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Education

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a new executive order June 8 that New York State would be extending the deadline for mailed in absentee ballots for school budget and board of education votes to Tuesday, June 16.

Many districts are still collecting ballots via drop off to district offices on June 9 by the end of the business day at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots can still be mailed to districts and will be accepted until June 16 at 5 p.m.

This also comes with the announcement the state would allow school districts to conduct graduations ceremonies, though they must be outside, adhere to social distance guidelines and must contain 150 people or less. Some school districts said those figures may be too restrictive.

“The recent approval for small gatherings for graduation, while welcome news, requires seniors to be separated into multiple different ceremonies,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in a public letter. He asked residents to encourage local and state leaders to revisit the matter.

Suffolk County legislature's online meeting May 19.

“Hello?” “Can you hear me?” “Would that person please mute their mic?” “We can hear your dog barking/child yelling/lawn mower going …” and on and on.

These are comments well known to anybody who’s been paying attention to government meetings, of municipalities large and small, in this time of pandemic. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order which temporarily nixed the requirements for local governments to hold in-person meetings, many organizations quickly had to come up with some sort of workaround to still hold their legally required meetings, though staying as socially distanced as possible while still remaining open for public view.

The Town of Brookhaven during its most recent online meeting.

Zoom meetings, YouTube Live video, these are the new tools for conducting government business, but not all are equal in just how “open” these meetings are.

New York Coalition for Open Government, a small nonprofit organization, known until recently as Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, came out with a report May 12 grading different levels of government on their transparency, with all meetings being held online. The New York State Committee on Open Government, which is run from Albany under the Department of State, has opined that governments would still have to host visible livestreamed meetings to conform to both the governor’s executive order and the current Open Meetings Law. Some governing bodies have interpreted the governor’s order to mean a body could meet without allowing public access. The coalition organization instead points to opinions by the committee and people from the governor’s office that says agencies and all local governments should allow access to livestreamed meetings.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview that local governing bodies “must afford remote access to the meeting while the meeting is going on.” This does not have to be a video livestream, but it must allow the public the ability to listen to that meeting. She said it is not enough to post a transcript or video after for the public to listen to or read.

The nonprofit’s report found only four of 21 governments surveyed from all of New York state had met all their criteria, including having all meetings livestreamed, having videos/audio posted online after the meeting and having all meeting documents posted online prior to the meeting.

The coalition included another metric though it’s not required by the Open Meetings Law, specifically asking whether a government was soliciting public comments that are heard and/or seen during the meeting.

The open government coalition president, Paul Wolf, an attorney in upstate New York, said he feels it’s important for local governments to be judged on their willingness to listen to the public, despite it not being required by law.

“All right, there’s a pandemic going on, but you” can still hear from the public and hear their concerns,” he said. “[We had] some pushback and controversy on grades, but you have to somehow rank people and and have some calculation who’s doing good.”

Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven were given “B” rankings by the committee, noting both were not addressing public comments in their meetings. As of their last meetings in May and early June, both town and the county board meetings still were not enabling public comment.

“It’s good to push for this stuff, and that seems to be one of few ways to get elected officials’ attention that seems to prompt some change,” Wolf said.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult for local government to make the adjustment to online meetings. Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the governing body had to figure things out on the fly. The last time all legislators were together for in-person meetings was March 17. He added it took time to get proper guidance from the state regarding hosting meetings. So far during the pandemic, the legislature has only allowed comment during public hearings.

Town of Smithtown’s online meeting May 21.

Calarco said some legislators have made comments that current meetings have not been sufficiently open.

“I get that, and it is important for us to be transparent, but we have been trying to do it as effectively as we can,” he said. “For local government [having public comment] is an integral part of how our meetings operate — for residents to have ability to speak to us in public fashion.”

The next general meeting, June 9, will be the first time in two months the legislature will have a timeslot for public comment. People can visit the legislature’s website at scnylegislature.us and scroll down to the link for submitting public comment.

Brookhaven, on the other hand, is looking more toward a time when they can host in person meetings again, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. He said Brookhaven has had to work through technical difficulties, but is complying with the law and the parameters of the governor’s executive order, adding there were no current plans to createa a public portion during online meetings.

