablet or laptop for use in the online component.

by -
0 275
Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Miller Place School District is tentatively planning on a 5-day in person learning experience for elementary students come fall, while secondary school students will deal with two days of in-person instruction, one day of live online learning and two days of remote learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a final decision by New York State officials. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

In a letter to parents breaking down the district’s 35-page plan, Miller Place will have classes down to an average of 17 at the elementary level. The middle and high school plan would mean the total number of students in class is reduced by 50 percent throughout the school year.

“If Governor Cuomo does not allow full on-site instruction for our K-5 students, they will be placed on a hybrid model of two-day on-site instruction, one-day live remote instruction and two-day remote learning,” the letter signed by Superintendent Marianne Cartisano stated.

According to the district’s plan, this past May Miller Place purchased Dell laptops to supplement existing devices so now each student has access to a computer at home. This fall, each student and teacher should have access to a device they can use in school and from home. For the online learning component of this fall, the district has gone with Google G-Suite, and teachers and admin are expected to take six hours of professional development prior to the start of the school year.

Students in both elementary and secondary will be expected to have physical education, music, art and other special courses, though it did not state whether this will be held in classroom or outdoors, as other districts have explicitly planned on doing.

Compared to other neighboring districts, Miller Place will not explicitly have students in special education classes in school five days a week. Instead, students’ times and coursework will be determined on an individual basis, with plans drawn up for each child in conjunction with parents and members of the school’s Committee on Special Education. Students will use their school-provided laptops from home, and on-site instruction will be provided two days per week with access to district technology within the building. Special education teachers will still be individually responsible for each special needs students both at home and in school.

As far as before and after school programs, the district said it plans to again partner with SCOPE for these plus the Pre-Kindergarten program.

Miller Place said for those vulnerable students who cannot participate in in-person learning for medical reasons a full-time online learning may be offered in a program facilitated by district personnel, by Eastern Suffolk BOCES or home tutoring instruction. These programs will offer a basic and generic schedule for students to complete their instructional program and course requirements, though it did not offer specifics of what that may entail.

The district will not provide a separate learning experience for parents who do not want their kids to attend for the part time in-person instruction. However, the district has provided resources for parents looking to homeschool their children at millerplace.k12.ny.us/Domain/75.

Miller Place’s survey sent to parents in July received 1678 responses. Of those who responded, close to 88 percent or 1,472 parents said they would have their kid attend school in person for at least some part of the school year. At the same time, most parents said they were not in favor of having children wear masks during normal instruction.

Though many students would, the majority of parents, about 60 percent, said they would not be able to have their child driven to school each day, and would need to take public transportation.

by -
0 176
Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point plans to have its elementary students in all five days of the week, while middle and high schoolers will trade off between in-person learning and online education Monday through Friday.

Releasing its plan on its website July 31, Superintendent Scott O’Brien said in a letter to the district dated July 31 that school principals will be creating videos for students, families, teachers, and staff that will highlight the new procedures and expectations for procedure at bus stops or walking in hallways.

“While I recognize that the reopening of schools, if approved by the governor, will look different than in years past, I assure you that our buildings will continue to be welcoming places of learning, excitement and joy for our students,” the superintendent said. “Just as we have reimagined our methods for delivering instruction, we will continue to find new ways to inspire and nurture all of our students.”

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a final decision by New York State officials. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

After school starts in September, elementary students in grades K-5 will be attending school five days a week in classrooms with a significantly reduced size to allow for social distancing. Specials, such as physical education, music, art and library will be put into the normal classroom or be held outside, weather permitting. Recess and lunch will be a combined period in the classroom or outside. Students will be issued a Chromebook for use both in and out of school.

