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New York State

New York State Parks challenge merchandise. Photo courtesy New York State Parks.

By Aidan Johnson

Major celebrations are in store for the New York’s statewide park and historic site system, which has reached 100 years since its founding by Gov. Alfred E. Smith (D) and the state Legislature of 1924.

While there will be multiple events happening statewide throughout the year in New York’s parks and historic sites, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a year-long challenge for residents and visitors.

The challenge consists of 100 different activities that can be completed at the New York State parks and historic sites throughout the year. All of the tasks can be found listed under “NY State Parks Centennial Challenge” in the app Goosechase, and include missions such as drawing flowers or wildlife found in the park, visiting one of the lighthouses, biking certain trails and attending an environmental education program. However, participants need not worry about traveling statewide to complete every challenge, as only 24 are required to be finished in order to receive a sticker and be entered into a drawing for a three-year Empire Pass and a centennial swag bag.

NYS sees the centennial and challenges as an opportunity to help local economies by attracting visitors to the different parks and sites.

“Our parks in New York State are now for a century where families and friends have gathered, where memories were made outdoors,” said state Parks Deputy Regional Director Kara Hahn.

Hahn described the Share Your Story initiative, in which residents are invited to share their favorite photos and memories of the parks by emailing [email protected] or by using the #nystateparkstory hashtag on social media.

“We really want to inspire and encourage and engage our residents to come out because we know how good it is for health to be outside and active…and we know that it’s good for community health to have our residents gathering in beautiful spaces and have fun,” Hahn said.

“We’re taking this Centennial 100-year anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate all that and hopefully encourage and activate our residents to come back out,” she added.

Information is also available at parks.ny.gov/100/challenge.

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers the New York State Executive Budget proposal at the State Capitol in Albany on Jan. 16. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

By G.T. Scarlatos

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) delivered the Fiscal Year 2025 New York State Executive Budget proposal at the State Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, Jan. 16, where she announced her record-breaking $233 billion spending plan that looks to allocate funds toward public safety, education and the influx of migrants coming to New York. It also closes a $4.3 billion deficit the state faced. Although the budget proposes a roughly 2% increase from the previous year, this burden won’t be falling on the taxpayer as Hochul made it clear there would be no new increases in state income tax.

In the address, Hochul focused on the needs of everyday New Yorkers with an emphasis on investing in initiatives concerning public safety and affordability. 

“I stand by my commitment to fight the right fights for New Yorkers and pursue the common good,” Hochul said. “We must crack down on persistent crime, invest in children and families, and build the economy of the future. We’re taking action with common sense solutions that are simple, easy to implement. But the truth is, we can’t spend like there’s no tomorrow because tomorrow always comes.”

The governor outlined how the state will strengthen its public safety efforts by continuing to invest in initiatives that work with local communities, law enforcement and nonprofit groups to stem crime and gun violence statewide by devoting additional resources to youth mentorship programs, the police and district attorneys. 

The budget includes $40 million toward tackling property crime and retail theft that looks to bring relief to small businesses by creating a new state police enforcement unit dedicated to driving down the recent spike in retail theft.

“Keeping New Yorkers safe is my number one priority,” Hochul said in the address. “Over the last few years we’ve made historic investments in gun violence prevention programs and it’s paid off. Shootings and murders are way down. Gun seizures are up.”

The spending plan also proposes to increase school aid by $825 million, just a 2.4% increase from last year, considerably less than the 7.7% average increase in aid that districts have received in recent years. 

In an attempt to get ahead of the criticism she would potentially face, Hochul explained, “As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the last two years. No one could have expected the extraordinary jumps in aid to recur annually.” 

She also attributed the disappointing figure to a decade-long trend of declining school enrollment for students K-12, by saying, “It’s common sense to ensure that the schools are getting the appropriate money based on their enrollments today compared to what they were a decade and a half ago.”

The governor then recalled how she worked with legislators to bring the state’s reserves from 4% of the budget to a now historically high level of just over 15%. The reserves can be used to stabilize public spending or for one-time emergencies that may leave the state vulnerable. 

In order to provide aid for what she referred to as a “humanitarian crisis,” Hochul plans to dip into the state’s reserves, allocating an extra $500 million of aid to support the approximately 13,600 asylum seekers arriving in New York each month, bringing state spending for the cost of shelter, social services and resettlement up to $2.4 billion. 