The town allows for comment on public hearings, which can be submitted either in writing or with the person joining the town’s online meeting in video form. Molloy said the town has tried to push back non-time sensitive public hearings until later dates.

We’re certainly trying to improve it, that means improvements in technology and the board is always trying to improve access to public,” Molloy said.

Despite this, different levels of government, including school districts, have found varying levels of success keeping their meetings open and responsive to the public.

TBR News Media has run through all school districts, villages and towns in our coverage area to check if its meeting four simple criteria. The point is not to degrade some and promote others, but to offer a means of comparison and give examples for how they can improve their openness to the public. Because of this, we have eschewed a letter grading system for our local governing bodies.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing for public comment via chat on YouTube but, as it has done in the past, has only hosted public portions every other week. Though this may have worked until now, the circumstances of the pandemic mean it may be time to change that policy.

School districts were perhaps the most consistent among municipalities for providing documentation and at least some communication of meetings and inquiries from residents. The Comsewogue school district has hosted a bevy of online options for students and district residents, including a website dedicated to offering stress relief for students, multiple Zoom meetings directly with students and a video of the budget hearing. However, the district has not posted any of its online board meetings after the fact to its website.

Grading Criteria (according to New York Coalition for Open Government)

  • Are meetings being live streamed?
  • Are meeting videos/audio posted online after the meeting?
  • Are all meeting documents being posted online prior to the meeting?
  • While not required by the Open Meetings Law, are local governments soliciting public comments that are heard/seen during the meeting?

Suffolk County 3/4 (As of June 9, this changed to allow a public comment period)

Meetings are being livestreamed through county website

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Brookhaven 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed and can be accessed by cable Channel 18

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Smithtown 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

People are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Huntington 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Video and documents are available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Village of Shoreham 2/4

Meetings are held by Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Video/audio of meetings not available after meeting

Some documents are available before meetings, but agendas are not

Public can make comments during meetings

Village of Belle Terre 3/4

Meetings are held via Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Meetings video/audio is not readily available post meeting

Meeting documents are posted before meetings are held

Public is available to make comments during regular meetings

Village of Port Jefferson 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings videos/audio/agendas posted online

Meeting documents posted before meeting

Comments being posted through YouTube then addressed by board, but only every other meeting

Village of Old Field 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed with links sent to residents via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online though minutes are

Meeting documents not posted before meetings

Trustee meetings regularly allow two public comment periods

Village of Poquott 3/4

Meetings can be accessed via dial-in code

Meeting video/audio of latest meetings not available

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is able to make comments during meetings

Village of Head of the Harbor 3/4

Residents can access meetings via links through notices

Meeting video/audio not available online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is allowed comment during meeting

Village of Lake Grove 2/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Could not determine if public can comment during meetings

Village of Nissequogue 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video is available after meeting

Documents are not posted before meeting

People are allowed public comment during meeting

Village of the Branch 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings video/audio is not posted to the website after the meeting

Documents are posted to the website prior to meetings

People are allowed to comment during public portions of the meeting

Village of Asharoken 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meeting minutes/agendas available after meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting but not video

Agenda available before meeting

Residents can ask questions prior to or during meeting

Village of Lloyd Harbor 4/4

Residents can listen in to meetings

Notices are present prior to meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting

Residents have been told they can comment during meeting

Village of Northport 4/4

Meetings are being held over teleconference call

Meeting audio not posted online after meeting

Agendas posted to website prior to meeting

Website says residents can ask questions of board via the web page

Shoreham-Wading River School District 4/4

Meetings are held publicly online via Zoom

Video of meeting posted after date held

Agendas are posted before meeting

Residents can comment during meetings

Rocky Point School District 2/4

Up until budget hearing, has not been having public board meetings online

Audio of meetings available on website

Board agendas posted prior to meeting

Public not able to comment on meetings up until budget hearing

Miller Place School District 3/4

Meetings held via Zoom

Video/audio of meetings not posted after meeting

Agendas posted prior to meetings

People may comment during meetings via chat

Mount Sinai School District 4/4

Meetings livestreamed via Zoom and on Facebook

Video of meeting posted afterward

Agendas posted prior to meetings

Questions from audience addressed during meeting

Port Jefferson School District 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings audio/visual/documentation available post meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public is not able to make comments during meetings

