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Mount Sinai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested four people the night of July 29 for allegedly selling E-liquid nicotine, in the form of JUULpods, to minors at businesses located in Mount Sinai, Medford, and Centereach.

In response to community complaints, 6th Precinct Crime Section officers, in conjunction with representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Tobacco Regulation Enforcement Unit, conducted an investigation into the sale of E-liquid nicotine to minors, during which five businesses were checked for compliance on July 30 between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Those businesses that were found to not be in compliance were issued a notice of violation by the Suffolk County Department of Health.

The following clerks were arrested and charged with unlawfully dealing with a child 2nd degree after they sold E-liquid nicotine to a minor:

  • Nalin Kaushik, 22, employed at Barcode Hookah and Smoke Shop, located at 39 Route 25A in Mount Sinai
  • Dylan Kincel, 19, employed at Vapor Nation, located at 331 Route 25A in Mount Sinai
  • Anthony Mazza, 21, employed at Hookah City, located at 2717 Route 112 in Medford
  • Mario Hawk, 24, employed at Hemp Clouds, located at 1515 Middle Country Road in Centereach

All four clerks were issued Field Appearance Tickets and are scheduled to appear in First District Court in Central Islip at a later date.

FIle photo

Suffolk County Police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Smithtown early in the morning July 9.

James Turek was driving a 2007 Nissan Altima eastbound on Route 347, just east of Terry Road, when the vehicle collided with the rear of an eastbound box truck at about 1:15 a.m.

Turek, 33, of Mount Sinai, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the box truck, an adult male, was transported to the same hospital for evaluation.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 4th Squad at 631-854-8452.

Mount Sinai 2020 Valedictorian Aaron Angress and Salutatorian Skyler Spitz. Photos from MSSD

The two young men heading up Mount Sinai’s Class of 2020 are mathematically minded individuals hoping to reach new heights in their careers. 

The top of Mount Sinai’s class this year includes salutatorian Skyler Spitz and valedictorian Aaron Angress.

Angress, with a total weighted grade point average of 105.17, has been a member of the National Honor Society, the decorated Ocean Bowl Team, active in STEM ROV building and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. On the artistic side, he is a member of All-State and All-County symphonic band, a member of the pit band and mini-ensemble group.

The valedictorian said one of his favorite activities during high school was his participation in the school’s Ocean Bowl team, which participates in quiz-bowl competitions based around oceanography. The team qualified for a national competition in Washington, D.C. 

The graduating senior, who moved to Mount Sinai when he started fifth-grade, said growing up in the hamlet was “pretty great,” and the district “played an integral part in my process of growing up.”

His best memories from high school, along with the Ocean Bowl team, was playing saxophone with the various groups around New York and his senior trip to Disney World.

Angress plans to attend Northeastern University to study mechanical engineering and physics. He said he would enjoy being involved in scientific research, and if the stars align, his dream is to visit space as an astronaut.

Spitz finishes the year with a weighted GPA of 104.86. He spent his high school years as a student council vice president, a National AP Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, varsity tennis captain, member of Mathletes and Future Business Leaders of America All-Sate winner. He said the best part of his extracurriculars are the memories and friends he made.

He too felt the best moment of his high school career was being able to take his senior trip despite the start of the pandemic.

The salutatorian will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in statistics and analytics in the hope of becoming an analyst at a quant in the future. 

Though their years were cut short because of the pandemic, Angress said those students entering their senior year should figure out what it is they want to do and prepare for the future.

“Personally, the pandemic has taught me to take nothing for granted — I’ll certainly cherish everything much more now, even the little things,” Angress said.

Spitz said that the year had been nothing but disheartening, but he suggested students look to take advantage of their senior year to have at least some fun.

“I was looking forward to creating many more memories this year and can now only hope that I will be able to graduate alongside my friends,” he said. “Everything will work out, and you might as well enjoy your final moments in school rather than worrying about the small things in life out of your control.”

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

All school districts passed their budgets this year, though all are anticipating potential changes in state aid later in the year. In addition, all district voters decided to reelect incumbents in contested races.