Hochul addressed the politically-charged issue and called out for additional support from Washington, saying, “New York continues to carry the burden of sheltering more than 69,000 migrants. Since day one, I have said that it is ultimately the responsibility of the federal government to address this crisis. Congress — the House of Representatives in particular — and the White House must remain at the negotiating table until they restore the rule of law on our border, fix our asylum system and provide relief to states like New York who’ve been shouldering this burden for far too long,” Hochul said. 

She continued addressing her efforts to combat the crisis saying, “I’ll be traveling once again to Washington to advocate for effective immigration reform, a stronger border and increased support from the federal government for New York. But until we see a change in federal policy that slows the flow of new arrivals, we’re going to be swimming against the tide.”

To see the whole budget presentation go to: budget.ny.gov.

The new state program will use photo enforcement technologies to monitor speeding in work-zones. Following a 30-day grace period, violators will receive a fine by mail. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

New York State has introduced its Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement program. 

The system clocks vehicles traveling above the speed limit in specified work zones. A registered owner of a vehicle will be ticketed by mail if the posted work-zone speed limit is exceeded by more than 10 miles per hour, according to the legislation signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in September, 2021.

The law states that the “owner of a vehicle shall be liable for a penalty” when that “vehicle was traveling at a speed of more than 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit in effect within such highway construction or maintenance work area, and such violation is evidenced by information obtained from a photo speed violation monitoring system.”

The ny.gov website indicates that this new program will be “located in construction or maintenance zones on New York State controlled access highways and parkways.” It also indicates that signs leading up to the enforcement areas will make it clear that a driver is entering one.

In a phone interview, Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman for Region 10 of the state Department of Transportation, said that there will be “two signs posted in advance of the camera.” He added that these cameras are “only being placed in active work zones where there are boots on the ground.”

During the first 30 days of the program —which began Monday, April 17, according to Canzoneri — New York State will issue warnings by mail instead of actual fines. After this initial warning period, drivers violating the posted work-zone speed limits in the enforcement areas will receive a $50 fine by mail.

For a second violation, a violator will receive $75 fine, so long as this violation is within an 18-month period of the first violation. Any third or subsequent violations will result in a $100 fine if, once again, these are within 18 months of the first violation.

The website also states that “there will be 30 work-zone speed units … that will be moved around to work zones throughout the state.” To see an up-to-date listing of where the speed cameras are currently being utilized, go to www.ny.gov/work-zone-safety-awareness/automated-work-zone-speed-enforcement-program and scroll down to “Locations” on the left-hand side. The cameras are “being placed on the limited access highways, such as the Long Island Expressway, Northern State Parkway, a portion of Sunrise [Highway] in central Suffolk,” Canzoneri said.

The ny.gov website clarifies that drivers will not receive points on their licenses for violations in these zones and that these penalties are strictly “civil in nature, with no criminal implications.”

In 2021, there were 378 “work-zone intrusions” and that more than 50 of these intrusions resulted in injury for either a highway worker or a vehicle occupant. “A work-zone intrusion is defined as an incident where a motor vehicle has entered a portion of the roadway that is closed due to construction or maintenance activity,” the ny.gov website states.

“We are seeing an increase in work-zone intrusions throughout the Island,” Canzoneri said. “More people are back on the roads after the COVID shutdowns. And traffic patterns are returning to what they were. And unfortunately, it means that there’s more danger for our workers on the road.”

In a phone interview, Jaime Franchi, Long Island Contractors’ Association director of communications and government relations, said, “Anything that is a deterrent that makes people pause while they’re driving in a zone where our highway workers are vulnerable is something that we would absolutely advocate for.”

Franchi added that LICA has been advocating for highway safety for many years, particularly on winding stretches of the Southern State Parkway. “They deserve to get home to their families,” Franchi said about highway workers.

Canzoneri agreed. “We want everybody to go home at the end of the day to be with their families,” he said.

The ny.gov website indicates that this five-year program is a joint effort by the state Department of Transportation and the state Thruway Authority.

