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Dana Chiueh

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Dana Chiueh is an editorial intern for the Long Island Press based in East Setauket. She studies communication and computer science at Stanford University. When not covering Long Island news or investigations, she can be found exploring Suffolk County, reading, or tinkering around on her film camera.

Long Island Concerts & Events September 2020

DEREK YUKNA
This local singer, songwriter, and guitarist released his first single “Truth” in April and is currently writing and putting together his first album. Reserve seat in advance. Landmark on Main Street, 232 Main St., Port Washington, landmarkonmainstreet.org Free. 6:30 p.m. Sept. 5.

GIL PARRIS
This is a rare chance to experience American Grammy Award-nominated guitarist Gil Parris, recognized by many as a killer jazz, rock and bluesman, in an intimate setting, Treme Blues and Jazz Club, 553 Main St., Islip. tremeislip.com 8 p.m. Sept. 5.

BEST OF THE EAGLES
Best of the Eagles is the most exact interpretation of the music of the classic rock band in America, bar none! Each member mirrors his counterpart in the Eagles instrumentally and vocally. This is a drive-in concert. Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, LIU Post, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, tillescenter.org $35 per motorcycle. $79-$99 per car. 7 p.m. Sept. 6.

2020 STONY BROOK FILM FESTIVAL
The Stony Brook Film Festival is going virtual for 12 weeks as it embarks on its 20th year of celebrating cinema. Individual films starting at $6; all-access pass $60. stonybrookfilmfestival.com Sept. 10 – Dec. 15.

GUIDED NATURE WALK
Expert guides bring a range of perspectives for each outdoor adventure. This event recurs monthly on the second Saturday with different themes, this one being Monarch butterflies. Sands Point Preserve, 127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point, sandspointconservancy.org $5-$10. 11 a.m. Sept. 12.

SAL THE VOICE
Enjoy a four-course family-style Italian dinner while being serenaded by Sal The Voice, a reality show cover singer. Mulcahy’s Pub & Concert Hall, 3232 Railroad Ave., Wantagh, muls.com $89.99. 6 p.m. Sept. 12. 

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: THE NEW YORK BEE GEES GOES SYMPHONY
This Huntington-based Bee Gees tribute band is in high demand, often touring nationwide to bring iconic hits across the country. They’re teaming up with the Nassau Pops orchestra for this show. The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington, paramountny.com. $20. 8 p.m. Sept. 20.

18TH ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT AND COCKTAIL PARTY
Brunch, golf, and a cocktail party to boot for a good cause. Hosted by the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center at the Westhampton Beach Country Club, 35 Potunk Lane, Westhampton Beach, whbpac.org. $150+. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 21.

MASKS ON MAIN
In a first-of-its-kind art crawl, uplifting mask-themed art will adorn storefronts in downtown Huntington to bring joy to patrons of the arts looking for some inspiration. New York Ave., Huntington. 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 26.

Related Story: Long Island Nonprofit Fundraisers September 2020

Related Story: Apple Picking on Long Island 2020: What To Expect at The Orchards This Season

 

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Michael Magro Foundation: Fighting Pediatric Cancer

L. to R.: Alison Luff and Terrie Magro. (Photo by Ed Shin)

Terrie Magro’s family was dealt the unthinkable in 2004: their two children both received cancer diagnoses within months of each other. Just a few months later, Michael, age 13, passed away from acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

“Cancer and children should never be in the same sentence,” Magro, vice president of the Michael Magro Foundation, said at a fundraising event last October. 

Through the nonprofit foundation, established in 2005, the Magros’ strength and compassion against a backdrop of unimaginable tragedy continues to resound. For 15 years, the family-run organization’s focus on relief for pediatric cancer patients and their families has resulted in more than $2 million directly donated towards entertainment for patients, funding for their families’ gas, food, utilities, or pharmaceutical bills, and resources assisting with patients’ re-entry into the public school system.

The foundation also funds two scholarships a year in Michael’s memory to students at Hicksville High School, where Michael would have graduated in the Class of 2009.

It’s fitting that, unbeknownst to them, the foundation’s last fundraiser, held before statewide quarantine was imposed, the annual Magro Madness event on March 7. 

