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A snapshot of North Shore Youth Council from back in the day. Photo from NSYC

April 13 was a special day for the North Shore Youth Council. The nonprofit, which provides programs and services to enrich the lives of local children, celebrated its 40th anniversary.

According to a press release from the organization, on that day in 1981, founding member Betty Hicks signed the certificate of incorporation. Their goal was to establish and implement educational, cultural, recreational and social programs for youth across the North Shore, encourage youth to participate in community activities, stimulate efforts to resolve issues and problems concerning youth, foster interaction and communication amongst other existing youth programs, and develop family life education programs to support the changing needs of families.

For four decades, NSYC has been at the forefront of youth services with a holistic prevention model that encourages children and teenagers of all ages to stay out of trouble and develop the life skills necessary to become responsible, successful adults. 

Based right next door to the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School at 525 Route 25A in Rocky Point, NSYC services over 1,200 individuals annually, while offering programs in school-age childcare and middle school drop-in, enrichment, recreation, counseling, social skills and mentoring services that adapt to fit the changing times and needs of families. 

“We’ve been a unique agency from the start, but our ability to adapt and even expand our services during this pandemic made us even more of a critical resource,” Robert Woods, NSYC’s executive director, said in a press release. “Families, children especially, have been in desperate need of stability, socialization, and mental health support, so it was important that we found every way possible to continue to be that system in place.” 

Woods said the organization started off in someone’s home at a kitchen table. 

In spring 1980, a group of Rocky Point and Sound Beach parents met in Hicks’ kitchen to address the problems facing young people in the North Shore communities — and the lack of available services and substance abuse education necessary for their health and wellbeing.

With rising drug abuse and teenage runaways becoming a problem on Long Island, one thing in particular became obvious to parents in the Rocky Point School District — issues with substance abuse, mental health and juvenile delinquency did not discriminate. 

Problems happened in any town, in any neighborhood, to anyone. Those original six parents saw the need for community cooperation and recognized that prevention programs and strategies could help youth delinquency before it became more challenging.

And now, 40 years later, their mission statement stays true. Despite a global pandemic impacting nonprofits across the country, NSYC has been able to keep its head above the water and still provide assistance to whoever might need it. 

The organization has moved many of its programs online, offered free tele-therapy, started community support workshops and even provided virtual recreation before returning to in-person services.

NSYC’s team worked with local elected officials, school district administrations and the local Rotary Club early on in the COVID crisis to bridge the gaps by providing schoolwork printing services, laptop and earbud donations, food donations, and offering its main office and recreation room as a safe and supervised place for students without Internet to work. 

They successfully ran a summer camp free of COVID-19 cases, and at the start of the new school year, resumed before and after school childcare and drop-in services with numerous health and safety protocols. 

NSYC and its Youth Advisory Board continue to develop youth-based initiatives that benefit the whole community, including safe trick-or-treating Halloween events, holiday fundraisers, virtual talent shows, and open mic and game nights. Like other nonprofits facing funding cuts, NSYC and its diverse staff rely on community support. 

“We’re rolling out a new platform for fundraising and charitable giving,” Woods said. “We work hard to cultivate relationships with our communities and keep them engaged with us because many of these kids come back year after year and grow with us. The more we know what’s needed or wanted, the better we can prepare and provide for youth and families.”   

Woods, himself, began coming to NSYC when he was just five years old. Now, he’s trying to help kids with their programs the way it helped him 30 years ago.  

“I literally grew up and have just never left,” he laughed. “You know, it’s interesting to be the director of a program that helped you grow up, and I think that’s pretty unique amongst our organization.”

Right now, most of its students come to the Rocky Point location from Port Jefferson through Wading River. Woods said they’re hoping to expand. 

“There’s this amazing legacy of people that have come through us,” he said. “And we want to keep it going.”

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Photo and caption from SWRCSD

The Shoreham-Wading River High School senior boys soccer players were applauded during their final home game on April 5.