New York State Assemblyman Steve Stern, center, is joined by Long Island elected leaders and members of law enforcement to announce the implementation of the Blue Alert System to aid in the apprehension of suspects of killing or seriously injuring a law enforcement officer in New York State. Photo from Steve Stern’s office

A system to track down those who kill or injure law enforcement officers across the nation has been implemented locally.

The Blue Alert System was recently rolled out in New York state and on Long Island. 

State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), one of the sponsors of the legislation to utilize the alert system, announced the implementation at a March 24 press conference in Mineola. The system is designed to help apprehend suspects who authorities believe killed or seriously injured a local, state or federal law enforcement officer.

The state Legislature unanimously approved the legislation. 

“I was proud to sponsor and pass this critically important legislation in support of the brave men and women of law enforcement who sacrifice so much to keep our neighborhoods safe,” Stern said in a press release. “The Blue Alert System has a proven track record of success nationwide and its implementation is long overdue in New York state. This initiative will help protect our community, protect our officers and save lives.”

The Blue Alert System is similar to the Amber Alert used to find missing children and the Silver Alert for missing vulnerable adults. New York joins 37 other states in using the new system, including New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. According to Stern’s office, the law creating the system went into effect March 16, allowing the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to begin issuing alerts when needed. The state agency will be in consultation with law enforcement authorities.

The system is modeled after the nationwide alert system titled Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015. The nationwide system was named as such to honor Ramos and Liu, two New York City police officers who were killed in the line of duty in Brooklyn in 2014.

Among the system’s supporters is Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney (R), who was on hand for the press conference.

“Police officers go to work every day facing the risk of physical danger or death, selflessly confronting that peril to allow us the chance to live in peace,” Tierney said in a press release. “An attack against our first responders is an attack against our society and we must take every measure possible to help ensure the safety of our police.”

Law enforcement agencies can request the alert if they believe “that the public dissemination of information may help avert further harm or accelerate apprehension of the suspect,” according to the legislation. Depending on the case, the alert can be issued on a regional or statewide basis. The system will be used in coordination with the New York State Department of Transportation, public television and radio broadcaster organizations. Information may include details such as the suspect’s vehicle or license plate number.

The National Fraternal Order of Police has reported as of April 3, 99 officers in the country have been shot in the line of duty so far this year, a 44% increase from 2021 year to date. Of the 99 shot, 10 of them were killed by gunfire, which is 33% less year to date from 2021. 

New York State Map of Counties
Editor’s note: A March 31 court decision update is at the end of article.

By Lisa Scott

For New York State voters in 2022, redistricting is controversial, complex and changing. 

Gerrymandering is the intentional distortion of political districts to give one party an advantage. For decades in most states, the majority party in the state legislature drew maps for congressional and state legislature districts which would cement that party’s power for 10 years (until the next census). Nationally, gerrymandering has been criticized for disenfranchising many voters and fueling deeper polarization.

In New York State, voters in 2014 approved a constitutional  amendment which established an independent redistricting commission effective after the 2020 census. This amendment was presented as a way to create fair congressional and state senate and state assembly districts, keeping communities together and representation to minority areas to more fairly give all a voice through their elected officials. At the time, good government groups were divided about the amendment’s wording and potential effect … either a “step in the right direction” or “fake reform.”

In 2021, the newly formed NYS Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) traveled throughout New York State to hold numerous public hearings for input on the map lines that the commission would draw. Unfortunately the IRC was divided equally along partisan lines, and Republican and Democratic commissioners each submitted their own maps to the state legislature and were unable to submit the single plan required by the amendment.  

This failure of the IRC threw the district mapping back into the hands of the legislature (both the senate and assembly have Democratic supermajorities) and the legislature’s final 2022 district lines resulted in more districts with strong Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans then filed a lawsuit in Steuben County (upstate NY) which  threw the 2022 NYS election calendar into potential chaos as it moved through the court system. 

A judge did rule to allow this year’s maps/elections to take place as scheduled, but if Republicans win the suit it appears that there will be a repeat election for NYS Senate and Assembly in 2023 with newer district maps. This would result in state legislative elections in three consecutive years — 2022, 2023 and 2024. 

There has been concern and controversy about the congressional lines in Suffolk (CD 1, 2 and 3) whose boundaries have significantly changed. Some elected legislators no longer live in their districts, and there has been “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts) and “cracking” (diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts). Cracking was most evident regarding the Town of Smithtown, which is divided among 3 congressional districts, and the community of Gordon Heights, which does not have the single representative that they advocated for at many public hearings in 2021. 