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District 

SWR passed its 2020-21 budget, 2,146 to 801. Its budget is set at $77,164,774, a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy is $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

The district will maintain all current programming despite potential state aid cuts. Its state aid package would be $12,789,308, a $112,843 increase from last year. In the event of potential state aid cuts midyear, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

In the board of education elections all three candidates were incumbents and ran unopposed. Board president Michael Lewis secured another term on the board with 2,292 votes, Katie Anderson, who finished her first term this year, was reelected with 2,324 votes. Henry Perez was reelected to another term as well and garnered 2,300 votes. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District

The 2020-21 budget passed 1,961 to 952. Its budget is set at $84,586,600, with state aid reduction resulting in a $2.1 million decrease in the overall figure. Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. The budget sets the tax levy at $52,483,059,

setting itself directly at the tax cap, a very slight increase from last year’s figure.

A capital reserve proposition was approved 1,998 to 893. The district is planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. Due to the result of the vote, the district will gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy.

Incumbents Sean Callahan and Jessica Ward secured reelection to a three-year term. They garnered 1,955 and 2,094 votes, respectively. Challenger Kellyann Imeidopf fell short with 960 votes.

Miller Place School District 

The Miller Place School District passed its 2020-21 budget convincingly with a vote of 2,156 to 860. The budget is set at $75,713,895, a 2.37 percent increase from last year. The district’s 2020-21 tax levy is set at $47,616,059 and an increase of $687,471 from last year’s amount. 

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Officials said they plan on using leftover aid and funds from repairing the high school gym floor to help offset any further reductions in state aid. 

Proposition 2, which comprised the library budget, passed overwhelming as well:  2,464 to 548. 

Board Vice President Richard Panico was reelected to the board with 2,407 votes. Trustee member Lisa Reitan was also reelected to another term with 2,420 votes. 

Mount Sinai School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget, 2,108 to 857. Its budget is set at $61,769,870, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

A second proposition asked voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. It passed 2,365 to 595. Projects will include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000.

Three board seats were up for grabs this year. Incumbents Edward Law, Robert Sweeney and Peter Van Middelem all secured reelection with 1,635, 1,915 and 1,675 votes, respectively. Newcomer Karen Pitka came up shy in her bid to get on the board securing 1,597 votes.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D). File photo by Victoria Espinoza

A Mount Sinai man was arrested and indicted Friday, June 12 for allegedly perpetuating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded over $500,000 from investors, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a release that Craig L. Clavin, 61 of Mount Sinai, with his company Lighthouse Futures Ltd. allegedly solicited investments into an investment fund called the Lighthouse Futures Commodity Pool, managed by the company, which would participate in the commodities market. The D.A. said he would then allegedly promise investors the guaranteed return of their investment in full by the end of each year with an option to roll the funds over into the next year.

“As with any Ponzi scheme, this was a scam built on greed and deceit,” District Attorney Sini said. “The defendant bilked his own friends and associates out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, promising to turn their hard-earned savings into solid investments. Instead he used some of their money to further the scheme, and used the rest to line his own pockets.”

The D.A. also alleged that between 2012 and 2017, Clavin received in excess of $500,000 dollars from investors for the purpose of investing the funds into commodities. Clavin allegedly misappropriated the majority of those funds for his personal and unrelated business use, including making payments on his credit cards, student loans, insurance and everyday expenses. Clavin then allegedly concealed his theft by fabricating documents and otherwise representing to the investors that they were earning “dividends” and profits on their investments. At least between 2013 and 2016, Clavin allegedly used money from investors to pay back the funds to other investors, misrepresenting that the funds were “returns” on their investments.

Anthony La Pinta, of the Hauppauge-based Reynolds, Caronia, Gianelli & La Pinta P.C., is representing Clavin. 

“Mr. Clavin is a well respected and admired member of the community,” the attorney said. “We have undertaken our own investigation into these allegations.”

The indictment comes after a D.A.-led investigation that ran in conjunction with U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the National Futures Association investigations, according to the D.A. release.  