Otherwise, students in middle and high school will be split into two groups for students with last names A through L and M through Z. The first attends in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday and the latter on Thursday and Friday. Outside the classroom on off days, students will be expected to log onto Google Meet before the end of the school day and complete assignments based on their regular schoolwork. On Wednesdays, all students will be home where the school will be given a “deep cleaning.”
Students in special education or English as a New Language classes will attend school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Though parents have asked if there are any options for remote learning for parents who keep their children home, the district said in its FAQ that there will be no model other than the one offered. Parents who don’t want their kids to be in school in the way described will be forced to homeschool instead.
Survey results for the district also reveal not only what expectations parents have for the upcoming school year, but also just how badly they were impacted by the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey included 898 responses from parents out of a school district of around 2,950 students. In those results, nearly 13 percent of respondents said they lost their job or work because of the pandemic. 3.4 percent lost a loved one to COVID-19. Over 20 percent said they have suffered depression, anxiety isolation and stress. 8.6 percent said they have had difficulty paying bills.

On the side of working parents who would need childcare in case of distance learning, nearly 16 percent said they require childcare. Another 21.7 percent said a flexible schedule would make setting up childcare difficult.

Still, a solid 78.3 percent of respondents said they would send their child to school if it were 100 percent in person. 84.8 percent said they would send their kids back in some sort of hybrid model.

by -
0 121
Port Jefferson Superintendent spoke at two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

Among three potential plans for reopening, the Port Jefferson School District has decided on a model that would have elementary students in full time and middle school and high school students splitting their week between in-class and online learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a decision by the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

At its July 29 meeting, school officials and board members heard of the three options the 68-member reopening committee has been working on the past several weeks. The presentation, shown by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Christine Austen, included a fully online standardized learning experience, a hybrid model and a full-time in-person experience. 

What the district has tentatively settled on could mean increased costs to the small district on the Sound. Having grades K through five in class all the time will mean extra costs in redesigning the classrooms, hiring extra teaching assistants and other such costs associated with keeping students distanced. Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said it could be an approximate $230,000 addition out of this year’s $44,739,855 2020-21 budget. That money,  according to Schmettan, would come from the district’s reserve fund balance.

Otherwise, students in the middle and high schools will have days of the week split between two days in school, one day at home being taught over the internet live with their regular teachers and two days of what amounts to classwork, or so-called “asynchronous learning,” also over the internet.  

Students will be broken up into two groups to be put on alternating schedules, purple and gray for students with last names A through L and M through Z. District officials said they would work to make sure each group was balanced.

Though some on the board asked about students wishing to be in class together with friends, Schmettan said the biggest issue was making sure siblings were in the same group, so as to not add extra difficulty with parents taking children to school. 

A student’s grade level will determine how many hours of asynchronous learning for each student. The district has come out with a one-to-one Chromebook program, and officials also said it will work to make sure those lacking access to stable internet connections can access the online portions of their schooling.

At the same time, students in special education and in English as a New Language in the elementary school would also be there full time. However, special education and ENL, among other extra help groups in the middle and high schools, will spend four days in school and one day at home for asynchronous learning, as better to comprehend what’s expected with online learning in case schools shut down again.

In a survey sent home to parents, school officials said 12 percent of parents have said they do not plan to send their kid into school in the fall, while another 13 said they need more info before making a decision. Also in the survey, 45 percent of parents said they were comfortable with their kids taking the bus to school. The rest said they were uncomfortable or unsure about having their children take the bus. 

The district plans to send out further surveys after Cuomo releases final guidelines to confirm which parents will be sending kids to schools and which aren’t. Port Jeff also plans to survey staff to confirm who is in line for when school starts up again Sept. 8.

In the case that a student or staff member does get sick, Austen said the district will work with New York State or Suffolk County contact tracers, though it will also be incumbent on the district itself to identify who was close to the person confirmed with COVID-19.

A previous version of this post shared the wrong name of Port Jeff’s assistant superintendent. This version corrects this error.

If Caran Markson could make the world green, cover it in manicured sets of pollinating flowers and sweet smelling herbs, she would. 

