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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Stony Brook University said the 17 students who were positive with COVID-19 were spread across campus with limited possibility of contact. File photo by Kyle Barr

Stony Brook University unveiled it is currently tracking 17 positive cases of COVID-19, with officials saying all are asymptomatic and have been quarantined.

In a release on the university’s website published Sept. 2, SBU said the 17 cases were as a result of testing of more than 3,000 students on West Campus since Aug. 11 by Student Health Services. The new confirmed cases, as of Wednesday, were in addition to the one other confirmed case officials identified Aug. 28.

All 18 positives are being retested to identify any false positives. The students have been asked to go into quarantine, along with any close associates who were asked to self-isolate.

The fall 2020 semester started Aug. 24 for undergrads.

On Aug. 27 Gov. Andrew Cuomo updated the state’s guidelines for universities and colleges reopening. If colleges have 100 cases or if the number of cases equal 5% of their population or more, they must go to remote learning for two weeks. After that time if things do not improve, the school could potentially be closed to in-person learning for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, Sept. 3, SUNY Oneonta announced they were cancelling in-person classes for the rest of the Fall after close to 390 students were tested positive for COVID-19.

Stony Brook said the 17 positive cases were spread all throughout the campus, and that none were roommates and there was at least one positive case in each resident hall. Six of the students who tested positive for COVID-19 are taking only online classes and of the 12 students who tested positive and were attending in-person classes, the university said none were in the same classroom environment. According to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, only 19% of students are registered for in-person classes.

The university said in the news statement it was continuing to test. 

“If there is a need to shift to an operating status of fully online instruction for a 14-day period or longer, we will communicate with the community directly and promptly,” the statement read.

 

Stony Brook University's COVID-19 testing site. Photo by Matthew Niegocki

As part of an awareness campaign, Suffolk County is trying to provide residents with updated information on testing locations, including sites in pharmacies that are free of charge. 

Suffolk officials said this was in response to U.S. Centers for Disease Control Guidelines which were inexplicably changed Aug. 25 to say that individuals do not necessarily need to get tested for COVID-19 after coming in contact with someone who has tested positive. New York State officials have also spoken out against the change, arguing it flies in the face of what we currently understand about COVID-19.

Such sites are listed below:

Town of Brookhaven and East End

  • CVS Pharmacy, 6221 Route 25A, Wading River, NY 11792
  • CVS Pharmacy, 496 County Road 111 Building C, Manorville, NY 11949
  • Rite Aid, 803 Montauk Hwy Unit D, Shirley, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 29 Havenwood Drive, Shirley NY 11967
  • Walgreens, 1580 Route 112, Medford, NY 11763
  • CVS Pharmacy, 470 West Main Street, Patchogue, NY 11772
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1710 Route 112, Coram, NY 11727
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2315 Middle Country Road, Centereach, NY 11720
  • Rite Aid, 229 Independence Plaza, Selden, NY
  • CVS Pharmacy, 729 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
  • Stony Brook Drive Through Testing Site, 100 Nicolls Rd, Stony Brook, NY 11794

Town of Smithtown

  • CVS Pharmacy, 977 Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, NY 11725
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Terry Road, Smithtown, NY 11787

Town of Huntington and Western Suffolk

  • CVS Pharmacy, 520 Larkfield Road, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2000 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport, NY 11731
  • CVS Pharmacy, 111 Depot Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746
  • CVS Pharmacy, 107 South Country Road, Bellport, NY 11713
  • CVS Pharmacy, 450 Main Street, Farmingdale, NY 11735
  • CVS Pharmacy, Candlewood Road and 5th Avenue, Brentwood, NY 11717
  • CVS Pharmacy, 311 Main Street, Center Moriches, NY 11934
  • CVS Pharmacy, 831 Connetquot Avenue, Islip Terrace, NY 11752
  • CVS Pharmacy, 105 Montauk Highway, West Sayville, NY 11782

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during a press conference Aug. 26 that New York would not adhere to the new guidance. He instead proclaimed that the CDC was following the bidding of President Donald Trump (R). He called the new health policy “political propaganda.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a release that the new CDC guidance is inconsistent with what has already helped stop the spread of COVID-19.