The parallel investigation by the CFTC resulted in an action to sue Clavin and Lighthouse that was filed yesterday in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Clavin was issued a summons on that case Thursday, June 11.

Clavin was arraigned yesterday by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro and was released. He is due back in court June 29.

Clavin has been previously named in a past TBR News Media article as an owner of Billie’s 1890 Saloon in Port Jefferson. The building is now owned by the Phillips family, the original owners of the bar and grill.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Yana G. Knutson, of the Financial Investigations & Money Laundering Bureau.

Sini urged anyone who believes he or she is a victim of this scheme to call the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s Financial Investigations & Money Laundering Bureau at 631-853-4232.

 

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Village Beacon Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets.

Shoreham-Wading River

Three incumbents are looking to return to their seats at the SWR school board, and no challengers have presented themselves to contest those positions this year. Each seat is for a three-year term. 

Michael Lewis

Current board president Michael Lewis has been on the board for four years, and with two children in the district, he said that while the position is stressful, “It is very rewarding to see the board’s impact when students attend our meetings and display their accolades, achievements and success.”

Lewis, a senior project manager for an architectural firm on Long Island, said the biggest concerns for the future are the potential for state aid cuts and for what he called “unfunded mandates” caused by new physical distancing regulations.

What may help the district into the future is what Lewis called their “very healthy” capital reserves, which may allow for more flexibility in uncertain and potentially lean times. 

“Having a very supportive community which has consistently approved our annual budget, a four-year average growth of only 1.52%, is a huge advantage as well.” he said.

Lewis said he is hopeful for full student attendance of buildings come the start of fall, but still the district has purchased Chromebooks for all elementary students, with secondary school students already having them. 

“Our administrators have offered multiple professional development opportunities which a majority of our teaching staff has taken advantage of,” he said. ”There is always room for improvement in everything we do as a district.”

Katie Andersen

Katie Andersen, who is finishing her first term as trustee on the SWR BOE, said difficulties the district will face in the coming years will be issues of mental health and gaps in student knowledge from distance learning.

Andersen, who is vice president of the board, said she has several children in the district, including a seventh-grader, fourth-grader, first-grader, and a brother who is a junior in high school. She is a member of several committees and is involved with the PTA and SEPTA. Outside of work on the board, she is a marketing consultant.

“I’m deeply committed to serving our community in this role,” she said. “In spite of the challenges and extensive donation of time, I do enjoy it.”

Though she said the most significant issue is students’ emotional well-being, she added the district will also be facing issues from complying with new unfunded state mandates, such as having to provide distance learning on the fly, that will be a challenge “while becoming increasingly creative at stretching every dollar so that we can continue to enhance our programming and move forward with the maintenance projects for our buildings,” she added.

While Andersen said the district will continue to improve upon lessons taught by rolling out distance learning, she felt the district did everything it could with what it had.

“The resources provided to students and parents, the ongoing professional development provided to teachers, and the tireless efforts of our administration and staff has been nothing less than remarkable,” she said. “Our district will continue to provide for the needs of our students, staff and families as creatively as possible under these less than ideal circumstances … A growth mindset isn’t just something we teach our children — it’s at the heart of everything we do here in SWR.”

Henry Perez

With his third year on the board under his belt, Henry Perez, a mechanical engineer for a national architectural/engineering firm and near 20-year Shoreham resident, said the district is trying to be fiscally responsible despite the current hardships.

“The current pandemic will impact New York State’s financial ability to support local education,” Perez said. “I expect reduced funding from Albany in the next few years.”

He added the pandemic will likely change how students are taught in the future, and with the fear of additional unfunded mandates, it will mean a greater challenge to the district as it attempts to continue its current levels of education. 

“Shoreham-Wading River is already positioned to continue providing this level of education,” he said. “However, going forward requires careful planning to navigate these changing times. Listening to the community and receiving timely feedback in this time of social distancing is extremely important.”