Comsewogue School District 2/4

Public has access to meetings via livestream

Meeting audio/video not available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Questions are not being addressed at meetings

Middle Country School District 3/4

Meetings livestreamed from Google Meet

Meeting video is available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

The district has dispensed with public input

Three Village School District 3/4

Meetings are not being livestreamed

Meeting video available after meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting

Questions are not being addressed at meeting

Smithtown School District 4/4

All meetings are streamed live via Facebook

Videos available after meeting

Documents available before meeting via BoardDocs

Public can submit comments prior to meetings

Hauppauge School District 4/4

Videos streamed via Facebook Live

Videos available after meetings

Documents available on website

Residents can ask questions via Google Docs attached linked to the agenda

Commack School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly streamed through the district website

Meeting videos are available after meeting
Meetings documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Members of the district can ask questions via email,

Kings Park School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly available via Zoom

Meeting videos are available after meeting

Documents are available via BoardDocs

District allows for comments on call during prearranged comment period

Elwood School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live to YouTube

Meeting agendas available via BoardDocs

Videos are available after meetings

Questions are answered during latter section of meeting

Huntington School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live via Zoom call

Meeting video is available on the district website

Meeting agendas are available via BoardDocs

Residents can ask questions during Zoom meetings

Harborfields School District 4/4

The district livestreamed meetings via Vimeo

Agenda is available prior to meeting on district website

Video is available after the meeting dates

Residents can ask questions via email, and questions are answered at a determined time in the meeting

Northport-East Northport School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via IPCamLive

Videos are available after meetings

Agendas are available beforehand via BoardDocs

Questions can be sent via email and addressed during meeting

Cold Spring Harbor School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Videos of the boards hearings are available at the district’s YouTube page

Board agendas and documents are available at its meeting portal page

The board advises sending questions via email, which are addressed during the meeting

This article has been amended June 16 to update information about the Suffolk County legislature.

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Jennifer McGuigan's five children work on their schoolwork at home. Photo by McGuigan

By Deniz Yildirm

With the arrival of the Coronavirus, New Yorkers have been forced to practice social distancing and with that, so called distance learning. Distance learning is a relatively new phrase which means a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast and classes are conducted over the internet. And while many teachers at Comsewogue are familiar with online tools, there is still a steep learning curve. 

Don Heberer, the District Administrator for Instructional Technology and Frank Franzese, the district’s Educational Technology Specialist teacher have been working tirelessly to help teachers and students shift to distance learning. 

“Everyone is putting in long hours” Franzese said. “There’s no such thing as a one way email. Every teacher is trying to give their classes a first rate education using technology, even when it’s stressing them out. So I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

Despite the speed of setting up this distance learning, the quality of work is really outstanding. “I’m so impressed with the level of collaboration and dedication my teachers have to making this work and connecting with students.” said Terryville elementary Principal Annemarie Sciove, who has has two young children and said she understands how important it is for children to feel connections with their teachers and the challenges of working from home. Despite this challenge, third-grade teachers Mrs. Sciarrino and Ms. Benson are working together to create some of the most comprehensive google classrooms for their students. So far they’ve uploaded countless resources and worksheets even though it’s their first time using google classroom. Sites like xtramath.org, storyonline.net and classroom.magazine.com are just a few of the websites they’ve shared with students to help them continue to grow at home. And even though spring break has been cancelled, these teachers have found a way to make this week extra special by planning a “virtual vacation.” Students will “visit” special places via youtube and google earth then report back to their teachers. 

“It’s a great learning experience and a warm up to our country report project in May,” Sciarrino said. 

Teachers have also been uploading videos of themselves, including teachers Mrs. Dunn and Mrs. Zoccoli who have created videos for their classes where they are offering support and encouragement. 

