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Suffolk County School Superintendents Association

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Even as Suffolk County prepares for the second phase of the economic reopening to begin next Wednesday, which could include outdoor dining, officials are discussing the possibility of bringing graduations and minor league baseball back.

The Long Island Ducks, a minor league team, have come up with a safety plan with protocols in place that the county plans to submit to New York State.

“The plan is incredibly thorough and has all sorts of different protocols in place to keep people safe,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

If the county is able to reach the fourth phase of reopening in the middle of July, the Ducks could conceivably return to the diamond in front of a crowd of 25 percent of the normal capacity, which would enable attendees to be socially distanced in the park.

At safe distances, people could remove face coverings, the way they do when they go to beaches or are in the water. When walking around or going to the restroom, guests would need to wear face masks or coverings to protect themselves and their fellow baseball fans.

“We’re looking forward to getting this to the state,” Bellone said. “This is something that can happen.”

Additionally, while the Empire State has only permitted virtual and drive-through graduations, officials have left open the possibility of that they would review the possibility of a limited-seating graduation in July.

“I do believe we will be in a position to do this safely,” Bellone said.

The county has also worked with the Suffolk County Superintendents Association to develop a plan to create a safe, life graduation.

“I’m hopeful that will be able to happen later this summer,” Bellone said.

Viral Numbers

The viral figures continue to move in a favorable direction. Over the last day, an additional two people died from complications related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,918. This follows a day when one person died, so the pace of deaths, which have cast a pall over a county that was at the epicenter of the pandemic, has dramatically slowed.

Each death extinguishes a life and creates an irretrievable loss for each family, which is why the county and executive like Bellone are hoping that number soon falls to zero.

The number of people infected with the virus was 86. The total number of people who have contracted the virus is now 40,239, which is more than Singapore and Colombia, but is 2,700 less than Sweden, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The infections don’t include antibody testing. A total of 15,080 people have tested positive for antibodies.

Bellone urged residents to provide information if contact tracers reach out to them. When people limit the possible transmission of the deadly virus, as they did during the economically painful and costly New York Pause, they will save lives.

“We are still in this,” Bellone reminded residents. “We need everybody to continue to follow the health guidance and do the right thing here, so we can recovery as a community and get our small businesses back open.”

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continue to drop. Through the 24 hour period ending on Wednesday, the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals declined another 12, to 213.

The number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit fell by two to 54.

An additional 24 people left the hospital over the last day.

Small businesses that are struggling to meet the new supply demands for face coverings and sanitizer can submit a request starting on Monday through the suffolkcountyny.gov web site. Interested businesses should go to the Department of Labor section and submit a request. The first 1,000 people will received two reusable face cloths and a gallon jug of New York State Clean.

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

On Nov. 6, voters will be lining up across Suffolk County at polling places, though if some school officials in the county could have it their way, by Election Day 2019 votes will be cast elsewhere.

Despite the fact schools are used as polling places near-universally, recent pushes for additional school security from communities have made several North Shore superintendents question why they should be forced to allow strangers into their buildings.

“You have to admit anybody onto school campus who comes to vote, so those actions and best practices for security that we observe every day, we can’t observe on Election Day,” said Elwood school district Superintendent Kenneth Bossert. “Schools are allowed to make their own rules for every school day, but on Election Day we have to defer to the [Suffolk County] Board of Elections, and in effect our facilities become their facilities.”

“Schools are allowed to make their own rules for every school day, but on Election Day we have to defer to the [Suffolk County] Board of Elections, and in effect our facilities become their facilities.”

— Kenneth Bossert

The Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, of which Bossert is president, released a blueprint for action to enhance school safety in which it specifically requests legislation that might let schools appeal their designation as polling locations. New York State law says all public buildings are in line to be declared polling places, yet all municipalities except schools have the right to appeal that designation.

Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota said approximately 30 percent of polling in the county was held at nonschool municipal buildings. He added if the Board of Elections tried to move its voting apparatus to other places like fire departments or town halls that parking would be inadequate and wait times would increase more than an hour because of space issues.

Many schools close their buildings on November polling days to allow the community into a school without the potential for any danger to students. However, during smaller elections like primaries and school budget votes in June, many schools remain open and wall off the students from the public. Huntington school district Superintendent Jim Polansky said while his district does not stay open during major elections, they do stay open for students during primaries.

“While I understand that it is a challenge to find alternative sites than can accommodate a vote, using schools as polling places when classes are in session [such as for primary elections] is a significant issue,” Polansky said.