“Michael’s favorite two sports were lacrosse and basketball,” his mother explained, passions to which the foundation owes its largely athletics-themed fundraisers and logo, which features a lacrosse-playing penguin bearing Michael’s jersey number: 33.

As Long Island was hit by COVID-19, the foundation instead quickly pivoted with new initiatives to support first responders, while maintaining its long-term mission and giving back to the community. Foundation staff partnered with Pampered Chef affiliates to assemble more than 400 “Blessing Bags” with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and nonperishable food for emergency workers at hospitals across Long Island. 

Elsewhere, the foundation facilitated donations of cell phone chargers as hospitals closed to outside visitors, leaving many patients alone without familiar faces. A donation of 10 iPads to NYU Winthrop Hospital in January unexpectedly proved invaluable to those on ventilators seeking a final way to connect with their loved ones. 

Life essentials have always been a priority for the foundation, and a partnership with restaurant Piccola Bussola of Mineola not only provided patients, frontline workers, and their families with nutritious to-go meals for nine weeks straight, but also lent a helping hand to a local restaurant struggling with lessened demand.

“People are still in cancer treatment; families are struggling now more than they ever were because they may have been terminated [from their jobs] put on unemployment,” Terrie Magro said. 

Thankfully, the Michael Magro Foundation is here to help.

For more information, visit michaelmagrofoundation.com

Related Story: Michael Magro Foundation Raises Nearly $100K at Evening of Tasting and Giving

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Pols Blast PSEG-LI For Delays In Restoring Power To Medically Vulnerable People After Isaias

A PSEG-LI crew member clears Isaias debris.

Nine days after Tropical Storm Isaias left many without power on Long Island, lawmakers are demanding that the utility improve its process for prioritizing restoration to customers who are medically vulnerable.

Among the unhappy PSEG-LI customers is Rebecca Gutierrez, a 9-month bedridden pregnant mother of two from Huntington who was still without power Wednesday. With only 10 days until her due date and daily phone calls to the utility, she has still not been placed on the company’s critical care list, which is intended to prioritize customers in fragile medical conditions.

“One of the latest responses I got [from PSEG] was that I should go stay at somebody’s house that has power,” she said. “During the pandemic, when we’ve been quarantined into the past five months, and I haven’t even seen my parents, this is a really unacceptable answer.”

According to PSEG-LI’s website, “participation in the Critical Care Program does not guarantee priority power restoration,” and the program is limited to those with a medical certificate and who use certain electric medical devices such as respirators and IV machines. But critics say that doesn’t go far enough.

The storm knocked out power Aug. 4 to more than 420,000 of the utility’s 1.1 million customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Rockaways. Many proved unable to call, text, or access the website of the utility after the storm due to a related communications failure that sparked outrage across LI.

“The big issue that I and so many people have with [PSEG’s] response to this storm is communication,” said New York State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). “On day nine you should be able to call and say we have this extenuating situation here that is dire, that requires power right away, and they should show up. And they’re not.”

The expectant mother is just one of many Long Islanders with medical conditions that made losing power more difficult.

“Having a baby during the pandemic is one thing, and now with the extra layer of not having power … not knowing if I’m going to have to bring a newborn home into a hot house,” Gutierrez said, calling temperatures in her home “unbearable.”

Calling the mishandling “absolutely unconscionable,” Gaughran called for the resignation of Long Island Power Authority President Thomas Falcone and PSEG-LI President Daniel Eichhorn, while invoking his previous experience as the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

“If our communication system had failed as poorly as this I wouldn’t be waiting for somebody to call me to resign, I would have just done the right thing and step down,” he added, noting that while PSEG-LI workers are “heroes,” miscommunication from higher management was to blame.

Gaughran also announced new legislation that will give the Public Service Commission authority over storm management preparation on LI.

“LIPA is supposed to be carrying on that role, and they obviously have failed,” the senator said. “The legislation will take the authority away from them and give it to the Public Service Commission, which covers all the other utilities for the state of New York in this situation but not the residents of Long Island.”

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting an “extremely active” Atlantic hurricane season, the senator remained concerned about the inevitable next storm to down trees and power lines. Peak hurricane season is in August and September.

“This was just a tropical storm,” he said. “What’s going to happen when there’s an actual hurricane? This is a disgrace and it needs to end.”