The school district congratulates senior players Ryan Burnham-Clasen, Danny Canellys, Zach Dapolito, Kevin Doolan, Connor Guercia, Michael Guzzone, Tyler Hawks, Aul Loscalzo, Austin Manghan, John Martirano, Josef Ochsenfeld, John Pion and Matteo Sweet for a successful season of sportsmanship.

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This week, Long Islanders acknowledged the one-year mark since the coronavirus hit officially hit and impacted the area. In March 2020, schools began to close, as stay-at-home orders were put into effect. 

Throughout the remainder of the school year, districts had to figure out new learning models in a virtual world and create a socially distanced environment when schools opened back up nearly six months later. 

Now, many districts in the area have opted to bring students back in-person all five days a week, hoping to give children, teachers and families a sense of normalcy. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District 

Rocky Point school district has been back full time for K-5 since September, according to superintendent of schools, Scott O’Brien. 

By November, secondary schools began attending in-person classes four days a week, and now have implemented five days as of last week. “Reopening our schools this year and embracing a phased-in approach to safely bring our K-12 students back to school full time was a truly collaborative effort, and I can’t thank all of our stakeholders enough for their unwavering support,” he said. “Our elementary students have been thriving, learning in person full time since the start of the school year and our district was able to successfully and safely increase our in-person learning days from two to four by November for our secondary students.”

He said that “it was clear pretty early into the increased learning plan how much this move tremendously benefited our students, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well.”

O’Brien said that the district is continually working to ensure their learning environments remain safe. 

Middle Country Central School District  

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district, said that pre-K through grade 8 will be returning to five days April 5. 

For grades 9 through 12, it was be a slower process to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“By the end of the school year, the goal is to be back to five days,” she said. “We want kids to have muscle memory of what it was like to be in school.”

Gerold said that bringing kids back to schools was the goal all along. 

“Kids are missing the classroom experience,” she said. “The interaction, the energy and it’s good for teachers, too.”

She said that they are following all the necessary precautions, including barriers and mask requirements. Due to space limitations, she said that the 6-feet social distancing rule is unobtainable, but desks and distances are closer to 5-feet apart. 

She said it’s exciting to see how happy her students are at slowly coming back to school. 

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s neat to see how excited the kids are and it’s good to start feeling a sense of normalcy again.”

Middle Country is still offering a full virtual option for families who declared so early on. Gerold said right now about 20% of the student population is virtually learning. 

SWR Central School District

Superintendent Gerard Poole said that since September, Shoreham-Wading River has been back full time, five days a week, and there have been no problems for all levels. 

“We have a fully remote option, but about 97% have been attending in person,” he said.

By following all the correct protocols and by reopening a vacant elementary school to help with distancing, students and parents have been thrilled. 

“It’s been fantastic, a huge success,” he said. “It’s good for the students’ mental health, and helps the parents get back to work.”

He said that it takes a collective effort to make things like this happen.

“It can work,” he said. “It does work, and all the other health and safety protocols work. So, I think the fears of COVID are real, but so are the effects of students not being in school every day.”

Comsewogue School District

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that beginning April 6, after spring break, high schoolers will be returning to a normal week. Grades K-6 have been back since September. 

“Nothing replaces live instruction,” Quinn said. “The [COVID] numbers are low at this point and we’ve watched from some of the surrounding districts that their numbers are not significantly different than ours. … We want the students to be in school. Live instruction is the best way to learn.”

She added that the district’s teachers and the community as a whole have done “an amazing job during this difficult situation.”

“It’s a hard decision, people are afraid,” Quinn said. “It’s not right for everybody, but the key is this was the plan, and we were working toward this for a long time.”

Comsewogue will still have an option for families to remain virtual. 

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent. 

And while it’s still a difficult time, Quinn said that everyone is excited to be going back to five days. 

“We’re going to be as safe as we can possibly make it, and we need students to feel that this is their safe place,” she said. “Overall, the kids are suffering. It’s not normal to be home every other day and not being able to see their friends.”

Port Jefferson School District

Since Jan. 18, the Port Jefferson School District transitioned students in grades six through 12 back to in-person learning four days a week. 