Across the North Shore superintendents lamented the Suffolk Board of Elections requirements. Superintendent James Grossane of Smithtown school district agreed with SCSSA’s proposal, and Paul Casciano of the Port Jefferson School District said he agreed with it even though polling in Port Jeff is held at Village Hall.

“When our buildings are used for public polling sites, the Board of Elections has the authority to designate the final location in the building for polling to occur, which in most cases requires voters to travel through our schools, passing classrooms and common student areas along the way all while not having to go through our strict visitor approval process,” Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of the Three Village Central School District said.

LaLota said some local districts were being dishonest in their push to take polling out of schools.

“The school officials who choose to keep their May budget and board elections in their schools but demand that the November elections be moved out of their schools have a sincerity problem and are using recent tragedies to satisfy their political agenda, which predates school shootings,” LaLota said.

“The school officials who choose to keep their May budget and board elections in their schools but demand that the November elections be moved out of their schools have a sincerity problem and are using recent tragedies to satisfy their political agenda, which predates school shootings.”

— Nick LaLota

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, more and more schools have been drastically updating security measures. Schools from Northport to Shoreham-Wading River have been adding additional security cameras, installing security doors, building security vestibules and hiring additional security guards. Some schools, like Miller Place and Mount Sinai, have taken it one step further and added armed guards to their current suite of school protection earlier this year.

Mount Sinai School District superintendent Gordon Brosdal said he agreed with the SCSSA’s call for the ability to appeal. Currently the Mount Sinai campus contains four armed guards, with one manning a booth at the entrance to the grounds who asks for an ID from all who wish to drive in. He added that he was concerned that with those procedures, voters may take it as a sign of disenfranchisement to request identification. Current New York State election law says polling places cannot ask for voter ID, though LaLota said he was unaware of any statute which prevented districts from seeking identification from those who come onto their campuses.

Marianne Cartisano, the superintendent of the Miller Place school district, has been fighting the specifics for her district’s polling designation since 2013, she said. In years past, the district has had to separate students and the public with the use of cafeteria tables, for a lack of more appropriate space. Since then the district has decided to close all schools on every election day, even for primaries.

Currently Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School are all polling locations. Cartisano has long requested the Suffolk County Board of Elections move all polling operations to the high school.

“We requested that let’s just move everything to the high school, where we could accommodate anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 at a time, we’ll give you the entire building,” Cartisano said. “I know that in other districts accommodations have been made. … I want to do the right thing for our residents, but our residents also include 4-year-olds.”

In April this year the William Floyd school district reported that all polling locations would be moved to the high school, away from the elementary school. LaLota said he would be willing to work with school districts toward that end.

“This is an example of a win-win and I have encouraged my staff to explore more opportunities that increase child safety without disenfranchising voters,” he said.

Members of the SCSSA Executive Board met with Suffolk County law enforcement officials and lawmakers to discuss its five-point Blueprint for Action to Enhance School Safety Aug. 27. Photo from SCSSA

Superintendents in Suffolk County are trying to get their schools all on the same page when it comes to safety.

Following the particularly deadly school shooting — though just the latest in a long line of similar occurrences — that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which resulted in 17 casualties, discussions about concrete steps to enhance safety for students and staff in buildings from coast to coast have been seemingly unending. In Suffolk County, school officials have teamed up to release a five-point blueprint of actionable steps, officially recommended by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Aug. 27 to local, state and federal lawmakers.

The superintendents are calling on lawmakers to invest in the School Resource Officer program, providing additional officers in Suffolk County schools; adopt legislation that enhances campus safety, including amending the New York State Criminal Procedure Law dealing with setting bail; make the New York State SAFE Act the law of the land; support the social, emotional and mental health of children through screening programs and education initiatives; and provide institutional support to finance school safety, calling for the state to initiate School Security Aid and to exempt school safety expenditures from the tax levy limitation.

“While school safety has always been a top priority, following the horrific massacre at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, and the tragic events that followed, the importance of a strong working relationship between the police, mental health providers and public-school officials has become more important than ever,” the association said in a press release. “The SCSSA plans to continue to work together with Suffolk County law enforcement and local, state and federal legislators to turn these plans into actions that will improve school safety and the safety and wellness of all students in Suffolk County.”

In August, representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization that was founded by parents from the Connecticut elementary school to carry out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths, held a forum for the association and law enforcement officials. The purpose of the meeting was to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools.

The four strategies, which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk free of charge. Superintendents who were in attendance from several local districts pledged to further examine Sandy Hook Promise’s programs and to take steps toward implementing them.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in July, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said creating countywide standards for school security is a priority for his department.