Related Story: Tropical Storm Isaias Wreaks Havoc on Long Island

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3 Long Island Catholic Schools Closing Down

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center's headquarters on Sunrise Highway.

Due to declining enrollment and significant pandemic-related financial strain, three Catholic schools on Long Island won’t be reopening next month as they have closed permanently, according to the Diocese of Rockville Centre. 

The schools affected are Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson, Saint Peter of Alcantara School in Port Washington, and Holy Family Regional School in Commack.

“Unfortunately, the enrollment decline combined with the impact of COVID-19 on both parish offertory collections and tuition collections, and fundraising efforts, has made it clear that it is not feasible to maintain these schools financially,” said Sean P. Dolan, spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. 

Due to small class sizes, many Catholic schools rely on parish funds to stay afloat. For Our Lady of Wisdom School, its four supporting parishes are expected to contribute 45 percent of the school’s operating budget, or around $475,000, per year. 

But with churches unable to conduct Mass services in person, offertory revenue has taken a nosedive. St. James R.C. Church in East Setauket, one of the four supporting parishes of Our Lady of Wisdom, reported a $85,000 deficit so far in 2020. 

“We are deeply saddened by the closings of these three elementary schools,” Dolan said.

Competition from local public and private secular schools was also a major factor, church officials said. 

“Changing demographics and increased competition from public and secular private schools have contributed to ongoing declines in Catholic school enrollment nationwide,” a statement from the Diocese of Rockville Center read.

At Holy Family Regional, the last five years have brought an enrollment drop of 43 percent to 139 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, while at Our Lady of Wisdom, enrollment for kindergarten through eighth grade dropped 37 percent to 66 students over the same time period. At St. Peter of Alcantara School, enrollment drops were even more drastic: 52 percent to 99 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

All three schools have a long history of supporting LI students. St. Peter of Alcantara has been in operation since 1925, while Our Lady of Wisdom has been open since 1938. Holy Family Regional, formerly known as Christ the King school, has served Commack-region students for more than 50 years.

In a bid for survival, many LI Catholic schools have regionalized over their history, covering a wider geographic area with multiple parishes. Our Lady of Wisdom reached students from Sound Beach to Port Jefferson to Setauket, while Holy Family Regional served students from Kings Park, Hauppauge, Dix Hills, and Commack.

For families blindsided by the closures, choosing a new school in the middle of a pandemic may be overwhelming. The Diocese of Rockville Centre continues to operate 35 Catholic elementary schools across the Island and has set up a hotline for parents of students at the three closed schools. 

“Please know that Holy Family Regional students will be warmly welcomed into any of the excellent Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre,” a statement from the pastors of the Holy Family Regional affiliated parishes read.

For some families, however, the closures may mean transitioning their children to public or secular private school for good.

Officials at the three schools’ supporting parishes, the Parishes of St. Gerard Majella, Infant Jesus, St. James, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Matthew, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, Christ the King, and St. Peter of Alcantara could not be reached for comment.

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NY Schools Will Reopen This Fall, Cuomo Says

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday all schools in New York State can plan to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year since with infection rates across the state are below the required threshold.

“We are probably in the best situation in the country,” the governor told reporters on a conference call. “If anybody can open school, we can open schools. This is just great news.”

The announcement has only cleared the first hurdle towards reopening. If schools’ reopening plans do not pass health department review, they will still not be permitted to reopen in the fall, Cuomo said.

Cuomo also announced that a “deluge” of calls from concerned parents and teachers have prompted him to require schools to submit detailed plans for three key areas by next week: remote learning, COVID testing, and contact tracing.

“I have been deluged with calls from parents and teachers and there is a significant level of anxiety and concern,” he said, emphasizing that the most important stakeholders in schools are the parents, who represent the students, and teachers.

“This is not really a bureaucratic decision,” he added.

Schools will be required to submit and post online plans that address potential educational inequity caused by online learning, logistics with COVID testing including whether students will be quarantined while awaiting results and how teachers can access tests, and logistics with contact tracing.

In addition, all school districts are now required to host at least three discussion sessions with parents and one discussion session with teachers before August 21.

Citing the need to accommodate parents’ busy schedules with multiple opportunities to participate, Cuomo said, “The more dialogue, the better.”

Most of the 749 school districts statewide have submitted their reopening plans to the Department of Health and State Education Department, with just 127 not yet submitting plans and 50 being incomplete or deficient, requiring further revision.