Perez, who has two children in the district, said distance learning remains a complicated topic. The biggest issue is despite current efforts that he and others in the district are proud of, “it requires months of planning and feedback to develop and fine-tune a distance learning platform.”

However, the district has made major strides with its virtual classroom through its Chromebook initiative. Rolling out the distance learning structure in “a matter of days” showed the district’s quick response time, and feedback helped fine-tune the services. 

“I am confident we will only see improvements,” he said. “It seems in this day and age many expect things to be perfect from day one, myself included. However, it’s this expectation that results in change. It is change that brings opportunity.”

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District has three candidates running for two at-large seats for the 2020-21 school year. Each seat is for a three-year term. This year two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for the public’s nod.

Sean Callahan

Sean Callahan, the current board vice president, has sat on the BOE for six years. Himself a labor lawyer specializing in education and school issues, he said he and the board have spent the past years “transforming” the district by hiring people in central office and in principal positions, adding the board has worked to maintain balanced budgets and improve communication between the board, administration, staff and community.

“I am running once again to continue the transformation into the next generation,” he said.

Callahan, a Rocky Point resident since 1975 and father of three sons, two graduates and one in middle school, said he has experience in school auditing districts. He added he is also a certified school business official. On the local side, he has been a member of the Rocky Point civic, PTA and was a 10-year member of the North Shore Little League board of trustees.

As for upcoming issues due to the pandemic, the longtime resident said the board has already worked, even prior to schools closing, to tighten the belt. This year with a tax levy cap set at 0.08 percent and having prepaid part of their bonds of over a million dollars, which meant little had to be changed due to the pandemic with no loss of educational programming. While there is a chance state aid can be cut down the line, he said his day job offers him insight others may not have. 

“During this pandemic through my employment I am privy to many internal discussions from the governor’s office as well as having access to many other school districts,” he said. “This enables our district to learn from others’ mistakes and borrow their ideas.”

Jessica Ward

Trustee Jessica Ward has been on the board for one year, having run last year to finish the term of another trustee who had resigned.

She works at the William Floyd School District as an office assistant at William Floyd High School, which she said gives her insight into the ground-level view of what districts are having to do during this unfortunate time. She has four children who attend Rocky Point schools at every level from elementary to high school.

She sees the issues that districts all across the island will face in the near future as maintaining programming despite potential drastic cuts in state aid, following the guidelines for and ensuring the health and safety of staff and students in the aid of social distancing and trying to create a balanced budget to facilitate all that. Districts also face the challenge of ensuring equal access to technology for all students in the event that distance learning becomes more cemented in the future.

“We need to make sure that we are using our resources wisely, examining existing contracts to ensure fiscal responsibility, thinking outside the box in terms of schedules and extra-curricular activities, researching grant opportunities for technology needs, and partnering with other districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES for staff training and curriculum needs,” Ward said.

With that, she added she feels Rocky Point has done an “excellent job” in rolling out distance learning. The district identified students in need of electronic devices in their homes, and the English as a Second Language department “ensured non-English-speaking students received the help and support they needed.

Some teachers in the district have been presenting audio and video lessons, and the guidance department, she said, has been reaching out to students who need additional assistance.

“There is always room for improvement though, and in the future, I would like to see every student at Rocky Point receive a Chromebook or device to assist in distance learning should we need to continue this in the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “I would also like to see all of our teachers doing some form of live interaction with our students via Google Meet or another platform in the future.”

Kellyann Imeidopf

A 10 and a quarter-year resident in the Rocky Point school district, Kellyann Imeidopf said her two main jobs are as a real estate salesperson and as a mother. She has four students in the district, with one in kindergarten, with the others in first, eighth and 10th grade. She said she decided to run because, “I ultimately have the children’s interest at heart. I want to be part of the team that shapes how our children get ready to become productive and active community members themselves. I want to create a shared vision for the future of education.”

She said the main challenges the district will face in the coming years will be regarding the mental health of both children and staff, and how they will “maintain social distance, but not emotional distance.” 