Hearing her talk about planting and gardening, the possibilities seem endless. If she had unlimited hours in the day, she would pick up every spare piece of litter on the road from Port Jeff to Montauk, she would kneel in the medians along Route 25A with cars flashing past on either side and weed the curbs of their overgrown stalks and giant vegetation. If she was the queen of gardening, there would be a pocket park on every corner of every publicly accessed street in Suffolk County, or even wider, all of New York state. If she was the monarch of the pollinating flowers, there would be a gardener for every county, town and village, and she would lead her army from the front.

PJ Village Gardener Caran Markson transplants and weeds near the Village Center June 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

To hear her speak, one may truly believe the world could be green from one end to the other, if only there were more people with mindsets like hers. 

“A gardener’s work is never done,” Markson said. “Turn around after you’ve done something, and if you don’t enjoy it or see the progress you’ve made, then you’ve got to go do something else.”

But alas, she can only control what goes on in Port Jefferson village, and there’s more than enough there to keep her occupied. Since she started six years ago, she has turned from one of two seasonal part-time village gardeners to the lone full-time caretaker of the village’s many pocket parks. She’s out nearly every day of the week, most of the time beginning the job at 6 a.m. She’s out on the weekends too. She’s out in the blazing sun and the drizzling rain. In normal times, she would open the basketball court and Rocketship Park and take out the trash. She still walks all around the village and picks up litter, every single discarded wrapper and cigarette butt. To her, strewn garbage is public enemy number 1. 

“Because I’m a nut, and I’m an absolute anal person as far as litter is concerned,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful everyone throws everything on the ground.”

In autumn, she keeps the parks clear of debris. In the winter, she’s out shoveling snow. She has worked with the Long Island Explorium to construct three rain gardens at Village Hall, the Village Center and the Department of Public Works building, the last called the Whale’s Tail for its unique shape. She works an area of 3 square miles, from the country club to downtown and uptown to the village limits near the train station. 

At 61, with a wiry frame, Markson is like a coiled spring as she attacks green spots in the village such as the gardens next to Harborfront Park and in the center of the roundabout next to the Village Center. Three years ago, she described it as “a bunch of weeds, and a bunch of overgrown looking bushes.” The village parks department helped remove the old shrub, and Markson replanted it with many native plants like Sweet Joe-Pye weed and tall asters. Though she said some thought the plantings seemed sparse, now the area is full to bursting with color once her plants grew out. Among mistakes novice gardeners often make, the biggest are forgetting the importance of maintenance and not recognizing that plants will grow out to occupy more of the space they’re in. 

It’s been much the same for Markson as she’s grown to fit her role. Her family is from Port Jeff, and both her parents and children attended Port Jefferson School District. Her mother was the one to originally teach her about horticulture. She quit being an oral surgeon’s assistant to take care of her terminally ill mother. Once she passed, Markson came back to Port Jeff to “reinvent myself.” Her children are in their 40s, and the plants dotting the village have become her babies.

Mayor Margot Garant said the gardener has an annual budget of around $15,000, but that Markson “does magic with it,” making it stretch by accepting donations from Port Jeff and neighboring communities and by replanting from denser areas of the village to parts that need more. The village gardener and mayor also thanked Kunz Greenhouses in Port Jefferson Station for working with them to provide many of the flowers and greenery all across the village.

The family-owned Kunz Greenhouses has been around for close to 60 years and has been working with the village for nearly four decades. Carolyn Zambraski, who along with her brother is the second generation of greenhouse owners, said she often works with Markson, offering suggestions of native plants and ideas for different planting beds. Driving around the area, the greenhouse owner said the village gardener’s work has made a noticeable improvement in Port Jeff.

“It’s certainly getting better,” she said. “The anchor is a great example, as that was really an eyesore with evergreens and rocks a few years back. The village is going in the right direction.”

Port Jefferson also put up the money for Markson to go through her Master Gardener program with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. She received her certificate of completing 85 hours of training July 25.

“She cares 1,000 percent — her whole heart is in it,” Garant said of Markson. “I find her to be an exemplary employee with an old-fashioned work ethic you can’t just get anywhere.”