“Thus far, we have not seen a rapid rise in our positive COVID cases in our middle school and high school,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan recently wrote in a letter to parents. “Unfortunately, it has become evident that during this pandemic, our students have not been as successful academically and are struggling with their mental health. We have seen an increase in social and emotional needs similar to those reported in the news across the country.”

She said that from a health perspective, mandating masks, cleaning procedures, hand hygiene and distancing when possible have resulted in minimal transmission within the school. With that in mind, the board of education voted on returning secondary students to in-person learning five days per week beginning on March 8. 

“We as parents are thrilled about that and we as a community are thrilled about that,” Port Jefferson Village trustee Kathianne Snaden said in a virtual board of trustees meeting on March 1. “There’s nothing going to be better for our kids, and then to get them back into school with their friends and teachers and all the things they need in school, we’re so happy about that.”

Schmettan added, “Currently, students very easily shift in and out of the remote environment. Although convenient for parents and families, this irregular pattern of instruction is disruptive

and unfair to teachers and students.”

There will only be a few reasons for virtual learning, including students who opted in for the remainder of the year, students mandated to quarantine due to COVID-19, or students who have a significant documented medical event that will not allow them to attend school for a long duration of time.

Comsewogue School District

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that beginning April 6, after spring break, high schoolers will be returning to a normal week. Grades K-6 have been back since September.

“Nothing replaces live instruction,” Quinn said. “The [COVID] numbers are low at this point and we’ve watched from some of the surrounding districts that their numbers are not significantly different than ours. … We want the students to be in school. Live instruction is the best way to learn.”

She added that the district’s teachers and the community as a whole have done “an amazing job during this difficult situation.”

“It’s a hard decision, people are afraid,” Quinn said. “It’s not right for everybody, but the key is this was the plan, and we were working toward this for a long time.”

Comsewogue will still have an option for families to remain virtual.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent.

And while it’s still a difficult time, Quinn said that everyone is excited to be going back to five days.

“We’re going to be as safe as we can possibly make it, and we need students to feel that this is their safe place,” she said. “Overall, the kids are suffering. It’s not normal to be home every other day and not being able to see their friends.”

How libraries look during COVID times. Photo from Comsewogue School District

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and schools are still adjusting. The school library, a place of solace for elementary schoolers and high school seniors alike, has had to adhere to the new and ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

Local districts, however, have embraced the changes and have implemented new services that they never would have started if it wasn’t for the crisis.

A silver lining, school librarians across the North Shore explained how the changes have impacted them, their schools and their students.

Alice Wolcott, librarian at Elwood-John Glenn High School, said that COVID changed the landscape of public education, meaning they had to reimagine their space.

“This year we transitioned the book loan program to a digital platform, which will continue to support students’ pleasure and academic reading while still observing COVID restrictions,” she said. “Students can browse the collection online via Follett Destiny [a library management system], and if they find a title they’d like to borrow, they can request that book through our book request form.”

To adhere to COVID rules, the books are delivered in a Ziploc bag to first period teachers.

Since some students are not physically in their first period classes, the district also increased their digital library as a main focus.

Shoreham-Wading River High School librarian Kristine Hanson and Albert G. Prodell Middle School librarian Ann-Marie Kalin created an initiative to meet the need for printed books while reimagining the online presence in concert with OPALS, the open-source library system.

They created a book delivery service at their schools called BookDash, which allows students to electronically submit requests with their student ID. Then, physical books are either delivered to students at Prodell or picked up at the high school library doors at the end of the school day. The initiative is promoted through English classes, and a multitude of book recommendations are available via the OPALS pages, blogs and links.

“Kids are reliant on what’s in the catalog, books that never went out before are going out like wild,” Kalin said. “For the time being we’re making the best of it all.”

With the BookDash initiative, Kalin said students are excited to get their hands on actual books.

“So many kids are so tired of being on the screen and are desperate for that interaction with each other,” she said. “I’m seeing readers I never saw before, and there are so many requests for books. It’s very successful.”

Along with Shoreham-Wading River, other districts across Long Island are using an e-book platform called Sora, including Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.

Monica DiGiovanni teaches Sora to third graders in Rocky Point. Photo from RPSD.