She said there will be setbacks from online learning, adding there needs to be a look at how to adapt the physical classroom to a virtual environment that can both engage children without leaning on parents. She said she has other ideas for how to prepare seniors heading off for college, even though seniors don’t have the same access to guidance departments they had when students were in school buildings.

In terms of distance learning, she said the district is working with the resources it had on hand, and both teachers and parents are “all dealing with this transition in not only professional ways, but personal, social-emotional and economic ways. I believe every staff member has our children’s best intentions at heart.”

She added the district can come together as a team to develop ways to ease the burdens on parents.

Miller Place 

The Miller Place School District has two seats up for election, and two incumbents are looking to fill them. Trustees Richard Panico and Lisa Reitan are the only candidates asked to be put on the ballot.

Both could not be reached before press time. The two candidates will be included in a follow up article if they respond before the June 4 issue of the Village Beacon Record.

Mount Sinai

This year, Mount Sinai voters will be asked to cast ballots for three at-large board seats with a total of four candidates running. Three incumbents and one newcomer are looking to fill the at-large seats for the next three years.

Edward Law

Ed Law, also a nine-year member of the Mount Sinai BOE, said he has decided to run again because with the district facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the district will need to navigate the pandemic and continue offering the same level of education. That, he said, will need experienced hands. 

“During my time on the board of education, we’ve been able to improve on the objective metrics of success for our district as well as providing for the specific needs of students who have developmental delays and disabilities,” he said. “Our track record of success of our students earning admission to competitive colleges and universities has been improving year over year while our district has expanded choices and options for those who choose career over college. We need to continue to improve on these.”

Law, who works full time as a management consultant, said the biggest challenge for the district will be in potential loss in state aid. The ongoing crisis might also result in other unfunded mandates, but he called those “nothing new.”

He added that the district has crafted its 2020-21 budget with consideration toward potential state aid cuts, while still keeping the tax levy increase minimal.

“As a district, we have evaluated every line item of our operating budget to ensure that we can provide continuity of our program,” he said. “This current scenario has been reflected in our proposed budget.”

In terms of the future of education at Mount Sinai, Law, who has one child in the middle school and two recent graduates, said that the district has tried to address concerns with how the district is doing distance learning. Though it’s hard to tell what may be in the future, the district must plan for everything.

“We have had a few issues raised by parents and we have it addressed directly by the teacher and principal,” he said. “Since we don’t know yet whether in person instruction will be able to be provided in the fall as per Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] guidelines and the governor’s directives, we need to continue to improve on how instruction is being provided, and have a plan for remote/distance learning in the new school year, whether through existing technology solutions or alternate technology platforms.”

Peter Van Middelem 

With six years already on the job, trustee Peter Van Middlem said the district must try to maintain its high standards of academics and other programming while facing potential financial challenges from the pandemic.

Van Middelem is a retired New York City Fire Department member and current financial auditor in various Suffolk school districts. Among his three children, his son, Jacob, is a junior at the high school.

“As a lifelong resident who attended Mount Sinai Schools and a 35-year volunteer of the Mount Sinai Fire Department, service to this community is my guiding force,” he said. 

He cited the district’s efforts already with hiring a teacher for the school’s robotics program, a new special education director and the new elementary school principal he described as a “literacy expert,” along with the implementation of Columbia Teacher College Reading and Writing programs for middle and elementary schools. He cited his and other members ability to deal with crises, including new security efforts such as armed guards and perimeter fencing.

However, now with the ongoing pandemic, he said the district’s efforts to generate savings through the district’s retirement incentive program and use of the capital plan to make improvements to facilities are important. 

He said the district must also be there to support community members facing financial hardships in this time.

“Our students and their families potentially will experience financial difficulties and we will be there to help any way we can to support them,” he said.  

In terms of the future of learning at Mount Sinai, he said the district has done well with limited New York State guidance, and will continue to improve on distance learning.

“With basic at best guidance from New York State, our teachers and admin have had to create a new learning environment,” he said. “The vast majority of our staff have done a great job considering the circumstances. We can always do better and will strive for that goal.”