“From day one, we have prioritized access to testing, especially in our hard hit communities,” Bellone said in a release. “In light of the puzzling CDC guidance released this week, I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo and others in the medical community to encourage our residents to continue to get tested. If we want to avoid a second wave and keep our infection rate below one percent, testing must be a top priority.”

For their part, federal health officials have told reporters the CDC’s change in testing policy was not based on politics and the change was made by CDC themselves. However, Trump has publicly said that he believed the reason the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase was because the U.S. has increased the number of tests it conducts.

Suffolk Commissioner of Health Services Dr. Gregson Pigott said testing is the best way to prevent a new wave of the virus come the end of summer.

“A robust testing program allows us to identify as many positive cases as possible, isolate those individuals and quarantine their close contacts, therefore slowing and containing the spread of COVID-19,” Pigott said in a release. “In order to protect public health and help prevent a second wave in the fall, we will continue to recommend everyone who is exposed to the virus gets tested.”

Additional testing sites can be found by typing in a zip code at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you

 

Suffolk County police car. File photo

By Nancy Marr

In 2009, the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) was investigated by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) after the death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian national murdered by teenagers in Patchogue. The SCPD cooperated with the DOJ investigation and signed an agreement that the SCPD would ensure that it would police equitably, respectfully and free of unlawful bias. It agreed to maintain a true Community Oriented Police Enforcement program through the County, and strengthen outreach efforts in the Latino communities.

Gov. Cuomo’s June 12 statewide Executive Order states that all police agencies must “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force.” Police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding and certify that they have:

• Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;

• Presented a plan by chief executive and head of the local police force to the public for comment;

• After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and

• If such local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Governor Cuomo said, “Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

The Suffolk County plan development will be conducted by Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Sheriff Errol Toulon, and will consist of stakeholders from all sectors of the county, seeking to address any racial bias, use of force, negligence and sensitivity, and about incidents where the police have reacted differently when treating minorities.

Recent review of police conduct show that the police are often tasked to deal with issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction as often as crime prevention or property protection. Many communities have developed programs to respond with mental health workers, either before or with the police. Since 1989, in Eugene Oregon, a mobile crisis intervention team (Cahoots) responds to calls involving people who may be in mental distress. Police back-up is called in only when necessary. Examples of programs are numerous, but each jurisdiction has its own data, issues and challenges.

Open meetings and providing information to the public through the media will be needed to engage community members in the process. It is a chance for the community to get a fuller understanding of how a police and community relationship based on trust, fairness, accountability and transparency, necessary to reduce any racial disparities in policing is truly possible.

Suffolk County’s success will depend on the commitment of County Executive Steve Bellone to promptly and transparently communicate his support, and not interfere in the forums while listening to the concerns and passions of stakeholders. Nassau County already has announced the beginning of their process, while all is quiet in Suffolk County.

Engaging representatives of groups with different perspectives and experiences, in a facilitated non-judgmental setting, is a step toward creating a community that treats everyone fairly.  Please reach out to our County Executive and your County Legislator to support a process that engages participants through the county in a fair and honest evaluation of police practices, and envisions new ways of approaching community safety and social justice. Time is of the essence!

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O'Brien. File photo from Scott O'Brien

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Monday, Aug. 10 in a release that 107 school districts have not yet submitted their reopening plans to the state and have a Friday deadline to submit or face no in-person learning this fall. However, local districts claim they had already filed their plans and that the state had confirmed receipt.

The governor’s release stated that multiple school districts, including Rocky Point, Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Longwood and Middle Country had not sent their reopening plans yet. This is despite these districts having already presented plans on their websites for residents to peruse. 

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien said in a letter to parents that the district had indeed submitted its plan before the original deadline of July 31, and the state had confirmed receipt.

“We have contacted the New York State Department of Education regarding this matter and are working to ensure our district’s plans are in good standing, as was previously indicated, and that Rocky Point UFSD is removed from the list,” O’Brien said in the letter.

Comsewogue had already put its reopening information on its website before the July 31 deadline. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn confirmed they already had an email in-hand confirming the state received their plan. Quinn also said they asked that the state remove them from the list of 107 schools.

“We have contacted the New York State Education Department regarding this matter and resubmitted our district’s plans along with the original submission receipt,” the Comsewogue superintendent said.

In a statement, Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi said districts had not sent plans to the state Department of Health.