Physical education teacher Mr. Chesterton posted a video challenging his students to a jumping jack countoff (he got up to 50 while one student reported 100). This kind of teaching is really meaningful to the kids who are stressed out and missing school. 

Just ask Jennifer McGuigan, like so many parents she is facing the challenge of supporting her five children (the oldest John in college, 11th-grader Joe, ninth-grader Lydia, seventh-grader William and fifth-grader Lila.

 “I want them to know it’s okay and it’s easier to do that with the support of the teachers,” McGuigan said. “It can be a lot sometimes, every one of them has at least five classes they have to check in to but it’s a welcome distraction.” 

She also says it’s helpful to establish a schedule and reiterate that no one is looking for perfection, teachers are just looking for students to do their best. 

Superintendent Dr. Quinn couldn’t agree more, as she’s recently said in her call home, “We’re in this together.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School. For students, she has posted a video showing how they can make a temporary library card so they can borrow ebooks.

The College Board has said they are pushing back this year's SATs to August. Stock photo

The College Board has canceled the June 6 Scholastic Achievement Test and SAT Subject Tests.

The Board hopes to restart the test in August and will offer the test every month through the end of the calendar year, if it’s “safe from a public health standpoint,” the board announced on its web site.

The new schedule includes an additional date in September, as well as the originally planned Aug. 29, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5 test dates.

Students can register for these tests starting in May.

Given that the College Board has canceled several tests this spring, the board is planning for a significant expansion of their capacity for students to take the tests once school reopen. They are calling member schools and colleges, as well as local communities, to add to testing capacity to give every student who would like to take the test the opportunity.

Students can get early access to register for August, September and October exams if they are already registered for June and are in the high school class of 2021 and don’t have SAT scores.

In the event that schools don’t reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use that will be similar to the digital exams three million Advanced Placement students will take this spring.

The College Board and Khan Academy are providing free resources online, including full length practice tests and personalized learning tools.

In May, students registered for June can transfer their registration to one of the fall SAT administrations for free. Students who want to cancel their SAT registration can get a refund through customer service.

The College Board has said they are pushing back this year's SATs to August. Stock photo

In response to schools closing around the country and to the ongoing isolation caused by the coronavirus Covid-19, the College Board has canceled face-to-face Advanced Placement exams, replacing them with a 45-minute only exam students can take at home.

The Advancement Placement tests often offer high school students the opportunity to receive college credit for subjects they have mastered.

The College Board is providing free remote learning resources. Beginning Mach 25, students can attend free, live AP review courses, which AP teachers across the country will deliver. The classes, which can supplement any online teaching students receive through their schools, will be available on demand and will focus on reviewing the skills and concepts from the first 75 percent of the course. There will also be some supplementary lessons covering the final quarter of the course.

The College Board will also unlock any relevant free-response questions in AP classroom for digital use, so students can study practice questions that are similar to the ones that would appear on the exam.

Any student registered for an AP test can choose to cancel at no charge.

The College Board decided to change the format of the exam after surveying 18,000 AP students, 91 percent of whom wanted to have the chance to take the exam.

To be fair to students who may have had more time off from school amid the virus outbreak, the College Board plans to focus the exam questions on topics and skills most AP teachers covered in class by early March.

The College Board indicated colleges supported this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive credit for scores that meet their requirements. Colleges have accepted a shortened AP exam for college credit when groups of students experienced other emergencies, the College Board explained.

Students can take the exam on any electronic device. They will also be able to take a picture of handwritten work.

The College Board uses a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to discourage and catch any potential cheating.

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The Alfred G. Prodell Middle School could go from eight perioids to nine. Photo from Google Maps

Citing that 25 percent of middle school students don’t have access to their full potential, the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is considering bumping up from eight to nine periods in a school day at the middle school, but doing so could mandate an earlier start time for some students.

Alfred G. Prodell Middle School Principal Kevin Vann said at the Jan. 7 board meeting the middle school program committee has come to the conclusion a nine-period school day would mean students have additional time for electives, for specific classes like earth science or for more students to participate in clubs or in musical classes, which would be moved into the middle of the day if the board were to accept the proposal. The principal added that such a change will allow students to free up time for further electives once they enter high school.