Karen Pitka

Karen Pitka, a Mount Sinai resident since 2011, works as a fourth-grade teacher and said she can bring that experience in education matters, especially at the youngest grade levels, to help Mount Sinai in these difficult times. 

Pitka said she has taught second and fifth grade as well. While she has considered running for school board before, she said the pandemic has made the choice all the more clear.

“My extensive experience in education allows me to be well versed in what our children need,” she said. “Our youngest children will suffer greatly from the closure of schools during this unprecedented time and I feel I will be an asset to the community and will be able to offer the proper guidance being that I am an elementary school teacher and mother of young children.” 

Having the proper protocol for distance learning is one of the most important issues districts will face. Pitka said districts need a “proper plan” for distance learning should students not return to school buildings in September. Plans, she said, need to adhere to the Free Appropriate Public Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which needs to take into account the type of technology students have at home or have at their disposal so all can have access. 

However, she said the district has done everything it could with the time it had to create a distance learning experience. Still, now that the district has had time to collect its bearings, she said Mount Sinai should look at programs that can offer a similar experience to all users.

“Moving forward, now that we know we need to be prepared for circumstances such as these, I feel it would behoove the district to look at their plan for 1:1 student devices and ensure that a developmentally appropriate online learning platform is put into place for distance learning,” she said.

She added the district will face the challenge of an academic gap caused by school closures, and Mount Sinai should look into a specific mental health program to assist students with coping with the “new normal.”

“More pull-out remediation services may need to be offered and class sizes will need to be smaller in order to provide direct remediation from the classroom teacher,” she said.

In terms of finances, Pitka said if state aid changes the district should look at “every single line in the budget and decide which areas are absolutely critical to the development of all Mount Sinai students from the elementary level through the high school level.”

Robert Sweeney

Robert Sweeney, the current BOE president, has been on the board for nine years. Himself the managing partner of a law firm, he said he has the longtime and intimate experience of the school district, from both the administration side and from the student’s perspective.

Sweeney, who currently has two children in the district plus one who’s graduated, said this year’s budget was modified in response to the pandemic. He said he advocated for the lower tax levy increase of just over 1 percent, a full percentage point below the tax cap, especially since many residents will be hard pressed financially in the coming months. He added that the board has helped negotiate teacher retirement plans that can reduce the budget in the future without making cuts. Knowing when people will be retiring and enrollment numbers, he said, allows them to know how to staff going from year to year.

“There’s a balancing act of keeping the programs and keeping teachers in place,” he said. “We really tried to focus on a point where it makes sense for the district but some people may have jobs lost, lost a second income or have seen payroll reductions …  We can’t just keep going on as if nothing’s happened.” 

He also cited use of the capital reserves to work on projects like refinishing the high school roof as another example of the district trying to maintain its infrastructure without laying the burden on taxpayers.

With the potential for state aid cuts looming somewhere later into the year, the board president said the budget was designed for some amount of flexibility. He added the district is dedicated to long-term strategic planning to think several years ahead.

“I don’t know of any school district that could survive, as is, with a 20 percent drop in state aid — that could be huge,” he said. “We’ve drawn a bit more out of fund balance — that’s what it’s there for — and that will take us to a position next year.”

Sweeney called the term distance learning “a misnomer,” adding that programs looked different mid-March into April and then into May. Schools will have to remain flexible, he said, in case months down the road they will have students in schools, then have to reduce attendance in schools should the state require it. Most importantly, though, is to regain the social and emotional interaction between students and teachers.  

“It is providing support to the students, I do not think of it as distance learning,” he said. “The classroom teacher is important not just because of the material and the textbook, but because of the social and important interaction that the teacher has with the students. We have to make sure that we have classroom teaching in some form. Going forward every building and grade will be different.” 

Owners of Huner’s Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson said they believe they should be considered essential for the work they do helping people remain active and healthy. Photo from Huner’s Fitness Advantage website

The effects of COVID-19 will no doubt change how businesses and customers interact. For gyms and fitness centers that could be challenging. Drastic measures may have to be taken in these facilities normally filled with people, sweat and germs. 