“The list of districts that didn’t file a plan with the state Department of Health is accurate,” Azzopardi said. “Despite clear guidance provided to these schools, which included a link to the DOH portal, some districts in follow-up calls said they filed with the State Education Department — which is not an executive agency — but didn’t file with DOH. Others filled out an affirmation certifying that they would be abiding by the state’s reopening guidance, but didn’t actually submit their plan, something many of these districts are now rectifying.”

Yet other district officials said it was still the state’s mistake. Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said in an email that “the Department of Health made the error. We confirmed.”

“Like Rocky Point we received an email from the New York State Department Of Education confirming our submission on July 31,” Brosdal added. “This error unnecessarily upset the community. I immediately received concerned phone calls.”

As of Monday evening, New York State has not updated the list on its website.

Cuomo again restated that reopening plans depend on the willingness of both parents and teachers in communication with schools.

“The main arbiter here of whether a school district has an intelligent plan to reopen and whether people have confidence in that district’s plan — It’s going to be the parents and it’s going to be the teachers, and that requires discussion, and that’s going to be a dialogue,” the governor said in the release.

This comes amongst a host of questions that residents have flooded their districts about reopening plans. Parents in Rocky Point have started a Change.org petition for Rocky Point to create a distance learning option for parents who do not want their children in school. 

On Mount Sinai’s website, the district has released a short Q&A with Brosdal which said the school’s board of education “has agreed to provide remote learning to those parents who are reluctant to send their children to school at this time.” The district is asking all parents to submit to the district whether their child will be attending in September. The district will be putting up a new Q&A every week, according to its website.

“Parents should be aware that if they choose to opt-out their child from attending in September, the window for returning to school would open in January, the beginning of the second semester,” the superintendent said in the Q&A. “Although remote instruction will be provided, we still believe that nothing replaces in person instruction and interaction with a teacher.”

 

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.

 

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After returning from speaking with the Long Island’s bipartisan congressional delegation in Washington, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) again reiterated just how imperative it is that Congress sends relief to local governments desperately in need.

Bellone’s plea also comes off the back of horrific financial reports, including that the U.S. gross domesticproduct has suffered a 32.9 percent shrinkage in the second quarter of 2020. The deadline for the additional $600 added on to unemployment will run out by the end of this week. While a House of Representatives bill would restore that, among other pandemic benefits, the Senate has proposed a replacement $200 on top of unemployment checks. Senate Republicans have not yet proposed a comprehensive plan to update coronavirus relief, which includes money toward local governments hard hit by the pandemic.

Suffolk has already frozen salaries for management, embargoed funds from various departments and utilized resources from the tax stabilization reserve fund, which has resulted in $100 million in mitigation. The county executive said they are looking at other things they can do to cut costs at a local and state level.

The county executive said without such federal relief, Suffolk will need to start slashing several departments that many needy depend on and would result in higher taxes on already overburdened Long Islanders who have suffered months of job losses and belt tightening.

And as school districts release plans this week for reopening in the fall, many are still unsure if they will receive the state aid promised to them in this year’s New York State budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said state aid may need to be cut at a point toward the end of this year if they do not receive any federal disaster relief.

“Schools putting their plans in place, and they’re doing that in an environment if they don’t know they’ll have the funding to do everything they need to do for our kids,” Bellone said.  “We need [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R)] to step forward and agree to a comprehensive plan here, give us the resources we need to get through this storm.”

Though the county files a budget in mid-September, Bellone said they can’t wait until then to get relief.

“Schools are weeks away from opening, we need a comprehensive package that faces all the challenges we face right now,” he said.

The pandemic has also created a crisis beyond the over 2,000 people dead from the virus in Suffolk County. Bellone said the number of suicide hotline calls are up 100 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. COVID-19 has meant a huge increase in demand for food-service based programs, such as Meals on Wheels which has seen a 60 percent increase in demand, according to the county exec.

The potential for another wave of COVID is still on the table, Bellone said, saying that Suffolk feels like it is “in the eye of the storm,” whereas the rest of the country has seen severe spikes in the number of coronavirus cases. If a second wave does hit the county, it could result in

“We’ve been hit as hard as you can get hit and still be standing,” Bellone said. “We know swirling all around us the storm is raging.”