Librarian Monica DiGiovanni has been visiting classrooms, having students log into their Chromebooks. She is teaching them how to check out library books with the new service, which enables students to borrow a book and read it right on their devices. Another program, Destiny Discover, enables students to find a physical book in the library and have it delivered directly to them since their libraries are currently not open.

DiGiovanni said that their school libraries have become break rooms for teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate kids in a socially distanced way.

“The library has become an interactive thing,” she said. “Students are definitely utilizing it.”

Although Rocky Point school libraries had to reshape themselves and close the doors to students, Elwood school district was able to open the doors at the high school last week. Wolcott said that right now 15 students are allowed in the library at a time, with designated seating and other stipulations in place.

“The students are really responsive and they’re following all the protocols,” she said. “It’s great to have them back.”

She even sees students, who were not her typical regulars, interacting with the library catalog more than they did before.

“Now it’s nice they’re browsing the shelves,” Wolcott said. “They’re picking books they would not have chosen otherwise.”

Donna Fife, library media specialist at Elwood Middle School, said that early on, the district was keeping library services running smoothly, while her younger students are opting to read more.

“I am seeing names I never saw before requesting books more frequently,” she said. “I know how I feel at the end of the day ­— I would have a hard time playing video games after screen learning.”
Fife said she thinks students are looking for something tangible now that some are looking at a computer all day long.
“They’re requesting to hold a physical copy instead of looking at another screen,” she said.

Nicole Taormina, librarian at Boyle Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue school district, said that new regulars have blossomed throughout the pandemic.

“They really love browsing online,” she said. “It’s a different experience — they are really excited now because they use their Chromebooks and have their own accounts.”

Taormina said that while the changes have been different, she’s looking forward to some normalcy in 2021, and is grateful for what 2020 helped her with.

“I’ve been able to tweak things,” she said. “And the students have been able to learn things that they may have not been able to learn before.”

Also in Comsewogue, Deniz Yildirim, a librarian at Terryville Road Elementary School, said that teaching her library classes has been different compared to years past.

“It’s been a huge change,” she said. “We can’t hand out worksheets anymore, and we do a lot online to cut down on contamination. No other class can come in other than what’s assigned in this room.”

When Yildirim visits classrooms at her school now, she will deliver books that children ask her for.

“It breaks my heart that they can’t browse,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”

And she said that all school libraries have made progress in 2020 than the past 10 years.

“Publishers, authors and librarians are working very hard to make sure kids are reading,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for them during these trying times.”

Taylor Kinsley, a librarian at Minnesauke Elementary School in the Three Village school district, said their schools have been allowing browsing within the libraries.

She said students have to use hand sanitizer before and after touching the books to be sure they have clean hands, and they reorganized the setup of the library, featuring no reading carpets on the floor.

“Elementary students are always excited to have the freedom to pick the books they want,” she said.

The district sanitizes the used books and quarantines them for about a week before putting them back on the shelves.

“I think normalcy is really important for them,” Kinsley added, referring to her students. “We’re being supercautious so why take that away from them?”

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Local school districts are still maintaining low COVID-19 numbers, while the rest of Suffolk County is nearing 6% in some areas. According to district leadership, that’s because schools have been constantly evolving their plans to keep students, staff and the community safe.

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many continuing to keep students safe. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Middle Country school district covers a large jurisdiction, Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools, said. In non-COVID times, there are roughly 11,000 students within the district, though now approximately 7,500 are in buildings due to hybrid and remote learning options. The district has only had 102 positive COVID cases since the start of school, a 1.3% infection rate — with 52 of those cases coming from Thanksgiving break.

“We have such strong guidelines we’re containing it, not spreading it,” she said. “We know where [students and staff have] been and who they’ve been with.”

Like all the other districts, students are required to wear a mask at all times, except during mask breaks. Social distancing has been implemented with barriers on desks, and teachers are asked to keep their windows and doors open.

If a student is showing symptoms, they are immediately placed into an isolation room and brought home.

But that barely happens, according to Gerold. “The community is doing a good job because they’re not sending us positive kids,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of cases in the schools.”