Vann said according to their data, 25 percent of the overall middle school students are currently unable to participate in activities they would otherwise be able to with the additional period. Other neighboring districts like Three Village, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai all have nine-period days in the middle schools.

With the change however, all students would need to be in the school during the early morning period of 7:20 a.m. Currently students taking one of the musical electives or seeking extra help come in during that time.

The board will also need to look at the cost and potential impacts of such a change before coming to a decision further down the line.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

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Peter Sammarco

By Christine Zammarco

It started with a hoarse voice that seemed like part of a lingering cold that wouldn’t go away. Then one morning, Peter Sammarco, then 48-years-old, was shaving when he coughed up blood and right away knew something was wrong. After meeting with the doctors, Sammarco was diagnosed; it was throat cancer. Yet, rather than being concerned about what lay ahead, the Plainview history teacher, Rocky Point resident, father and husband met the challenge head on.

Peter Sammarco

“I was pretty hopeful,” he recalled at the age of 81, and speaking by projecting air through his diaphragm.

He was more upset about retiring from his job than he was about losing his voice or even the risk of dying, but Sammarco is from tough stock and from a generation which knew how to work hard and how to fight. He was born in 1930 during the Great Depression. He remembers the absence of his older brothers away serving in the military as he grew up. His Father, Petero, was a tailor and able to trade making suits in exchange for doctor and dentist visits or other services for the family.

As a boy, Sammarco would go to the tailor shop during his lunch breaks in grammar school and enjoyed conversations with two part time Jewish men who worked there — one of whom would become his mentor. The worker would give him history lessons and talk about Hitler and what life was like in Germany, where he immigrated from.

Between the knowledge Sammarco picked up from the workers and the letters he received from his brothers stationed overseas in different parts of the world, he was always learning about current events going on in the world. His teacher would often ask the young man, “how’d you know that?” The teacher even asked him to report current events to the class.

When his brother, Bob, whom Sammarco hadn’t seen in five years, came back from serving in the military, one of the first things he did was grab his younger brother by his collar and take him to St. Ann’s Academy school to enroll. It was an all-boys private school with a cost of $12 a month, which was a lot of money back then, but Bob and his father paid for it. Sammarco was always an above average student with good grades across the board. He graduated in 1948 and planned to go into the military, but again Bob had other plans for him, and took him to Queens College to enroll. He was only the second person in the whole neighborhood to go to college.

“I graduated Sunday, and the Monday after I graduated [the next day] I was sworn into the military,” said Sammarco.

He was in charge of communications in Korea for 17 months. The highlight of his time in Korea was helping the local orphaned children who had no food, clothes, or even underwear. He used his leadership to get the troops stationed there to build an orphanage. He went from tent to tent collecting money. Three days later, a truckload of clothes arrived.

“That was one of the best times of my life because they knew I was responsible for it,” said Sammarco.

The children were amazed by how fast the buildings went up, and Sammarco felt good to leave something of himself behind.

“I came home from Korea in 1954 on military discharge and I said, what am I going to do now?” Sammarco recalled.

Bob guided him and told him about a job at an insurance company. He did very well financially, but working sales wasn’t for him.

“I loved teaching. I always loved teaching,” said Sammarco.

He went back to college at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. He was only there a week when he was called to the office.

Peter Sammarco

“I asked, ‘was there a problem with my check?’ And they said, ‘no’ and offered me a job teaching,” Sammarco recalled. “I said, “but I’ve only been going to school here a week.” The new job was at an all-girls school, namely William Maxwell Commercial High School in Brooklyn.

He went in for the interview not knowing much about the position. Amazingly, they hired him on the spot.

“They didn’t ask me any questions, they said, here you go, room 401.”

He was in a class with 52 female students where Sammarco taught history for three years, but eventually it came time to settle down in the suburbs, and the commute to the city became too much. A friend helped him get a job at Plainview High School teaching history. He was there for 19 years. He spent his free time teaching at a Jewish community center and homeschooling sick children at a mental institution.