Although the next Suffolk County Legislature elections will not be held until 2023, redistricting for the SC Legislature is mired in controversy as well. Legislators of both parties did not nominate representatives to a county redistricting commission in 2021. The Democratic majority therefore drew maps and passed legislation to create the new districts. 

Lawsuits were filed and County Executive  Bellone vetoed the bill in early 2022. A new independent/bipartisan redistricting commission is expected to start work in April 2022. Remember that your current Suffolk County legislator will represent you until January 1, 2024. Once the Suffolk legislative maps are drawn and approved, voting in the primaries and general election for those seats will occur in 2023 (not this year). 

The bottom line for Suffolk County voters? Find your new congressional and state assembly and senate districts at https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org. Voting in your new district takes effect with the 2022 primaries and general election. However your current representative in Congress and the state legislature will represent you until January 1, 2023.

As you can see, redistricting after the 2020 census has become controversial, complex, and changing. Today’s “rules” may be overruled by court decisions. Dates may change. Districts may be redrawn. Or nothing will change until 2030!

Lisa Scott is 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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.


Judge rejects New York’s redistricting plan, orders new maps

By Michelle L. Price | AP

Thursday March 31, 2022

NEW YORK — A judge has ordered New York’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to quickly redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts after finding they were unconstitutional.

Judge Patrick McAllister said in a Thursday ruling that maps redrawing the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. McAllister said those districts must be redrawn, along with the legislative districts, in a way that attracted at least some bipartisan support.

McAllister, a state trial court judge, gave lawmakers until April 11 to try again. If their new maps fail to pass muster in the courts again, the judge said he would order the state to pay for a court-approved expert to redraw the maps.

Legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling.

“This is one step in the process. We always knew this case would be decided by the appellate courts. We are appealing this decision and expect this decision will be stayed as the appeal process proceeds,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate majority.

A message seeking comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned.

The state’s primary elections are scheduled June 28 and candidates have already begun campaigning in the new districts.

The judge said that if the Legislature fails again and an outside expert is hired to draw the maps, the process would be expensive and lengthy and may leave the state without maps before Aug. 23, the last possible date that the state could push back its primary election.

Republicans had argued in a lawsuit that the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and marginalize GOP voters.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. John Faso, a spokesperson for the Republicans who filed the lawsuit challenging the maps, said Democrats willingly violated a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering.

“This is a victory for the people of the state and it’s a victory for competitive and fair elections in New York State,” Faso said.

Legislative and congressional boundaries are being redrawn as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process kicked off by the 2020 Census.

The maps, drafted by lawmakers and approved by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, ensured that Democrats made up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have for a decade.

Republicans currently hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.

In early March, McAllister said at a hearing that he didn’t think there was enough time to redraw the maps before the June primary. But the judge said he would issue a decision by April 4 about whether to uphold or strike down the maps.

The legal challenge in New York is among a series of disputes over redistricting playing out in states around the country.

Gov. Kathy Hochul. File photo by Julianne Mosher

After bipartisan backlash from Long Island officials, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has dropped her budget proposal that would require local governments to expand legalizing accessory apartments.

“I have heard real concerns about the proposed approach on accessory dwelling units,” Hochul said in a statement. “I understand that my colleagues in the state senate believe a different set of tools is needed, even if they agree with the goal of supporting the growth of this kind of housing.”

The plan stated that, to increase affordable housing across the state, dwellings would be allowed to convert garages, basements and backyard units as apartments. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers from the town, county, state and federal levels all said this could hurt Long Island, and essentially eliminate single-family zoning.

“I am submitting a 30-day amendment to my budget legislation that removes requirements on localities in order to facilitate a conversation about how we build consensus around solutions,” she added.

The plan was introduced in January during the State of the State. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was one of the first to call the governor out on it, which then resulted in Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns to voice their concerns.

“One small victory, but many battles ahead,” Suozzi told TBR News Media in a statement. “We successfully stopped Governor Hochul’s radical proposal from being passed in the budget, but we’re not done yet. Now we must stop her and the state legislature from passing this misguided legislation during the Albany legislative session.”