Despite criticism that the state was leaving most of the difficult decision-making to individual school districts, Cuomo said a one-size-fits-all approach could not occur with a state as diverse as New York.

“If it works for the district, it works,” he said. “If it works for the parents, it works. I’m not going to tell them what to do.”

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Bowling Alley Owners Call For Reopening From Coronavirus Shutdown

Bowling for a cause. (Photo by Ed Shin)

Bowling alley owners who say their businesses are an integral part of Long Island communities have prepared extensive safety protocols they hope will convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow them to reopen.

Bowling centers are prepared to implement safety measures that include screening all visitors, social distancing by using every other alley, instituting half an hour of extensive cleaning between parties using the same alley, delivering refreshments to each group rather than having them walk up to the counter, and contact tracing protocols in line with state efforts.

“Some in government may consider bowling nonessential, or not important enough to reopen right now,” said Chris Keller, owner of The All Star in Riverhead. “But we are the fiber of many communities.”

Despite LI being in the fourth and final phase of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, industries that have yet to get the green light to reopen include catering halls, gyms, and bowling alleys.

Despite most bowling centers clocking in at a spacious 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, under the proposal, each bowling alley lane would also be limited to four players in an effort to minimize crowds.

For local officials, the issue is bigger than the need for summer recreation. Bowling centers are small businesses that have contributed much to communities across LI, and now need community support more than eve.

“Bowling centers offer fun and family-friendly recreation and access to a beloved pastime by employing more than 9,000 New Yorkers and providing tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue,” said New York State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Hicksville).

Brenda Shasho, second-generation owner of Massapequa Bowl, emphasized the role of bowling centers in hosting events for seniors and handicapped individuals, as well as hosting fundraisers for local charitable causes like the Boys and Girls Club.

“We are reaching a point that if we do not open soon, we will lose everything that we built for the last 30 years,” Shasho stated, saying that the state’s expectation that bowling proprietors continue to pay “incredibly large” tax bills despite not being allowed to operate constituted an “unjust and unfair situation.”

Keller emphasized that bowling center owners were committed to their patrons’ safety, with him spending $20,000 personally to modify his business. However, fixed costs, including mortgages, electrical bills, and property taxes continue to eat into financial reserves, and two of the roughly 300 bowling centers statewide have already closed permanently.

Another group disproportionately impacted by bowling centers’ closures have been high school hopefuls on the competitive circuit, where upwards of $90 million in college scholarships are up for grabs for the NCAA Division I sport.

Even among these students, the COVID-19 pandemic may be exacerbating social inequities.

“Students who cannot afford to or are not able to travel to other states to train are losing their competitive edge,” said Amy Sheldon, a high school bowling coach.

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre) pointed out that with bowling centers open safely in New Jersey and Connecticut, unnecessary interstate travel may have increased that could have been avoided by simply opening centers stateside.

“Governor Cuomo, we are ready,” said Keller. “We just need your guidance.”

Related Story: Long Island Gym Owner Plans Class-Action Lawsuit After Reopening Bumped From Phase 4

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Coronavirus Concerns Loom Over Fall College Semester Plans on Long Island

Masks and social distancing will be part of the college curriculum this fall. (Getty Images)

After an impromptu remote spring semester thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across Long Island are developing measures to ensure a safe fall semester.

Of the 15 institutions on LI, only Touro College and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy have not yet released plans for the new academic year as of press time. Officials at other institutions warn that despite their plans, policies may still be subject to change.

“We need reopening plans, monitoring plans, containment plans, and shutdown plans,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of colleges in September.

Experts have warned that Thanksgiving break may result in a spike in cases as students travel nationwide. As a result, all colleges will be operating remotely after the holiday, many shifted their academic calendars, and Stony Brook University cancelled fall break.

LESSON IN SAFETY

When it comes to health department guidance, colleges are leaving no stone unturned. Face coverings will be mandated in all spaces, gatherings will be limited, and common areas shut down. Hygiene and social distancing signs, plexiglass barriers, plentiful hand sanitizer, and increased surveillance are all a part of the “new normal” outlined in each college’s reopening plan.

New York Institute of Technology is upgrading its HVAC systems to eliminate viral particles through filtration, said President Hank Foley. Meanwhile, Adelphi University unveiled a new Health and Wellness Office to increase its health response.