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said that over the summer, local superintendents began putting together plans to better prepare their districts.

“When the pandemic started, there was a feeling of uncertainty,” he said. “But now what we’ve found is we could place a great deal on social distancing.”

Because they have been implementing and following CDC guidelines, he said they’re not seeing spread within the schools.

“Controlled environment helps keep the community safe,” he said. “Even if we see the community numbers rise, I think the government, politicians, leadership and superintendents know how important keeping schools open is.”

A representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office agreed, and said the new guidelines released last month are to keep the doors of local schools open.

“We encourage them to not be closed, but to test instead,” they said.

Guidelines now require mass testing in schools in red, orange and yellow micro-cluster zones before they reopen, followed by vigilant symptom and exposure screening conducted daily. Impacted schools can reopen as early as Monday, however students and faculty must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to going back to the classroom. New York State will provide rapid test kits for schools wishing to participate.

After a school reopens in a red or orange micro-cluster zone, vigilant symptom and exposure screening must be conducted daily. A quarter of the in-person learning school community — both students and faculty/staff — must be tested per week, and the school should ensure that it provides opportunities to test on school grounds, or otherwise facilitates testing and accepts test results from health care providers.

If the school does not hold a testing event or provide testing on school grounds, test results provided to the school as part of the 25% testing of the population must be received within seven days.

The governor’s representative said that no regions have hit the 9% emergency number, which would close the county again. Schools, however, have flexibility regarding choosing a comfortable closing percentage.

“They can use their own metrics to close down districts or schools as long as those metrics don’t go against the state mandate of 9%,” the representative said. “A lot of things are state law governed. Schools are done by the locals, and we wanted to be within the local district rules.”

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Shoreham-Wading River has seen just a total of 43 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“I would like to thank our parents, staff and students for implementing the required COVID-19 health protocols this year. The daily temperature checks, health screening forms and conversations about washing hands, wearing masks properly and socially distancing have been really effective in keeping or schools open, healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email statement. “The district is fully prepared for a shift to distance learning if a closure is mandated. We have a great distance learning plan and have already shifted this year successfully for a day or two when necessary due to COVOD-19 related school closures.“

File photo of Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that they are hopeful to remain on their current course, but are prepared to pivot their instructional models as directed by the governor’s office.

“Moving forward, our schools will continue to follow the guidance provided at the local, regional and state levels, including any prescribed steps needed should our area become designed a yellow, orange or red zone,” she said. “We are grateful to our students, staff and community for their unwavering support of and adherence to our initiatives. Their collective efforts have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and allowed us to keep our buildings open for in-person instruction.”

Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of Miller Place school district, said schools, to date, are the safest places for children to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

“We are also fortunate to have the acknowledgement of social responsibility in our community, coupled with everyone’s common goal to keep schools open,” she said.

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Three Village has seen just a total of 72 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“Our district continues to follow the guidance of the Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, said. “We are fully prepared to implement any prescribed measures to keep our schools open, safe and operating in the best interest of all of our students and staff.”

Elwood school district Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bossert said he agrees with statements made by Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent joint press conference.

“Governor Cuomo used the words ‘amazing and astonishing’ to describe how low the infection rates are in schools as compared to many of the communities surrounding them,” Bossert said. “We agree that our schools are safe places for students, faculty and staff. The guidelines that have been put in place in collaboration with the Suffolk County Department of Health are designed to keep students and staff safe and school open.”

Bossert said in addition to mask wearing, distancing and appropriate hygiene, it’s important for those who are symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

“We are so very thankful to our parents and community members for demonstrating an understanding of the role we each play and acting out of an abundance of caution when making decisions about their children,” he said. “We are confident that we can keep students safe in our school buildings — where we know they will enjoy the greatest benefit of our instruction program, socialization with one another, and have positive interactions with their teachers.”

Smithtown school district superintendent, Mark Secaur, said he is planning for several different scenarios, including the potential of COVID testing in schools, or going back to completely remote.

“Based on the relative safety of our students and staff, providing education for those two things has been at odd at times,” he said. “But it’s the balance we have to navigate because of the pandemic.”

