This week's top stories
1. Pandemic's effect seen in school tax projections
Long Island school districts project an average 1.8% rise in property taxes next year — the lowest increase in five years and one reflecting an economic slowdown touched off by the pandemic. Four districts — Bridgehampton, Greenport, Three Village and Wantagh — have announced tentative plans to seek tax-cap overrides for the 2021-22 school year. Local officials cited various reasons for considering higher taxation, including a desire to maintain popular student programs and avoid teacher layoffs.
Preliminary tax plans for more than 120 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties are spelled out in a recent report issued by the state comptroller's office in Albany. The annual report serves as a sort of early alert system for local taxpayers and others who vote in school elections. Under state law, at least 60% of voters must approve any proposed override of tax-cap restrictions within individual districts. Polling this year is scheduled for May 18.
New York State sets a baseline restriction on annual increases in school property taxes of 2% or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. This year's baseline is 1.23% due to a sluggish economy and low inflation. "Given the economic challenges that people face these days, I think districts are cognizant of that and are budgeting conservatively," said Ron Masera, superintendent of Center Moriches schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.
This year's report by the comptroller's office finds that total property-tax collections are projected to rise by an average 1.7% in Nassau and 1.9% in Suffolk.
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2. More high school football teams in quarantine
Keeping high school football teams in the game has been quite the challenge through the first three weeks of this altered spring season.
- Five more schools will sit in quarantine this week while the rest of Long Island follows the regular schedule. The schedules continue to change with positive tests and contact tracing due to the COVID-19 protocols.
- Harborfields, Hampton Bays, Lindenhurst, West Islip and Eastport-South Manor will all miss the third week of play, leaving opponents with a void in the schedule.
- "We are in rapid change and it's on a daily basis as schools continue to follow the Suffolk Department of Health’s guidelines," said Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, which governs all Suffolk schools.
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3. Baldwin's St. Christopher School to close
A Catholic grammar school in Baldwin will close in June, church officials said Monday, the second time in a week the Diocese of Rockville Centre has announced campuses shutting down partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- St. Christopher School will shut its doors for good at the end of this academic year after nearly a century of operating in Baldwin, said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese. St. Raymond School in East Rockaway and St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hempstead are also closing in June, the diocese announced last week.
- The closing of St. Christopher will bring to seven the number of Catholic grammar schools shutting on Long Island amid the pandemic. Four others were closed last June.
- The latest closing mirrored the circumstances of the previous six, Dolan said: Declining enrollment and revenues over years, and then the final blow, the pandemic, which caused donations at Masses to plummet and cut deeply into subsidies that parishes provided to the schools.
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4. Amid COVD-19, 'extraordinary' strain for colleges
A year after a frightening new virus abruptly forced students to flee campuses for remote instruction, COVID-19 is still upending college life in ways that could reshape how on-campus work gets done and how courses are taught.
- Many Long Island students have not returned to in-person classes, while those on campuses remain bound by COVID-19 testing, periodic quarantines, mask wearing and social distancing.
- "The strain has been extraordinary," Adelphi University President Christine Riordan said. Adelphi University saw a 5% drop in enrollment from fall 2019 compared to fall 2020.
- Schools are hoping for a more normal fall semester, following wide-scale vaccinations and lower infection rates, while preparing to switch back to remote mode if necessary. Stony Brook just announced its May commencement ceremonies would take place outdoors on campus and in-person.
- The pandemic’s stresses have reinforced the depth of help students may need to stay in school, SUNY Old Westbury President Timothy E. Sams said. "When you admit a student, you admit the whole student and the challenges they bring with them, and we have to deal with the whole student," he said, noting Old Westbury students experienced homelessness, financial need, and a 10% increase in the dropout rate within the past year.
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5. A disconnect lingers for college students
Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Disconnected. That’s how Maria Giovanna Jumper, a 21-year-old Adelphi University student, described her coronavirus pandemic experience during the past year while studying remotely at her family's home in Breezy Point, Queens. She has come to campus in Garden City once, for senior photos.
- Danielle Burman, a junior musical theater major from Maryland who lives on campus at LIU Post in Brookville, was glad classes remained open all year there. "To do all this on Zoom would have been so hard," she said.
- Students still cannot visit in dorm rooms, and Burman chooses not to eat in the dining hall, taking her food to her room to eat alone. Theater department shows are filmed instead of performed before an audience, and the old post-show socializing and celebrations no longer occur, Burman said.
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Resources for you
- Sesame Workshop has launched "Coming Together," a set of resources on racial literacy aimed to give children, parents and educators the language and tools to talk more openly about race and racism. Visit sesameworkshop.org/what-we-do/racial-justice for activities, songs and videos of Elmo talking about race with his friends.
- Child's Play authors and illustrators have created some fun videos, perfect for story times and also to help keep little ones occupied during what can be a stressful period: Visit childs-play.com for story time videos.
- This week is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. It could help to start a conversation with teens using the information from this list of teens' 10 frequently asked questions about drugs and health, such as "Why do people take drugs when they know they're bad?" Visit teens.drugabuse.gov.
Round of applause
Once a month in Kings Park, a group of parents — often joined by the high school principal, Jason Huntsman — fans out across the hamlet to deliver small gifts to the homes of more than 200 Kings Park High School seniors.
It's an effort to brighten a year that in Kings Park, as in most every public school district on Long Island, lacks some traditional highlights. Homecoming and Senior Banquet were canceled, as were some class trips; prom was still uncertain as of last week. Until full-time in-person school resumed Monday, it was hard for some of the seniors to see friends they’d known since kindergarten.
"It doesn't replace all the social interactions and events we're missing out on, but it’s definitely nice that throughout all this, people are still thinking of us," said Joy Witzke, a senior and student council member.
Two mothers of seniors, Cynthia Grimley and Jennifer Brojer, came up with the idea in late December. They have so far organized three drop-offs of desserts, and one, last Sunday, of Queens Botanical Garden tickets and decorative stones. They plan to keep it up through graduation in June.
Your questions answered
Have questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.
Last week, the CDC changed physical distance rules for students in classrooms. When will Long Island schools align with the new CDC guidance?
It's unclear when exactly Long Island schools will be cleared by New York State health and education departments to implement 3 feet of distance between students' desks in classrooms. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its updated guidance last week, state guidance has not been updated to reflect the changes.
School leaders have said they need clearance from state and county government agencies before they can implement new distancing rules.
The new guidance from CDC allows for at least 3 feet of space between desks in elementary schools, instead of the standard 6 feet. The 3 feet distancing also can be applied to middle and high schools but needs to revert to 6 feet in areas where there’s a high level of spread in the community. Teachers and other adults should continue to stay 6 feet from one another and from students.
The updated guidance also removed recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks. CDC said that 6 feet distancing should still be maintained in common areas, such as school lobbies, and when masks can't be worn, such as when eating.
"This is welcome guidance, but it’s not guidance we can readily adopt, yet," said Ron Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. "We need New York State Department of Health to say that they endorse this and for Suffolk County to follow suit before districts in the county can bring back more kids with 3 feet distancing."
In an email last week, the state Department of Health said it was "reviewing the new CDC guidance" but did not elaborate if it planned to update state guidelines accordingly.