Temperature checks and health screenings via smartphone apps will become a facet of students’ routines. At St. Joseph’s College and SBU, students will be required to fill out the screenings every morning they are on campus. At Molloy College, all individuals will have to take their temperature at a kiosk prior to entering any building.

SETTING UNSETTLED

Most local institutions have announced an array of education formats to be offered in the fall semester, including synchronous online learning through platforms such as Zoom, asynchronous online learning (prerecorded videos), hybrid classes that have students alternating between in-person and remote elements, and fully in-person classes, especially for hands-on, experiential education such as laboratory work.

At Adelphi and Molloy, an additional HyFlex course option is available, “offering students the option to participate live, synchronously, or asynchronously,” according to Adelphi. Students choosing this option can attend in-person, watch lectures live, or watch recordings, for maximum flexibility.

This flexibility may be important to accommodate out-of-state or international students who may struggle with time zone issues, inability to travel to campus, or new restrictions on student visas. Students with health concerns can also benefit from a home environment.

However, accreditation requirements for certain degree programs may pose a challenge for students in a largely remote semester. Programs such as Farmingdale State College’s professional pilot program require demonstrated hands-on experience, necessities the college says applies to around 35 percent of its students.

Webb Institute, Long Island University Post, and Five Towns College are forging ahead with all in-person instruction, keeping in mind social distancing and sanitation within classrooms.

“We also are adjusting class schedules to allow for more time between classes, because we know it will take longer to get from place to place on campus safely,” Hofstra University wrote in an announcement. 

Both Nassau and Suffolk County Community Colleges are anticipating a largely remote reopening; at SCCC, 88 percent of all classes offered will be completely remote.

By contrast, FSC announced its intentions to have “an on-campus experience that includes no more than one-third to one-half of its students and faculty on campus on any given day.”

DORM LIFE

Most schools with residential programs are reducing dormitory capacity and encouraging students to seek off-campus housing or live at home, in efforts to promote social distancing, which can be a challenge in a shared living space. However, if a student resident has been exposed to the virus, there will be isolation areas.

Hofstra announced that in dormitories, “students will be assigned to use only one sink, one shower and one bathroom throughout the semester to reduce the number of people sharing facilities.” Elevator capacity will also be capped at two.

SUNY College at Old Westbury will be the only local residential college not offering student housing in fall 2020, citing the possible need to house first responders if the temporary COVID-19 hospital constructed on its campus is activated in a second wave.

Among LI college officials, Webb Institute President Keith Michel was alone in requiring that all students reside on campus, citing a 130-year tradition. 

“The overwhelming majority of students, faculty, and staff have expressed a desire to return to campus in the fall,” he wrote.

Related Story: Back To School Season Anxiety Abounds on Long Island Amid Coronavirus Uncertainty

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Racial Justice Marches Spark Police Reforms on Long Island

Protestors kneel on Merrick Avenue in Merrick. (Photo by Mira Lerner)

As racial justice protests continue across Long Island, police and lawmakers are debating how best to address the issue of police brutality without handcuffing officers’ ability to effectively protect communities they serve.

There have been more than 100 protests against police brutality on LI since a Minneapolis police officer allegedly murdered George Floyd in May, triggering nationwide demonstrations that have been dubbed the largest-scale civil rights movement in American history. New York State, Nassau and Suffolk counties and some villages have all proposed, and in some cases enacted, police reforms in response — prompting some soul searching along the way.

“As someone that has always been law-abiding … I’ve been called ‘boy,’ I’ve had guns drawn, I’ve had a gun held up to me, and it’s from law enforcement,” said Suffolk County Legislator Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport), one of two Black members of the county legislature. “So when I get pulled over, even in Suffolk County, until the point where that officer recognizes who I am, I’m terrified.” 

The national reckoning on race relations has prompted nationwide calls to defund police departments and reallocate the taxpayer money to social services programs as was enacted in New York City, but local leaders have resisted the idea.

Some measures have been more symbolic, such as the Village of Hempstead, the municipality with the highest density of Black residents on the Island, renaming its Main Street “Black Lives Matter Way.”