Bellone said Suffolk will need to be communicating with school districts as “[COVID-19] cases inevitably happen in our schools.”

Viral Numbers

Suffolk County is currently looking at 43,170 positive cases overall, and in the last 24 hours the county has seen 86 new positive cases.. This is out of 6,247 tests conducted, putting the county at a 1.4 positive test rate. The positive test rate has fluctuated around 1 percent for the past few weeks.

19,127 people have tested positive for antibodies, meaning they had the virus.

Hospitalizations have hovered around the mid to low 40s over the past week, and over the past day it dipped to 38. Bellone said it was the first time since March that new hospitalizations were in the 30s.

Meanwhile, five more people have occupied ICU beds over the past day to a total of 15 in Suffolk. With 3,020 beds in Suffolk andwith 772 currently available, it makes Suffolk’s capacity at 74 percent. As far as ICU beds, the county has 395, with 147 available, meaning a 53 percent capacity.

Over the past four days, Suffolk has experienced no deaths related to COVID-19.

Bellone said while the percentage capacity of available beds is higher than the state’s goal of 70 percent, he is not worried as the number has fluctuated as more people have willingly entered the hospital for non-COVID related injuries or ailments.

Danford’s was cited for violations by the New York State Liquor Authority July 4. Meanwhile, bars say current restrictions could suck any business they could have during reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

Over the past weekend, 84 restaurants and bars in downstate New York were cited with violations to COVID-19 guidelines by the State Liquor Authority. A total of 10 establishments on western Long Island and New York City had liquor licenses removed. 

Bench Warmers Tavern & Grill in Mount Sinai has an outdoor deck, to the left of the artwork, built specifically to help comply with state orders. Owner of the sports bar Jim Dunn said nobody uses it because of the heat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Long Island and New York City are stepping up their enforcement, it’s a new point in the continuing contention between bars and New York State over social distancing restrictions. While other states across the country see record spikes,the governor has mentioned the possibility of scaling back reopening of bars and pubs, though owners say that would kill their businesses.

Documents released by the state reveal 16 of the 443 establishments which were cited for distancing violations from March to July 22 were in Suffolk County, though none were issued in this most recent round of investigations. Among those on the North Shore, only Danfords Hotel &, Marina in Port Jefferson and Pancho Villa’s in Huntington have previously been cited. This was out of 1,080 SLA investigations in New York, according to a release from the governor’s office. That office has not responded to requests for comment about the specifics of those citations, or about where the 84 new violations have come from this past weekend’s efforts.

“We are very proud of what New Yorkers did to flatten the curve of the virus, but we have to protect our progress because no one wants to do that again,” Cuomo said in a release July 24.

On Monday, the governor said there had been no summonses on businesses failing to follow coronavirus guidelines.

Earlier in July, Cuomo announced a so-called “Three Strikes and You’re Closed” initiative that means any business that receives three violations or shows an egregious disregard for the guidelines could be closed or have its license revoked. This weekend’s investigations of these establishments showed people not social distancing or wearing masks in a kind of “party-like” atmosphere, according to the governor’s office. During the pandemic, 40 establishments have had their liquor licenses revoked in total, as of July 27. Cuomo cited young people as the main reason these bars are packed and not conforming to distancing guidelines. 

“That’s not unique to New York — it’s a national problem — and even the president of the United States said young people shouldn’t go into packed bars,” Cuomo said.

Danfords was cited on the Fourth of July for failing to conform to distancing guidelines. A representative of The Crest Group, which owns Danfords, did not respond to requests for comment.

Pancho Villa’s was cited June 26. Restaurant owners could not be reached for comment.

The governor indicated last week that if we see more failure to social distance in bars, the state may roll back reopening regarding these establishments. 

It’s a hard line to follow, especially as New York hovers over a 1 percent regional infection rate. If that number increases past 5 percent, schools will not be able to reopen in the fall. Above 9 percent, the governor will start to roll back on the reopening process that counties across the state managed to make over the past two months.

But for bars and other restaurants that sell alcohol, it’s a roller coaster bringing them undue anxiety, even as they try to make guidelines.