“We have proven that schools are safer than the outside community,” Secaur added. “Kids have been amazing. They’re excited to be with their friends again, and the kids have been more resilient than some adults.”

 

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As the percentage of positive tests throughout the county continues its rapid climb to about 3.5% from around 1% in the last 10 days, Suffolk County has started its first school-based testing in Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Those two school districts, where county and school officials are testing students who have received permission from their parents, recently started testing students for COVID-19 in an effort to monitor and reduce the spread of the virus.

Hampton Bays has a 6.5% positive testing rate over the last five days, while Riverhead has a 5.6% positive rate for that same period, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

About 400 tests for students, teachers and faculty in Hampton Bays, which started on Thursday, Nov. 19, will be administered before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Four employees from Suffolk County are on site to administer the rapid tests, which provide results within 15 minutes.

“The goal in launching this free school-based testing program is to be proactive in an effort to get control of these numbers in the county,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. More testing will help the county locate the potential source of community spread, helping to enable schools and businesses to remain open.

The school testing is part of a “comprehensive effort to get our arms around these nubmers and stop the surge in the county,” Bellone said.

The Riverhead tests will start on Friday, Nov. 20. The county hasn’t determined how many tests it will administer at that location. The Riverhead and Hampton Bays testing kits came from New York State.

Additional pop up testing will occur in the Hamptons Bays that Stony Brook South Shore Hospital will administer over the next two weeks, which will continue on an as-needed basis.

Bellone said the spread of positive tests is occurring throughout the county and isn’t localized in any one region.

“What we’re seeing is the spread is happening everywhere across the county,” Bellone said. “The announcement today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to get community spread under control.”

While schools in Manhattan have closed in response to a rise in positive tests, Bellone said concerted efforts in the county may prevent the eastern part of Long Island from the same fate.

These efforts include increasing the number of contact tracers to 150 today from just 30 before this surge began. The Suffolk County Police Department is also increasing enforcement around the holiday about social host laws and gathering limits below 10 people. The Suffolk County Department of Health is also working through social media to remind residents about their public health responsibilities.

Bellone reiterated that some of the increase in cases in the county came from gatherings around Halloween. With Thanksgiving next week, which typically brings multiple generations of families together, the result from these gatherings could continue to increase the number of positive tests.

Bellone said the county would continue to follow local data. If other communities also have positive test rates above the average in the county over a long enough period of time, the county will “engage with those school districts” as it has with Hampton Bays and Riverhead, Bellone said.

At this point, the county has no plans to conduct additional testing after Thanksgiving.

“We’re not seeing the spread happening inside the school,” Bellone said. “The effort we are engaged in today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort trying to get a handle on this in the county. It’s not, per se, an issue about the schools. We are looking at certain communities” where the positive rate is above the average for the community.

The county executive said he would provide data about the school-based testing once it was collected.

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While Suffolk County remains well below the level of positive tests for the country as a whole and for states like Florida and Texas, the percentage of positive tests in the area has crept higher than it’s been in recent weeks.

Among 4,517 tests, 84 people tested positive for the coronavirus, which is a 1.9% positive test rate, The positive tests have been tracking closer to 1 percent for the last several days.

“If you attended a party last weekend on July 4 or a larger gathering, be sensitive to how you are feeling,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his almost daily conference call with reporters. “You may want to reconsider visiting friends and family who are vulnerable.”

Given the large number of tests throughout the country, the wait time to get results has increased to five to 10 days, Bellone said.

Additionally, Saheda Iftikhar, the Deputy Commissioner for Department of Health Services, said the time between exposure and a positive test is usually at least 48 hours. That means a person attending a gathering on a Sunday when he or she might have been exposed to someone with the virus should wait until Wednesday before taking a test, to avoid a likely false negative.

The 84 positive results from the July 12 data likely came from tests administered days or even a week earlier, which means that these tests could indicate any increase due to gatherings around Independence Day.

To be sure, Bellone said he doesn’t put too much stock in any one day’s numbers. Nonetheless, he said the county will remain vigilant about monitoring the infection rate over the next few days.