Throughout the last month, these lawmakers argued that the plan could have potential impacts on Long Island’s quality of life, the environment and local school districts.

““I’m pleased that Governor Hochul pulled the Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation from the budget, but that isn’t enough,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst). “At this time, there are still discussions of tweaks to the law. Local officials on Long Island are adamantly opposed to any modifications that remove our ‘home rule.’ We know what is best for our community and we don’t need New York City and New York State dictating to us what our communities should look like. As we’ve seen with the pulling of the bill, combining our voices and speaking out ensure that we can be heard. I urge all residents to contact their State representatives and the governor’s office, to voice their opposition to any modification of ADUs here on Long Island.”

Several Suffolk County lawmakers spoke up against the ADU legislation Feb. 11 with the help of several state assembly members and senators.

“The removal of this proposal from the budget is great news for all of our communities and I am proud to have stood with my colleagues in town, county, state and federal officials from both sides of the aisle to fight to protect local control,” said state Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “This shows that joining together and standing united can lead to positive change for our residents.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) held a press conference Feb. 3, as one of the first townships to take a stance on the issue.

“The call to remove this misguided proposal was finally heard by the governor and we will continue to maintain local zoning control,” he said in a recent statement. “Our right to home rule on issues like housing is what protects our communities from turning into the crowded neighborhoods that we see in cities, which is not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want.”

Hochul still has plans to combat the affordable housing crisis, and the emphasis on increasing accessory apartments and improving their safety will be targeted in New York City rather than the suburbs.

“Albany extremists will resurrect this terrible idea the moment bipartisan opposition gets distracted,” said Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (R). “Stay vigilant!”

Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks during the Feb. 3 press conference at Town Hall. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Elected officials from local, state and the federal government recently voiced their anger and concern over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) plans to eliminate certain single-family zoning laws across New York state. 

The comprehensive five-year housing plan would potentially invest $25 billion to create and preserve 100,000 affordable homes and tackle inequities in the housing market.

Last month, the governor announced the plan to make housing more affordable as part of the 2022 State of the State.

“In the wake of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we tackle the housing crisis and make New York a more affordable place for all,” Hochul said. “These bold steps are a major step forward in transforming our housing market, protecting affordability and increasing the housing supply.”

But on Feb. 3, local representatives in the Town of Brookhaven held a press conference blasting a major component of the proposal — changing zoning laws to allow more accessory apartments on premises, effectively eliminating single-family zoning.

Officials argued that under this plan, “the state would take zoning control away from local governments, eliminating local residents’ ability to voice objections to these apartments in their neighborhoods.”

They added that the bill would prohibit imposing parking requirements for these new apartments, which they said would result in cars clogging residential streets.

“Under Governor Hochul’s plan, every town, village and county overnight would lose the important zoning protections that keep them from looking like the crowded neighborhoods of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn,” said town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “That’s not what the residents of Brookhaven Town want. This wrongheaded plan will not solve our affordable housing plan, but it will devalue the homes and quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

According to Hochul, legislation will be proposed to require municipalities to allow a minimum of one accessory dwelling unit, known as an ADU, on owner-occupied residentially zoned lots. This legislation will allow for municipalities to set size requirements and safety standards for these dwellings. 

Currently the town allows accessory apartments on premises with specific regulations, including the owner of the lot upon which the accessory apartment is located must reside within the dwelling that contains the accessory apartment, and only one accessory apartment is permitted on the premises. 

According to the town, the minimum habitable area for an accessory apartment shall be 300 square feet and a maximum of 650 square feet, and in no case should it exceed 40% of the habitable area of the dwelling building in which it is located. The law states that in no event may there be more than one bedroom per accessory apartment.

Brookhaven officials — in bipartisan agreement — said that the plan and change to the law would force apartments into every home, utilizing basements, garages, rear yard sheds and buildings.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said that this proposal can have a significant impact on all of Long Island — not just the town.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner discusses how Hochul’s plan could impact her district of Rocky Point. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Yes, we do need affordable housing choices, but we don’t need a broad stroke across the state to change the very character of the communities that we live in,” she said. “We need to maintain local control, and this takes away that control. If the governor really wants to help Long Islanders, she should do something about the ridiculously high property taxes.”

Bruce Sander, president of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, said that he and his neighbors bought their homes in single-family neighborhoods “so we could raise our children and grow out in our family community.”