Mount Sinai’s Bench Warmers Tavern & Grill co-owner Jim Dunn said it’s been tough to follow what has been, from the ground level, seemingly haphazard orders from New York State. Business has been hard, he said, even after reopening. He’s gone from 10 tables in the dining area to four and from 12 barstools to six along the bar with only three bar tables. He built a deck patio that now has five tables on it, but with the recent heat wave, very few customers have dared sit outside and eat.

Though he said he’s been doing everything to comply with state regulations, the constant changes have been disruptive. The worst order for his restaurant, he said, has been the requirement that people must order food if they are to order drinks. 

“A guy who’s a contractor can’t just come in and have a beer after work, because he has to have a beer with dinner,” Dunn said. “They’re trying to put the restaurant business out of business — every week there’s a different thing with this governor.”

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On his daily update with reporters July 14, an exacerbated-sounding Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had a rather simple message: “Wear a mask, wear a face covering, there’s too much at stake for you not to.”

This comes on the heels of new virus data for Suffolk County, which says the positive test rate broke 2 percent today as the number of new positive tests rose by 102 to a total of 42,214 in Suffolk County. The number even beats the positive test rate for New York City, which is sitting at 1.4 percent as of reporting. The overall New York State positive rate is 1.5 percent.

“This is the first time the number of new positives has risen since May 31,” Bellone said. “The numbers are moving in the wrong direction.”

While the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 remained relatively the same at 41, along with 14 people in ICU beds, the county executive said the number of increasing cases is due to young people, especially those 30 years or younger. Since June 24, 42 percent of positive cases have come from this age group, Bellone said. 

This news also comes on the heels of a release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo who cited a Fourth of July weekend party in Holtsville as an example of how new infections are being spread. While the governor’s office put the number at 35 percent testing positive, the county put the number at 4, meaning 22 percent of partygoers were confirmed with the virus. The county did not issue any citations for the party as the number of people was under the 25 required limit for gatherings. The county executive said police did not respond to this particular gathering in Holtsville, and he did not reveal

“It’s an example of why it’s critically important that we remain vigilant,” Bellone said. “If you attended a Fourth of July gathering, you should be extremely sensitive to how you’re feeling, and when in doubt go get tested.”

Bellone added they have been doing contract tracing for events tracing back to the Fourth of July weekend, but did not have other examples of other gatherings where people have tested positive. If the county has to, Bellone said police will step up enforcement about gatherings. 

“If that number climbs to 5 percent we’re not going to be able to reopen our schools, and that will be terrible for kids and parents,” he said.

The county executive said 10 lifeguards employed by Suffolk County have been confirmed with COVID-19, but officials said they were not confirmed with the virus from being on the beach during the holiday, and more likely were infected during gatherings with fellow lifeguards. All 10 are now in quarantine.

On the positive end, however, Tuesday also marked a third day in a row where no new people have died due to complications with COVID-19.

On the state side, Cuomo added another four states to the list of places people must quarantine after coming in to include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. 

 

Elwood Superintendent Ken Bossert. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Earlier on in the still-ongoing pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) spoke of his intentions to remake the lagging parts of society. In early May, the governor announced a new committee to “reimagine” education in New York state. He tapped the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to serve as just one of several “experts and stakeholders” for the initiative and named numerous people throughout the state to serve on the committee.

But since that was announced May 8, little has been heard from the committee. Among its 19 members, two are from Long Island, including Martin Palermo, a chemistry teacher at William Floyd High School who was designated a Master Teacher by New York State in 2016, and Jackie Duodu-Burbridge, of Copiague, who was described as a parent in a state release, but also ran unsuccessfully on the Working Families Party ticket for the Suffolk County 15th District seat vacated by former Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

Palermo, who is currently working on a doctorate of chemical education at Stony Brook University, was unable to respond to requests for comment by press time about what kinds of discussions were going on in the committee. Duodu-Burbridge could not be reached for comment.

How involved is the Gates foundation? It’s hard to tell, but the organization did tell the Washington Post in a statement it is recommending experts and contributing its own insights into how technology can enhance learning.

For some school district officials, these calls instead brought forth shivers of memories from a little less than a decade ago, with the advent of standardized testing and Common Core where teachers’ evaluations depended on how well their students scored. The Gates foundation played a major part in crafting that initiative.