The New York State Capitol in Albany. (Shutterstock)

STATEWIDE REFORMS

New York State lawmakers passed police reforms in June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a 10-bill legislative package that included a ban on police using chokeholds, mandated that New York State Police wear body cameras, and designating as hate crimes false accusations made to 911 based on religion, race, or other identifiers.

Most notable was the repeal of a 1976 law that allowed police departments to shield disciplinary records from public scrutiny. For years, critics of the law had called for greater transparency, while backers said the law protected the privacy of essential workers.

“They are passing legislation that is actively hurtful and detrimental to law enforcement officers and their careers,” Suffolk Police Benevolent Association President Noel DiGerolamo, who represents rank-and-file police officers, said in a radio interview. 

Cuomo also created the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative in which 500 police departments statewide are mandated to reform with community input by April or risk losing state funding.

“We’re not going to be as a state government subsidizing improper police tactics,” Cuomo said.

Local officials expressed confidence in county training programs. 

“I believe our academy is world class,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said, touting the department’s language assistance and hate crime training. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran took it a step further and mandated anti-bias training for all county employees, not just members of law enforcement.

Both the Nassau and Suffolk police have been under consent decrees requiring the U.S. Department of Justice monitor their hiring practices to avoid discrimination since the 1980s. Suffolk police also remains subject to DOJ review of its relations with the Hispanic community as part of a 2014 discrimination lawsuit settlement.

Police separate a crowd of rally attendees and counter-protesters at a Back The Blue Demonstration at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow on July 25, 2020. Photo by Mira Lerner.

POLICE PUSHBACK

As the marches and police reforms advance, several pro-police Back The Blue rallies have been formed in response. 

The Nassau County Legislature launched a Blue Ribbon Initiative, encouraging residents to show support for police officers by displaying a blue ribbon outside their home or business. And lawmakers expressed concern for officers’ health and safety while juggling marches and pandemic rules enforcement on top of daily duties. 

“This notion of defunding the police, that somehow we don’t need police, it just doesn’t work,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

“When you speak to defunding the police, you’re eliminating core services, which is going to affect minority communities the most,” DiGerolamo said, noting that the majority of 911 calls come from minority communities.

A pair of Suffolk County police officers patrol Main Street on Islip on foot on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Long Island Press photo)

REBUILDING TRUST

Officials recognize the need for improving relations between police and the communities. 

“Current events have demonstrated that people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds are frustrated with law enforcement, and they have some legitimate reasons to feel this way,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, Jr. said while announcing the formation of an advisory board to provide community input on local policing efforts. 

“We have to change the culture in policing,” Hart said. “Making sure that every police officer is involved with the community… that has to be in the DNA of our department.”

In Nassau, Curran announced the creation of the Police and Community Trust committee that will join community activists with police officials for discussions on how to improve Nassau’s community policing model.

“As a young Black woman from this community I’m excited to have and push these conversations forward,” said Blair Baker, one of four community activists represented on PACT.

Advocates are still pushing for Nassau and Suffolk counterparts to New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, a program instituted in 1993 that allows citizens to file complaints to a third party investigator rather than police departments. Another Nassau bill seeks to create an alternative reporting option for community members to reach a specialized mental health crisis response unit without calling 911. 

“How is it humanly possible that an officer who starts in the academy at about the age of 24-26 can be all that in every [emergency] situation?” retired 25-year NYPD officer Dennis Jones asked at a Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability rally.

“Our police officers are people too, and our system, the way it is currently structured, does not provide them the monitoring and the support that they need to be able to properly do their jobs in their communities,” said Rashmia Zatar, executive director of STRONG Youth, a Uniondale-based anti-gang violence nonprofit. 

She pointed to heightened substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide rates among police officers that have ripple effects on law enforcement’s abuses in community responses.

Freeport Police Body Camera
A Freeport police officer, now a detective, pictured several months ago wearing a body camera on his right shoulder. (Credit; Freeport Police Department)

BODY CAMERAS

Nassau and Suffolk lawmakers are also searching for vendors in anticipation of expanding police body-worn camera systems on Long Island. Suffolk previously experimented with a pilot program in 2017, while a $150,000 pilot in Nassau stalled in 2015 after objections from police unions.

Now, legislators are pushing to bring these programs to full deployment. Nassau Legislators Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) and Carrié Solages (D-Elmont), who were behind the 2014 effort, renewed their calls for a countywide bodycamera program.