“The parents said he was such a wonder to their kids,” said his wife, Janet Sammarco.

One year, the journalist Geraldo Rivera ran a feature story about wanting to raise money for schools with special needs. Sammarco decided to throw a carnival at the high school and get his senior students involved. They raised $9,000 dollars.

“Some parents in Plainview say it was the best thing that ever happened to Plainview… that all the kids did something good,” said Sammarco.

But it was not just one single event that stands out to him. “The whole experience was rewarding,” he said. “Seeing kids grow. I had the same kids for a year so I could see the difference between when they started and the end. Plainview had really good students. Oh, they were bright. It was a good feeling, if you don’t get that feeling. Don’t teach.”

Sammarco still remembers receiving the news of his cancer and how the idea of having to resign pained him, as he would no longer be able to teach without a voice. The students all walked him out to his car on that last day.

“All the girls were crying,” Sammarco recalled. “That was a bad day, let me tell you… I loved teaching… that was very sad. I drive out of the parking lot and they were all waving.”

He had surgery shortly after, and the whole school waited for news. Someone made an announcement on the loud speaker, saying “Mr. Sammarco made it through the surgery, he is okay.”

They could have taken only one vocal cord and left him with a voice, because the tumor was only on one vocal cord, but it was large and if even meniscal traces were on the second one the cancer would have spread further. The operation saved his life. With speech therapy he started with a method using burping up air, one he learned to laugh about. His more recent pattern of projecting air became more natural, allowing him to verbally communicate.

“People would be scared and feel bad if they couldn’t understand what he was saying,“ said Janet Sammarco. “I think we were closer. He needed me more than ever before.”

It also brought the community together and showed him how many people cared. People came to him and prayed for him.

“Losing my voice didn’t affect the quality of my life. I can’t complain about my life. I was good to my country, I helped people grow, I’m very positive about my life,” said Sammarco.

The radiation from chemotherapy led to blood and kidney cancer years later. He believed the water he drank while in Korea that had been contaminated with gasoline also contributed. Drinking that water and smoking socially are his only regrets in life, but he says he wouldn’t have changed anything.

“Did I appreciated what I had? Not really. I do now. We take things for granted… after the third cancer I was like, O.K God, I get it,” He laughed lightheartedly with a big warm smirk.

Still a young man after the surgery, Sammarco still needed to work. Sammarco went on to be the groundskeeper at his local church, St. Anthony of Padua R.C Church in Rocky Point after resigning from teaching.

Sammarco passed away June 24. He was 88, and is survived by his wife of 60 years, Janet; his children, Peter and Jennifer; two granddaughters, Jennifer and Christine; two great-grandsons, Connor and Bryce; and his only surviving brother, Richard.

He was preceded in death by his son Robert.

“I enjoyed the 19 years working at the church and planting trees… it wasn’t that bad,” Sammarco said. “The trees will outlive me, and people will look at them and remember me driving around on the tractor.”

File photo

Comsewogue school district representatives said they focused on keeping increases low while dealing with a decrease in school enrollment.

The Comsewogue Union Free School District has proposed a $93,974,755 budget for the 2019-20 school year, an increase of $2,027,025 from last year. 

Included in the budget is a proposed tax levy, the amount of money the district raises from taxes, of $57,279,755, a 2 percent increase of $1,140,786, below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

One of the main foci of the budget was for child mental health awareness.

“Everybody we met with, everyone was in agreement, students’ mental health and well-being — it was important to put more money into the budget for social and emotional learning and mental health issues,” assistant superintendent Susan Casali said.

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

“That’s why you don’t see the budget going down — there are students that cost us a lot more money,” Casali said. 

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

In terms of state aid, the district received a moderate increase from $31,800,000 to $32,700,000. 

In addition to the budget vote, the district is asking residents to vote on proposition 2, which would establish a capital reserve fund. This allows Comsewogue to set aside money for future capital projects, when it will require district residents again to take money out of the reserve. Casali said this is funded through unallocated funds the district has by the end of the year, and the fund does not increase taxes.