Some district officials worried it would be an attempt to make distance learning more standard going forward, even when the pandemic has died down. Cuomo since clarified the position that distance or online learning could “never replace in-person learning with a teacher,” yet school officials have remained skeptical for a number of reasons, with many still feeling the governor is emphasizing replacing in-person learning.  

Ken Bossert, the superintendent of the Elwood school district, a former head of the Port Jefferson School District and past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he did not believe there is any need to reimagine education. 

“A lot of educators heard that and winced a little bit because there is this false perception that what we were doing pre-pandemic wasn’t in the best interest of students,” he said. “I don’t think school districts need to be reimagined, I think they need to be revised — I think there is always room for improvement.”

Comsewogue school district has a long history of actively decrying Common Core and New York State’s attempts at standardized testing. Former Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, was a major opponent of the 2012 implementation of Common Core, writing a letter to New York State against its implementation in 2013. He was at the forefront of a rally hosted later that year which gathered support from thousands of residents.

The district later implemented problem-based learning initiatives as a response to those earlier state standardizations, and has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the district is still waiting to see what comes out of the committee, especially since there has been little news since it was created. 

“Each district has different populations, I don’t know if it will be one size fits all,” Quinn said. “I would like to see support for helping us with lower class sizes. All these social-distancing technologies, it’s very expensive. If we were going to come back to school, it’s very difficult to keep young kids apart.” 

She added that the focus the committee has on online, technology-based learning and shared classrooms over the internet presents itself a huge, new problem. The pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities among some communities and districts on Long Island. Some districts have access to computers or Chromebook laptops they simply hand out to students. Others don’t have anything like that. Not to mention there is a wide disparity between households that have multiple devices that can access the internet and those that have few or none.

School districts are already internally trying to find ways to promote more technology in and out of the classroom, especially since the question of how schools will come back in the fall is still to be decided. Mount Sinai school board president, Robert Sweeney, has been on the board for the past nine years. He said the district has in the past dealt with issues over Common Core with creating its own agencies, books and instructions in-house when the state wasn’t offering much in the way of aid for teachers on the new material.

The district will be using a successful allocation under the Smart Schools Bond Act to bolster their internal networks, potentially increasing the school’s online options.

“How much technology can we get into the hands of our students, what can we do with classroom-based technology, what can we do with technology to our students at home?” Sweeney said. “Let’s take it out of these difficult times and put it into the new normal.” 

Bossert was recently named to the New York State Education Department’s Regional Reopening Schools Task Force. He said a subcommittee of that group is specifically looking at tackling that lack of access to technology. 

But in the end, he said such a reimagining committee should not be handled by the governor’s office.

“The governor should empower the state Education Department to work with the 700 school districts of the state,” Bossert said. “I’m not sure it should be a function of the governor’s office.”

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Suffolk County has moved to Phase 3 of its economic reopening following a prolonged lockdown from COVID-19, as restaurants can offer limited seating dining and nail salons and tattoo parlors can reopen.

Additionally, the number of people that can gather together increased to 25 from 10.

For personal care and indoor dining, the maximum capacity is half of the pre-viral levels. Employees must be tested every two weeks at these establishments.

“It’s another huge step for all of us,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The viral numbers in the county continued to remain well below guidelines and limits.

The number of people testing positive for the virus was 45, bringing the total to 41,101.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus declined by one through the 24 hour period ending on June 22, bringing that total to 88.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit with complications related to the virus decreased by two to 26.

The percent of hospital beds occupied was 64, while the percent of ICU beds in use was 60 percent.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by two to 1,972.

Suffolk County distributed an additional 15,000 personal protective equipment in the last day, with much of that going to the police department and nursing homes.

Separately, Suffolk County is continuing its movie series, which kicked off this past weekend with the showing of “Jaws” on the 45th anniversary of the shark film’s debut.

Reservations are open starting today for “ET The Extra-Terrestrial,” which will be shown next Wednesday, July 1. Upcoming movies include “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Addams Family.”

Residents interested in seeing the free movies at the Smithpoint County Park can get tickets at suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovieseries.com.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated recently that Phase 4 reopening would exclude malls, movie theaters and gyms, Bellone said he is continuing to communicate with the state about these limits.

Bellone said he believes malls “can reopen with a limited capacity and requiring face coverings.” After looking at the Phase 3 data, he expects the state may reevaluate those guidelines to see what else can be reopened.