“Be smart,” Bellone urged. “If you attend a gathering in which social distancing or the guidelines may not be strictly adhered to, be very conscious of any symptoms you may have,” Bellone said.

Bellone also urged people to be responsive to calls from the Department of Health, as contact tracers gather confidential information designed to contain any possible spread of the virus.

The other numbers for residents were encouraging.

The number of residents in the hospital was 40, which is a decline from 54 on Friday. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds was 14, which is up from 10 from Friday.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent, while ICU occupancy was at 61 percent.

Hospitals discharged 13 people who had suffered with symptoms related to the virus.

For the last 48 hours, the number of fatalities has been zero. The total number of people who have died from complications related to the coronavirus is 1,993.

Bellone highlighted a financial report from New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, titled “Under Pressure.” The report indicated that, statewide, local sales tax collections declined by 24 percent in April and 32 percent in May.

“Local governments are only beginning to feel the impacts of COVID-19 on their revenue,” Bellone said. Reductions in state aid are still possible, which puts counties cities and less wealthy school districts in an “especially tenuous position.”

Local governments will need to take drastic measures to fill enormous budget gaps. That includes Suffolk County, which may have a deficit as large as $839 million this year.

Separately, as school districts try to figure out how to balance between in-person and remote learning, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) issued guidelines today designed to provide specific targets.

Schools in districts that have reached Phase 4 of the reopening, which includes Suffolk County and where the infection rate is below 5 percent, can reopen. When the positive testing percentage on a rolling 7-day basis exceeds 9 percent should close, Cuomo advised.

School districts will make their decisions about opening between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.

The governor also announced a new requirement that people traveling into New York from 19 states with rising rates like Florida, California, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas will have to give the state contact information before leaving the airport. Those who fail to do this will receive a summons and face a $2,000 fine

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

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

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

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

Students can register for these tests starting in May.

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

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

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

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

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

Superintendent Gerard Poole speaks to residents about the survey results. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is trying to gauge its long-term future with community, teacher and student feedback.

The district has surveyed district residents to help determine which school functions are doing well and which need to be improved. This data was especially important, Wading River Elementary School Principal Lou Parrinello said, because of expectations over declining enrollment.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment,” Parrinello said. “This shows what we want to hold dear, what we want to expand and what we want to let go. We don’t want to make those decisions in isolation.”

That loss of students could then mean a loss of revenue for the school over a period of several years, along with shrinking class sizes and potentially less specialized electives available. Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district has already hosted forums with teachers and students of all grade levels.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment.”

— Lou Parrinello

In a special focus group meeting Feb. 26, the district asked residents to present their own ideas for where the district should head in the next five years.

In the survey, close to 1,000 residents rated where the strongest and weakest elements of the district were. On the negative end, 47 percent of those surveyed said the cafeteria programs needed improvement. While the high school cafeteria remains as it is, the district has used funds from a bond passed in 2015 to create a new kitchen and cafeteria spaces in both the Wading River Elementary School and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The district plans to renovate the cafeteria with the ongoing bond funds this summer.

A number of teachers, parents and even some students were present to speak about the issues they see with the school, with some noting a lack of proper communication with parents and students, especially over social media.

Karla Roberts, a fourth-grade teacher in the district, said the schools need to look toward standing out among the flock of other districts on Long Island. She was especially disappointed to learn how some seniors in the high school, because they were already at the mandated amount of class credits they needed to graduate, were coming in late during the school day and leaving early.

“It’s making sure all students have something, and [the school] should be tracking if students are in sports, clubs electives, or not,” Roberts said.

High school senior Katie Loscalzo said there is a disconnect between the guidance counselors and the students, especially in guaranteeing there is interest for students in varying classes. She noted she is currently in an Advanced Placement course with only seven students and is taking an elective with only four enrolled.

“We don’t have those guidance relationships,” the senior said.

The district conducted an enrollment study in 2015, which was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to its current enrollment of 2,264. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district has in the past pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of its ebbing enrollment figures. 

“We don’t have those guidance relationships.”