“Suffolk County, New York State, and the entire nation are entering a new phase of understanding and advocacy with respect to the use of force by police and ensuring accurate monitoring of police activity,” Suffolk County Legislator Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) wrote in a recent resolution.

Body cams not only provide a record in case of police misconduct, but may also protect officers from being falsely accused, according to local police chiefs. While an important tool for maintaining objective records, clear protocols regarding when officers must turn the cameras on and when they are allowed to turn them off, are needed, lawmakers said.

As legislators are mulling how to pay for an expensive new program amid a pandemic-induced budget crisis, some local villages are taking matters into their own hands. The Village of Head of Harbor announced June 18 they would equip all officers with body cams. In 2015, the Village of Freeport was the first municipality in New York State to equip all 95 officers with body cameras. 

Ironically, a recent high profile police brutality case occurred in Freeport. A viral video from December shows 44-year-old Freeport resident Akbar Rogers screaming for help while being physically assaulted by police officers, one of whom is the mayor’s son. 

“But for the grace of God, this rally could have been my memorial service,” Rogers said at a rally June 29. “But for the grace of God, I could have ended up like George Floyd.”

Charges against Rogers for assaulting a police officer were dropped July 7. He has since filed a $25 million suit against the police department.

Long Island Segregation
Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, a non-profit civil rights organization based in Syosset.

NEXT STEPS

Some advocates say the police reforms don’t address the underlying systemic racism on LI, such as the continuing practice of redlining — real estate agents steering minorities away from buying homes in predominantly white communities, exacerbating the region’s status as one of the most segregated suburbs in the nation.

Last month, Nassau Legislators Solages and Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) proposed creating a database of racially restrictive covenants in housing policies, with the goal of educating the public on structural racism. Both Suffolk and Nassau legislatures also recently passed addendums to local human rights codes protecting natural hairstyles, protective hairstyles, and religious garments from discrimination.

“It’s important in this day and age, especially with the diversity of our county, that we recognize that these hairstyles and garments are important to people’s different cultures and faiths and they should be able to have those things without worrying about discrimination in terms of employment or housing,” said Nassau Legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park).

Advocates remain cautiously optimistic that real progress will be made.

“Governments at every level need to address the structural racism that underpins police brutality,” said Elaine Gross, president of E.R.A.S.E. Racism, a nonprofit that investigates housing discrimination. “Only then will the African American community be treated fairly by the police.”

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Back To School Season Anxiety Abounds on Long Island Amid Coronavirus Uncertainty

Parents, teachers, and students remain concerned about how safe school will be this fall. (Getty Images)

As local school districts get busy developing reopening plans for the upcoming school year, Long Island parents, teachers, and students have mixed emotions on the feasibility of going back to school during a pandemic.

School administrators are asked to come up with plans that incorporate social distancing, mask-wearing recommendations, frequent health screenings, and more measures that prioritize health and safety in accordance with health department guidance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the plans will be announced in early August. Yet many stakeholders remain skeptical of the idea of schools being able to stick to their plans. 

“Many kids have a hard time paying mind to their actions when it pertains to cleanliness and personal hygiene,” said Nicole Cast, an educator and parent from East Setauket.

Dora Zou, a rising sophomore at Ward Melville High School in Setauket, said she doesn’t believe schools reopening “in the middle of a pandemic” will be safe, considering the difficulty of enforcing mask-wearing among students.

Even under normal circumstances, diseases such as the common cold or flu easily spread in a school environment, and life in the time of COVID-19 is no different, according to some parents.

Though school-age children may statistically be less susceptible to deaths from COVID-19, Cast urged administrators to protect students battling chronic conditions. 

“This is a matter of life and death,” she said. “If they want kids back in school before a vaccine, they better darn well have a tight plan. No kid is sitting next to my child with asthma without a mask.”

“That’s one sneeze away from a disaster,” she added.

Teachers are also raising concerns about returning to an environment that puts them at risk, with lackluster support to enforce new guidelines. 

“In all honesty, I can’t see how recommended social distancing can take place with 30 to 32 students in a classroom,” said Mike Stencel, an English teacher at New Hyde Park Memorial High School. The school alone has more than 2,100 faculty, students, and staff.