And with Long Island finally having started Phase 1 of the reopening process, gyms will have to wait longer than most to get back to some semblance of normality.

Anthony Amen, owner of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai, didn’t have much time to react to the news of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) shutdown order in March. He was busy training with a few clients. 

“We found out that morning and we were forced to close on the spot at 8 p.m.,” he said. 

Initially, Amen and other gym owners thought they would only be closed for a couple weeks, but that hope quickly faded as the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic became evident. 

“It was tough, I was like, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” Amen said. 

The gym lost 80 percent of its clients due to the shutdown. In an effort to keep some of them on his books, the Mount Sinai gym owner had to get creative and began offering virtual fitness classes. 

“We had to adapt to the times,” Amen said. “We try to keep them on track with their goals and work with them as much as we can virtually.”

Amen said the industry had been evolving toward incorporating more online training even before the pandemic. 

“The shift toward online personal training has been coming, COVID-19 just sped it up,” he said. “The next phase will be an online/in-person training hybrid model.”

That shift and subsequent social distancing guidelines could cause several issues for larger gyms that thrive on constant foot traffic and by offering a plethora of gym equipment and machines. These facilities are used to cramming equipment side by side and will most likely have to spread out equipment, which in turn could lead to reduced capacity. 

In Hong Kong, some gyms have installed plexiglass barriers to give exercisers space and to keep any potential virus from spreading. In the U.S., larger gyms are poised to offer touchless entry, and increased cleaning, among other things. Retro Fitness, which has close to 10 locations on Long Island, has said it will scrub down equipment using hospital-grade cleaner throughout the entire gym, according to a press release.

Amen said for smaller gyms/studios like his, that process will be much easier. 

“We can definitely make more space by moving equipment — we can easily have one or two people come in and be able to be 6 feet apart,” he said. 

The Mount Sinai gym owner is hoping he can acquire some new clients, saying he could see some people not being comfortable going to their old crowded gym and wanting to be around less people in general. 

The question of when will gyms reopen still looms large. If you look at the state’s four-phase reopening process, gyms are in Phase 3. Given how Suffolk County finally reached Phase 1 reopening this week, it’s not a stretch that it could take several more weeks or even longer until gyms get the OK to open its door again. 

Nanci Huner, who runs Huners Fitness Advantage in Port Jefferson along with her husband Eric, said she believes they are an essential business and should be allowed to be open. 

Huners Fitness provides personal training, nutrition counseling and private and small group training. Their clients are mostly individuals in their 60s through 70s who rely on their services to stay active and remain healthy. 

“A lot of these people that come to us have diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems,” Nanci Huner said. “Exercising makes a big difference.”

Huner said it is essential for those clients to get structured exercise, as in some cases it increases their mobility and it makes it less likely that they could lose their balance and fall. 

“For a few of them it’s about keeping them from getting hurt and with us being closed, they are negatively affected by the lack of exercise,” she said. 

While they wait to reopen, Huner is optimistic that they can adapt to the potential new business climate. At most, there are four clients at their group sessions and even less personal one-on-one classes. 

Equipment spacing shouldn’t be a problem either, according to Huner. Before COVID-19 struck, the duo had moved in its fitness center to a warehouse space on North Country Road. Prior to that, for 15 years, they ran their business from their own home. 

The move happened so close to the shutdown that Huner said they didn’t even have time to put up their new sign in front of the building. 

“We’re hoping we can reopen as soon as possible,” she said. 

It was a muggy Saturday morning at Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai, May 23. Across lawns dotted with inset grave markers, small flags were listless in the stagnant air. There, while COVID-19 has meant many could not participate in the large, standout flag planting ceremonies normally seen the weekend before Memorial Day, families, friends, Boy Scouts and active service members still found ways to honor those who are buried there.