— Katie Loscalzo

This fact brings a call for strategic developments of new school budgets. At its Feb. 26 meeting, the district revealed a preliminary proposed budget of $75,952,416, approximately a million more than the current year’s budget of $74,776,072 and below the current year’s tax cap of 2.96 percent.

Also represented in the budget is a 3.69 percent drop in state aid funding, based on projections of the New York State budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

In the continuing work of the 2015 bond, the district outlined a number of projects for the upcoming summer, including renovating the high school theater lighting and dimming system, a full reconstruction of the main parking lot, a renovation and expansion of the existing kitchen and serving line and a reconfiguration of the office spaces within the center corridor. The board awarded bids to a number of contractors for that work at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Students at Earl L. Vandermuelen High School in Port Jefferson discuss the health effects of vaping. Photo from PJSD

By David Luces

With the rising use of e-cigarettes in schools, Suffolk County is looking to find ways to put the liquid genie back in its bottle.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation Dec. 20 to increase the fine for the sale of all tobacco products, including vaping products, to those under 21 years old. 

“The popularity of electronic cigarettes has exploded into mainstream culture to the point where school officials in Suffolk County have asked our public health officials for clarity and assistance in dealing with record numbers of students who are vaping on school grounds,” Bellone said in a press release.  

“Vaping has become a concern in many high schools throughout Suffolk County,”

— Paul Casciano

Along with the new legislation, in January Suffolk County officials have continued to pilot a new vaping prevention program called Vape Out. The program is currently being run in North Babylon, Hampton Bays, Port Jefferson and Bayport-Blue Point school districts. Each school district involved has the option of picking one or all three of the approaches as a way of customizing the program. 

The anti-vaping program, consists of three elements: peer-to-peer education, alternatives to suspension and  community education, according to county officials. 

Paul Casciano, the superintendent of the Port Jefferson School District, said the Suffolk County Department of Health approached them in piloting the Teens-Teaching-Teens peer education element due in part to the success of a previous peer leadership program that ran in the high school. 

Dozens of Earl. L Vandermeulen High School students took part in a full day of training Dec. 6 2018 about the health effects of vaping and nicotine. The students watched a presentation on the health hazards of vaping and were given advice on how to refuse a hit. From there, district officials said they shared the lessons they learned with other students in both the high school and Port Jefferson Middle School.

Despite being in the early stages of the program, Casciano said the response to the training from peer leaders has been positive. 

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five high school students use e-cigarettes. One in 20 middle school students use e-cigarettes as well. 

The popularity of e-cigarettes has risen in recent years, a CDC National Youth Tobacco Survey found that e-cigarette use among high school students increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. 

“Vaping has become a concern in many high schools throughout Suffolk County,” the superintendent said. “Knowing the potential negative effects of vaping and developing strategies to resist pressure from others to vape is important for parents, staff, and especially students to learn.”

According to a report from BBC News, the global vape product market was valued as over $22.6 billion in 2016. 

“This is not just a phase or fad,” John Martin, supervising public health educator, Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said. “When I go to these presentations, I ask middle schoolers if anyone was curious enough to smoke a cigarette — nobody raised their hand. When I asked if anyone would think about trying a mango-flavored e-cigarette, some hands came up.” 

“This is not just a phase or fad.”

— John Martin

Martin said they were winning the game in curbing cigarette use in youth but he acknowledged vaping and products like JUUL, one of the more popular brands of e-cigarettes and vape products, have led to new challenges. 

“We’ve had a long history with helping people with nicotine addiction,” said Nancy
Hemendinger, the director of Office of Health Education, Suffolk County Department of Health Services. “We need to work together to combat this issue.”

Other parts of the Vape Out programming include the alternative-to-suspension element which encourages school administrators to require students who have been reprimanded for vaping to attend a customized education intervention in lieu of school suspension. The community education element would connect parent forums with parent-teacher organizations, youth bureaus and agencies to employ a variety of educational tools .

“We need to get adults and parents to recognize these items as smoking devices,” Hemendinger said. “Also, we need to understand that these kids affected have a addiction and we need to help them — It is our job to spot these trends.”

This post was amended to correct the date of the Port Jefferson training day.