“The ability for unscrupulous landlords to not be accountable to the local officials is just plain outrageous and dangerous,” he added. “We have seen basement apartments with illegal occupants catch fire and create unsafe environments throughout the community. If we lose control, we lose our communities. What is being proposed could lead to the destruction of the suburbs.”

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said that while he “appreciates” that the governor is trying to address the question of affordability, taking away the power of local zoning can lead to “chaotic development that may in the end undermine the very fabric of our communities and property values we’re trying to protect.”

“Zoning helps maintain the character of neighborhoods,” he added. “Zoning also provides tools to address these questions of affordability, however, and I don’t want that power to be taken away.”

In attendance with the Town Board was state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) who said this change in legislation could result in “greater density for communities and place tremendous strains on every conceivable local service from the water we drink, to traffic and emergency services.”

“This one size fits all approach is not the answer to Long Island nor the state’s affordable housing crisis,” he added. 

While not in attendance during Thursday’s press event, local U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) both opposed Hochul’s plan.

“This blatant attack on suburban communities will end single-family housing as we know it, strip local control away from the New Yorkers who live there, tank the value of their homes, overcrowd their previously quiet streets, and on top of it all not do anything to solve our affordable housing problem,” said Zeldin, who is running on the Republican ticket for the governor’s seat. 

Suozzi, who is also campaigning for governor, said, “Governor Hochul’s radical housing proposal would ‘require’ all municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units on all residential properties and would end single-family housing as we know it.”

Hochul outlined more of her plan during her State of the State address last month, with another reason being to help municipalities rezone to foster multifamily housing near commuter rail stations in the New York City suburbs, including Long Island. 

North Shore school districts share what they’re doing to keep up with the new COVID variants. Stock photo

As students went back to school after the winter break, a spike in COVID-19 cases caused widespread absences fueled by the Omicron variant. 

As of Monday, Suffolk County has experienced a 24.1% positivity rate, according to the New York State Department of Health. 

These numbers come just one day before Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced that the state will be ending contact tracing for the virus. She said that keeping up with the number of cases is “nearly impossible” with the Omicron surge and the focus should rather be on vaccinations and testing. 

“We have 12,000 new cases a day. It is almost impossible to do contact tracing the way we have been in the past,” Hochul said at a news briefing in Manhattan Jan. 11.

The county has yet to announce if it will also stop contact tracing on the local level. 

But to continue keeping children safe in their schools, some North Shore districts have implemented new protocols, on top of mask wearing, social distancing and virtual learning.


In a statement from Elwood school district, Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said that at the high point of the COVID surge, which was immediately following the holiday break, the district had approximately 200 students isolated or in quarantine.

“Any student who is directed to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 has the opportunity to work remotely in Elwood, K-12,” he said. 

Northport-East Northport

Residents in the Northport-East Northport community received a letter from Superintendent Robert Banzer last week providing an update on some changes that took place due to the surge. 

At the time of the notice, which was sent out Jan. 7, the quarantine and isolation expectations for students and staff reduced for positive cases from 10 days to five days as long as the conditions in the guidance are met. These changes to quarantine protocols are also outlined and are based on vaccination/booster status. 

For remote learning while quarantining, Banzer expressed his sympathy noting, “We understand that remote learning is not ideal,” but some changes were made for students to learn while at home. 

High school and middle school students were updated on the district’s virtual quarantine support schedule, which provides periodic access to a subject area teacher throughout the day. Elementary students were granted increased access to their quarantine support teacher. 

“A key difference between virtual quarantine support versus livestreaming a classroom (aka: turning the camera on in the classroom) is the ability for students to interact with a teacher and ask questions, which is not typically possible with a traditional livestreaming approach,” he wrote. “This creates conditions that allow for full attention on students; the large majority who are present in class, and those who are online seeking virtual assistance from the subject area teacher.”

The district, along with others on Long Island, was given testing kits for students and staff to conduct at home, as well as community testing to take place on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Bellerose Avenue location. 


Smithtown schools are prioritizing in-person instruction, according to Superintendent Mark Secaur. 

“We strongly believe it to be superior to remote learning,” he stated. “That said, we do allow for remote learning via livestreaming for students who are unable to attend due to COVID-related quarantine and isolation requirements.”