As much as she does, Markson isn’t stopping. She has an idea to create a children’s garden in a small patch of grass next to Rocketship Park, adding she is working with Port Jeff’s grant writer Nicole Christian to get some type of funding for such a project. She imagines it as a place where young people can walk through and learn about nature and planting. 

She also wants to work with school-aged children to create small gardens next to the downspouts at Village Hall, where she says there are erosion issues.

Beyond that, though, her ambition stretches past what might be humanly possible. She wishes there were more like her on the town, county and state level who paid as much attention to beautification, to make every stretch of road, street, parking lot, park as perfect as can be. 

“Beautification is so important,” she said. “Everything should look beautiful.”

Police said a number of young people on bikes physically and verbally harassed members of a Port Jefferson Station gym last Thursday. Photo from Crossfit DHP

Crossfit DHP in Port Jefferson Station was the site of a tense confrontation between the owners of a local gym and a crowd of children and teens on bikes. Though police said nobody was hurt, owners said this could be a learning experience that parents make sure kids show respect.

Suffolk County Police said around 20 young people on bikes were roving around the Port Jeff Station area July 23, and that officers responded to two disturbances outside the gym at 5:30 and then around 6:15 p.m. Police said once they arrived, the groups dispersed with no injuries on either side.

Police said the young people then traveled to Wendy’s on Nesconset Highway and allegedly threw drinks and cursed at patrons. 

Two tickets were issued to two of the juvenile’s parents.

In a statement, gym owners said a group of young men and women on their bikes were seen smoking weed behind the building when they started harassing gym members who were going on their run.

We asked them to be aware of our presence but then they started hitting our members with their bikes,” the statement reads. “At that point we asked them to leave and that we would call the cops to which they said they were proud that the cops were chasing them around all day. With a lot of vulgar language and verbal harassment, they did start to leave as the cops escorted them out.”

On the way out, gym owners said one kid tried to throw a barbell at one of the gym members. The bikers left after police were initially called, but about 10 minutes later came back to harass the gym again. That is when the video was recorded, and owners said the bikers took pipes from their bikes and swung them at member’s heads. 

“To go even further, several of them spit on us, which during a pandemic is unquestionably wrong,” the statement read.

On July 31, police announced they have made two arrests, namely two males, both 15 years old, of Centereach, whom police said were involved in the incident.

One of the teens was charged with 2nd degree reckless endangerment for throwing a barbell at a gym member, and the other was charged with second degree menacing for swinging a bicycle seat at another gym member.

The teens were issued desk appearance tickets and scheduled for arraignment at Suffolk County Family Court in Central Islip Aug. 14.

A viral video posted to the Comsewogue Community Facebook page has since been taken down, but in that video the crowd of young people, most not wearing masks, surrounded the front of the gym’s parking lot where owners and a few gym members confronted them. 

One unidentified young person in the video in a light blue shirt became physical with one unidentified person from the gym, seemingly throwing a punch that doesn’t connect. Young people could be heard swearing and threatening the adults. Another man stepped forward holding a rod of some kind, but in the video he does not appear to use it on the bikers. 

At one point in the video, somebody tried to grab something from a woman at the gym, and a brief struggle ensued but was quickly broken up. 

Owner of the gym Ryder Champouillon and his wife and fellow gym coach Jen posted a video to their gym Facebook page the day after the original video was released, thanking community members for their well wishes.

In the statement, the gym owners thanked Suffolk County Police along with Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) for their genuine response to the incident. 

In the gym’s statement, they said this is not the first episode of harassment in the local community, and many more have posted about such incidents to community Facebook pages. Though thanks to the community, owners said they have already been able to identify many of the people in that video.

Our sole purpose within our facility is to offer the community a single outlet to find healthcare, nutrition and exercise that improves our lives, which improves our community as a whole,” the statement read. “We spoke earlier with members of the local government about moving forward with programs for the community and youth to have an outlet surrounded by positive role models.”

Owners asked anybody who could identify the bikers to send a confidential email to [email protected]

This post has been updated July 31 with information on two arrests.