New York State guidance encourages schools to take advantage of existing large spaces like gymnasiums and auditoriums for socially distant instruction, but in most schools, the number of classes clearly outweighs the number of large spaces available.

“We all want to go back to normalcy,” he said. “We all want to return to the profession we love. We all know that education is important and needs to commence in the traditional way…but it is both illogical and unethical to recklessly reopen schools without adhering to or following the advice of trained medical professionals.”

Stencel added that it is “irritating” to see elected officials leave reopening plans for school districts to figure out without concrete solutions or ideas.

The State Department of Education guidance released July 13 states that due to the size and diversity of the state “there will be no ‘one size fits all’ model for reopening our schools.” Instead, local education agencies can submit reopening plans that incorporate remote learning, in-person instruction, or a combination of both.

Instead of reopening in-person instruction prematurely, Cast hopes schools will “prepare for a stronger, more comprehensive plan to teach remotely,” citing the number of students who had a negative experience with distance learning in the latter half of the 2019-2020 academic year.

Rather than risk their children’s health in a group education setting, some families are turning to homeschool or private teaching options. A representative for Central Park Tutors, a private tutoring agency with operations in the East End, confirmed that the firm had seen unprecedented interest in its homeschooling services for Fall 2020.

Schools reopening affect more than students, teachers, and staff. While acknowledging her “selfish” excitement to see her friends again, Zou emphasized the threat of asymptomatic teachers and students bringing the virus home to their loved ones. 

“There could be students carrying pathogens without knowing it that could easily be transmitted to more vulnerable people,” she said. “Many people live with their grandparents, and with large gatherings of people happening again and many interactions, I’m really worried for the older people.”

“The real question is, ‘Should someone’s life be put at stake for others’ inconveniences?’” Cast concluded.

For more education coverage, visit longislandpress.com/category/education

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Trump Tweets Support For Long Island Pizzeria Amid Flag Controversy

President Trump tweeted support for a Long Island pizzeria that generated controversy after flying a Keep America Great flag.

President Donald Trump tweeted support Thursday for a Long Island pizzeria that was subject of a local Facebook controversy after a customer complained about the store flying a “Keep America Great” flag.

The Patio Pizza in St. James was inundated with calls after the president’s tweet promoting the pizzeria days after the woman’s Trump flag complaint went viral in local social media groups.

“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.),” tweeted Trump, who’s seeking a second term in November. “Great Pizza!!!” 

The president’s pizza promotion comes after he recently came under fire for his recent tweets in support of Goya Beans, which critics say is a breach of presidential ethics. Trump critics recently began boycotting Goya after the company’s CEO praised the president.

“I’m running out of pizza boxes!” Caligiuri told the Press.

He said that having been in business for more than 40 years, the customer’s in-store complaint and ensuing Facebook post didn’t faze him, despite the “nasty” comments that had been made. But what he didn’t expect was the “humbling” response.

“The response has just been incredible,’ Caligiuri said. “I’m getting people from all over Long Island, all over the nation, even from Cuba, and Australia saying they supported me.” 

He said a quasi-Trump rally broke out after the customer’s Facebook complaint.

There were Trump masks, T-shirts, hats,” he said. “At one point a man with a giant Trump flag sticking out of his sunroof drove by beeping loudly. The place went crazy with a huge ovation. Then a motorcycle drove by with a flag.” 

“It was awe-inspiring,” he added.

He doesn’t believe the community support is politically motivated. 

“The people who have supported me are coming out against bullying,” he said. 

“Just because they see a flag, they think they can judge me?” he said, noting that his store has been an active contributor to the community, donating “thousands” to support those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. “They don’t know me…They have to look beyond the flag.” 

The president’s pizza tweet received more than 106,000 likes and over 32,000 retweets as of Friday morning.

“People have been blowing up my phone, asking me if we ship,” an employee told Caligiuri.

To Caligiuri’s knowledge, Trump has never tried Patio Pizza.

It wasn’t the first time Trump has weighed in on a local controversy. The president repeatedly retweeted News12 Long Island reporter Kevin Vesey’s video showing Trump supporters harassing him at an anti-coronavirus lockdown rally in May. Trump retweeted the video with the chant the supporters used: “Fake news is not essential.”

Related Story: Montauk Key To Trump Taking Over Family Empire, Niece Writes

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