He said he believes the district offers a safe in-person learning environment, so it has not allowed for students to “opt-in” to a remote environment unless they are forced to miss school due to a COVID quarantine or isolation period. 

Three Village

In a letter sent to residents, the Three Village School District has continued to keep students spaced at 3 feet and 6 feet when in the cafeteria. Plastic barriers can be put up if requested by the family, but none are being distributed to all at this time. 

The notice stated for secondary students, “Due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases after the post-winter recess, the following procedures will be enacted from Thursday, Jan. 6, until Friday, Jan. 21, at the high school, and until Friday, Jan. 28, at the junior high schools.”

These include livestreaming into classes if a student or family is in isolation. The livestream for Three Village occurs for the entire day, and not for individual periods of instruction. It is not interactive and will continue beyond the dates indicated for quarantined students only.


Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that some parents were concerned sending their children back to school after winter break, so the district implemented a 10-day virtual option for families, ending this week. Students always have the option to livestream into their classes.

“Virtual learning is good for the time being, but it’s not the best way to learn,” she said, noting that in-person learning is important for social and emotional growth. 

In conjunction with the virtual option, the district continues to follow the state’s mask mandate and 6-feet distancing. 

“When things calm down, we have written a letter to send to the governor asking that students sit at their desk with no masks,” Quinn said. “The spread is not happening in schools.”

But until the Omicron variant ceases, and things get back to some type of normalcy, Comsewogue will continue providing tests to students and staff. 

Quinn added that the day before school started, over 2,000 tests were given out. 

Middle Country 

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country Central School District, is confident that things are looking up. She said on Tuesday, Jan. 11, that attendance in her schools is starting to get better. 

“I think we’re starting to plateau,” she said. “After reporting 10 days of absences after the breaks with family, today it’s finally slowing down.”

She added that the district is testing staff once a week, while students can get tested every Monday if the parent asks. 

“We want to make sure that if they have symptoms it’s not COVID,” she said. 

Middle Country has kept up with its mask mandates and physical distancing, as well. 

“Our positivity rate is still below the county and state rate,” she added. “We’re still as careful now as we were before.”

Students have the option to livestream into their classes if absent and are offered virtual instruction during quarantine. 

“Our staff is amazing,” Gerold said. “They are working double, triple duty to support the staff who aren’t there, and they are impacted at home, too, but are still here for our students relentlessly.”

Gerold commended the district as a whole: “We just want the students to be safe.”

Shoreham-Wading River

Superintendent Gerard Poole said that “luckily” things are better this week. 

“We are full in-person learning, but if someone is out, they can get a livestream,” he said. 

For grades K-5, students are spaced out at 6 feet and it’s the same for secondary students with activities like chorus, band and in the cafeteria. 

“The community parents continue to collaborate to help students,” he said. “And our nurses continue to be heroes … the flexibility of the staff is amazing. We are so thankful for them.” 

Robert Milone, above left, with Peter Killian and Thomas Fellows at the new Oath ceremony for students entering the undergraduate nursing program that Stony Brook started this year. Photo by Jessica Galiczewski

In the wake of an expected nursing shortage and amid an uncertain battle against a pandemic that is well into its second year, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a scholarship program to support future nurses last week.

The program, called Nurses for Our Future Scholarship, will cover tuition for 1,000 health care workers to get their Resident Nursing degrees at State University of New York and the City University of New York colleges.

The governor announced that the scholarships were designed to address the shortage in health care and a lack of workers in hospitals across the state.

In a statement, Gov. Hochul called the scholarships an “important step to train more nurses and bring them into our health care system.” She added that the pandemic has “shown us that we cannot afford a labor shortage in the health care industry.”

Nursing officers at area hospitals applauded the announcement and suggested it was an important first step in confronting some of the challenges the nursing community faces.

“I was thrilled” with the announcement, said Susan Knoepffler, chief nursing officer at Huntington Hospital. “I’m absolutely grateful for this incentive to go into the field.”

Knoepffler said hospitals throughout the area and the country had a nursing shortage even before the pandemic.

Knoepffler said Huntington Hospital is also hoping to spark an interest in nursing and health care at area high schools, including Commack High School. Huntington Hospital is providing a few students with the opportunity to learn about nursing and is looking to expand that program.