Adam Morris, bottom right, helps his family and friends, clockwise from bottom, Bailee Morris, Skye Sherrard and Jocelynn Morris plant flags. Photo Kyle Barr

Riverhead residents Bill Merker and his son Zach visited the grave of Glen “Doc” Moody Jr., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who had passed away April 8. His grave was still packed with fresh dirt and had not yet even received the stone marking his name on his grave. 

“He was a very big inspiration for us,” said the younger Merker, a member of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets program who said Moody would teach them about medical procedures.

Moody, of Miller Place, had been featured in a previous article in TBR News Media papers. The marine veteran had been active helping his fellow veterans adjust to life outside the military and had been active with the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, which helps provide service and therapy dogs to veterans. Moody, who passed at the age of 39, had his own service dog, a red fox Labrador named Independence, who never left his side.

Scattered around the park were others helping to plant flags. Ray Langert, one of the groundskeepers at the cemetery, helped one group of folks looking to plant flags at veterans’ graves. 

Adam and Melora Morris, of Mount Sinai, joined with their children and friends to come out to Washington Memorial to plant flags. They said while they regularly attend the flag planting ceremonies at Calverton National Cemetery, federal orders to ban large gatherings at the cemeteries put a squash to those plans. 

Ray Langert, who works at Washington Memorial Cemetery, looks over his parent’s grave. Photo by Kyle Barr

It was a sentiment shared all across the North Shore with people trying to offer memorials to those passed. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who had petitioned the federal government to allow the large-scale flag planting events at places like Calverton, still offered condolences and remarks. Bellone also thanked the health care and essential employees continuing to work through the Memorial Day weekend.

“This day is unlike any other we have seen in modern times,” Bellone said. “We could not gather the way we normally do … But we did come together today to recognize, make sure we are honoring those really precious individuals in our community who have served and sacrificed.”

Some still managed to go to the Calverton cemetery to offer what services they could. Members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 went down that Saturday morning to place flags and host small services. 

On Memorial Day, May 25, the VFW hosted a small ceremony in the park behind Tilda’s Bakery in Rocky Point. In Sound Beach, community leaders placed a wreath at their own vets memorial on New York Avenue.

Despite restrictions and the need for distancing, it’s still hard to estimate how positive the impact is in memorializing those who’ve passed. Langert’s own father and mother, Robert and Elsie, are buried in the mausoleum on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Cemetery. Robert was a U.S. Army veteran who passed in 2005. The Morris family and friends offered to place a flag by his father’s stone in the mausoleum. 

“He would have loved to see that,” Langert said, sitting in his lawnmower’s seat with a smile. “He would have been ecstatic.”

The new east jetty at Mount Sinai harbor. Photo by Gerard Romano

After nearly eight months of work and years and years of consternation, reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty has finally come to completion, with work crews having already moved on by mid-May and a few check-box items still to be finalized. 

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

The Jetty Project has been a long time coming. For years, both the east and west jetty have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Port Jefferson’s East Beach has been seeing a rapid loss of sand in the past few years, and village officials have said much of that sand is ending up in the harbor inlet. 

In September 2016, the town received $3 million in a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally secured thanks to the help of New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Last year, the Town of Brookhaven hired H&L Contracting with a $7.4 million bid to complete the project. The construction workers worked through the winter months repairing and replacing stones on both the east and west sides of the jetty. That number was revised in late February, with an additional $868,000 for a total contract amount of $8,297,782.50. Construction began last September and ramped up over the following months.

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who has been the main town point-person on the project for over a decade, said the extra funds were for extra contingencies, but the final project still comes in under the original estimates of $10 million.

With this part of the project complete, the last step is for Suffolk County to complete dredging of the inlet. 

Joe Palumbo, the Port Jefferson village administrator, said they have not yet heard word from the county about dredging.

“This is a project the village is monitoring closely and will continue to,” Palumbo said.

Bonner added that the new jetty will not only be a boon to the beachgoers and boaters, but to the surrounding wildlife. The broken jetties have caused issues with the harbor’s ability to “flush” or how the water flows in and out of Long Island Sound.

“That’s the most significant part of this,” the councilwoman said.