In the meantime, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

The district is lauding its Moody’s bond rating of AA2, and expects to have to keep up on payments for the next three years in order to maintain that rating.

Comsewogue will host its budget hearing May 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the district office board room. The budget vote will take place May 21, in Comsewogue High School from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr
Check back later this week for Miller Place’s proposed school budget and interviews with school board trustee candidates.

School districts throughout the North Shore of Long Island are gearing up for budget votes on May 21. Here is a round up of some of the local districts latest budget overviews and a preview of candidates who are running for board of education trustee seats.  

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai School District budget overview 

The final proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be 61,009,770, which is a 1.34 percent and $806,295 increase from the current year’s amount. 

The district is poised to receive $18,007,000 in state aid in the upcoming school year, a slight decrease than it received last year. 

Though it will receive slightly more in foundation aid for the upcoming school year in $12,909,109 compared to this year’s figure of 12,845,044, the district will be receiving less money in building state aid. The 2019-20 amount will be $1,168,106, a $489,000 decrease in funds. That’s due to a 25-year-old bond loan on the high school finally being paid off, according to Superintendent Gordan Brodsal. 

“The bond on the high school is paid off,” he said. “No more principal, no more interest. That means no more building aid from the state.”

The tax levy cap for the district in 2019-20 will be 2.168 percent and the tax levy amount is $40,986,735, a $870,000 increase from the previous year. 

The tax rate for an average assessment of a household valued at $3,700 will be $9,839. As a result, and the district said there will be a $17 increase in tax rates for the average homeowner.

For capital projects, a separate vote in conjunction with budget, the board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

Other highlights of the budget are plans to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4. To expand the program, the district would be looking to hire two additional instructors. 

Also, the budget will cover replacement of outdated textbooks in the middle and high school. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

Mount Sinai board of education trustee vote

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member Anne Marie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. The two candidates with the highest votes will get a three-year term while the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s vacated seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats. 

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point Union Free School District budget overview 

The latest proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and a tax levy amount of $52,491,371, which is an increase by more than $1.3 million from the current year’s figure of $51,166,218. 

The district will be receiving $28,864,295 in state aid for 2019-20, an increase of close to $130,000. Rocky Point will get $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 compared to last year’s figure of $18,902,525. 

Another highlight of the budget overview is that debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Superintendent Micheal Ring said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which is expected to likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring said that as rates have gone down it has resulted in opportunities to better support the district’s core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of facilities.  

Rocky Point board of education trustee vote

This year there will be two open trustee seats. 

Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, has said he has no plans on securing re-election in May and will let other candidates run for his seat. The candidate with the most votes will serve for the three-year term. The candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve the remainder of Coniglione’s term, which is one year. The candidates this year are Susan Sullivan, Michael Lisa and Jessica Ward. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District budget overview

The finalized proposed budget figure for 2019-20 will be $75,952,416. It is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure. 

The tax levy cap for the upcoming school year is 2.36 percent and the tax levy cap amount is $54,377,657, an increase of $1,257,442 from the current year’s amount. 

The district is expected to receive $12,676,465 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of over $98,000 from 2018-2019. Also, SWR will see an increase of over $48,000 in foundation state aid received with the total amount being $6,442,501. 

The fund balance for 2019-20 will decrease by close to $67,000 from 2018-19. 

The final budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse. 

Shoreham-Wading River board of education trustee vote

This year, SWR will have three trustee seats open.

The full terms of board members Michael Lewis and Kimberly Roff will expire June 30. Roff chose to not seek re-election. 

The third seat is for board member Erin Hunt, who resigned in March and whose term will expire June 30 as well.  

The candidates with the two highest number of votes will win the full three-year term seats.  These candidates’ term will be from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022.

The candidate with the third highest number of votes will win Hunt’s vacated seat.  The winning candidate’s term will begin the evening of the election, May 21, and their term of office will end June 30, 2020. An election will take place in May 2020 to fill the seat for a three-year term.

The five challengers for this year are: Thomas Sheridan, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt, Edward Granshaw and William McGrath.