Nurses are “critical to the health of health care,” Knoepffler added. “If we don’t have enough nurses, we’re not going to be able to provide optimal health care.”

Indeed, a study in 2018 in the American Journal of Medicine calculated that patients in intensive care units were accompanied by nurses for over 86% of their time, compared with 13% with physicians and 8% with critical support staff. The figure exceeds 100% because some of these health care workers were in the room at the same time.

These scholarships will help students who might otherwise struggle financially to enter a profession that will be in increasing demand, particularly as current nurses retire.

“Having scholarships to help students stay in or enter the profession is great,” said Annette Wysocki, dean of the School of Nursing at Stony Brook University. “We have a lot of first-generation students.”

Nursing student Jaclyn Jahn. Photo by Rad Reyes

These scholarships can also help ensure that students from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds enter a challenging but rewarding field, providing underserved populations and communities with a link to the health care community.

Those students who graduate from nursing programs are likely to find a variety of professional opportunities, giving them greater chances to work in geographic areas and in medical specialties that appeal to them.

The American Nursing Association anticipates that more registered nurse jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession in the country, according to Stony Brook University.

Robert Milone, who is working to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at Stony Brook in 2022, said he has received considerable encouragement about future prospects.

“There’s a lot of buzz around employment afterwards,” Milone said. He anticipates finding more “opportunities for our graduating class than there were.”

Some nurses have advised Milone, who is a native of Seaford and already earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Stony Brook in Health Science, to pursue his “dream job” after graduating.

While nurses applauded Hochul’s decision to create these scholarships, they described numerous nursing challenges.

The scholarships are a “fabulous idea,” said Nicolette Fiore-Lopez, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Hospital. While the scholarships will help in the future, “we need some help right now.”

Fiore-Lopez said a number of nurses have left the profession, both in New York and nationally.

Additionally, the pandemic may cause an increase in residents who need medical attention in the later parts of the fall and winter, when more people are indoors and when families come together from all over the country.

“By all predictors, we believe we will see another surge,” said Fiore-Lopez. “Hopefully, it will remain somewhat blunted, with vaccines being what it is. Not having enough staff [could] become an issue.”

Fiore-Lopez urges states to think creatively about staffing solutions. 

In addition to spending more on nursing students, New York and, indeed, the country, should consider investing more in the education system, which is already straining for resources.

For the past three years, the Stony Brook School of Nursing has admitted 160 students into the pre-licensure undergraduate program, which is about 14.2% to 15.9% of the qualified applicants they receive each year.

“We fervently wish we could accept more students but cannot because we do not have a sufficient number of faculty and resources,” Wyoski explained in an email.

Stony Brook’s nursing school, which has no endowed faculty positions, endowed professorships or endowed lecturers is “already stretched beyond our limits,” Wysocki added.

Fiore-Lopez suggested that the nursing system needs short-term and long-term fixes.

“I see the governor’s proposal as a long-term fix,” she said. In the shorter term, the nursing system needs other assistance, including some financial relief to provide extra staffing.

In the meantime, current students continue to hope to put their training and ambition to use in a field in high demand, particularly during the pandemic.

Jaclyn Jahn, another student in Stony Brook’s undergraduate nursing program, is following in the footsteps of her mother Lynda Jahn and her grandmother Joann Monahan, who have both been nurses.

Her mother and grandmother are “two of the most upstanding, independent, confident women I’ve ever met,” Jahn said. “They are everything I hope to one day live up to.”

Jahn, who sees her role as a patient advocate, looks forward to explaining medicine to patients and to helping patients “feel comfortable and heal.”

File photo

During a virtual press conference Nov. 4, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said he has a lot to think about before the end of the month.

Suozzi said he has been seriously considering running for New York governor in 2022, but he said he will not make a decision until the end of November.

“I’d love to be the governor of New York State, and I think I’ve got a great record of accomplishment,” he said. “I think I’d be great at the job. I have a vision for the state of New York. I know what needs to be done.”

Over the next few weeks he will meet with political consultants to determine if he has a good chance of winning. He added he believes he could win a general election but he wasn’t sure about a Democratic primary.

To date, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Attorney General Leticia James and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have stated their intentions to run in the Democratic primary in June of 2022.