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Superintendent Emails and Updates - May 2021
May 28, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
There’s good news to share this week regarding the state of the pandemic and our gradual return to normalcy. Earlier this week, the Governor announced the State’s 7-Day average positivity rate has declined for 50 consecutive days and Newsday reported on vaccination rates by ZIP code. Nassau County’s vaccination rate is higher than the State average, and the Syosset-Woodbury community is higher than the County. And here in the school district, we’ve had just 9 positive cases this month (and only 3 in the last 2 weeks), a dramatic decline from the 128 we had in April.
In light of this decline and recent NYS guidance regarding the new preferred indoor COVID transmission mitigation strategy, we have been evaluating the continuation of Plexiglas barriers used in classrooms. The State guidance indicates: “The CDC no longer recommends physical barriers for mitigation where physical distancing cannot be maintained. A preferred approach is enhanced ventilation and air filtration...”
The District will not be reducing physical distancing. In addition, the District has employed both ventilation and filtration strategies during the year and is completing additional fresh air ventilation projects in all 3 secondary schools. Districts that have removed the barriers have not observed evidence of increased disease transmission, and we have confirmed that removal of the barriers will not impact the contact tracing protocol, as the only factors for consideration in identifying close contacts are distance (less than 6 feet) and time (more than 10 minutes of exposure).
Given the above, and the dramatic decline in the local COVID incidence rate, we will be removing barriers from desktops over the long weekend. The classroom at all levels will be a more inviting environment for students and a visible step closer to the end of the pandemic we have all been long awaiting. As comfort levels may vary, a small number of Plexiglas barriers will remain in each classroom for those students who wish to continue using them.
Governor’s Announcement Regarding Fall 2021
On Monday, Governor Cuomo announced that, should current trends continue, all New York schools will be open for full time in-person instruction in September. While the announcement is welcome news, we are still awaiting official guidance to be issued so we can finalize our own plans for the fall, and answer the many questions we know parents have.
COVID-19 Rapid Test Site
For anyone needing a COVID test or post-vaccine antibody test, the rapid test site located at the old Woodbury School be open this weekend and will operate until 3 p.m. on Monday (Memorial Day).
Syosset High School siblings Avery and Chase Aaronson started participating in walk-a-thons to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation when they were small enough to be pushed in a stroller, and their dedication has not waned. In addition to their walk-a-thon participation, they’ve contributed to the annual phone-a-thon at Syosset High School and a pin-up campaign with their synagogue, and during the pandemic have worked to reinvent their fundraising efforts with a virtual Great Strides walk. Avery and Chase were recently recognized by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation during Volunteer Appreciation Week for their long-term support of the organization, and I’d like to add my appreciation for their efforts as well.
And don’t forget to get your tickets to the Syosset High School Theatre Arts production of Disney’s High School Musical on Stage!, which is streaming this weekend. The students worked so hard under extraordinary circumstances on this production, and even a few of our high school faculty members got in on the act! The end result is a fabulous, uplifting performance that you won’t want to miss.
I hope you all enjoy the long weekend as we pause and take some time to honor our country’s fallen heroes who deserve our unending gratitude. The annual Memorial Day parade through Syosset that has been such an important tradition has been postponed for another year, but our appreciation for our veterans and their sacrifice remains undimmed.
May 21, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
Thank you to everyone who came out to cast your vote for the annual school budget, which was approved for the 2021-2022 school year. On behalf of the Board of Education and the District, I would like to thank the community for your continued support of our educational program here in Syosset. We are all looking towards the next school year with much anticipation and enthusiasm.
Additionally, our community appeared evenly divided on the Stillwell Fields proposal. Proposition 2 to authorize the transfer of a portion of the Stillwell property to the school district was narrowly approved, while Proposition 3 to authorize an investment to improve the property narrowly failed. But, since both propositions needed approval for the project to advance, we will not be pursuing the next steps at the County and State level.
Lastly, we welcome Shany Park, who immediately assumed the vacant seat on the Board of Education, as well as Lisa Coscia and Brian Grieco, whose terms as Trustees will begin on July 1, 2021.
On Monday evening, we hosted a forum and open discussion about working as a community and with our partners in law enforcement to combat hate and promote an inclusive and supportive environment. I would like to thank Nassau Police Commissioner Ryder, Chief Lack, Inspector Labate and our POP officers for all taking time to attend, and extend appreciation to Joseb Gim and Caryn Stepner from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office for their attendance and support. A recording for the forum is available on our YouTube channel. I thank everyone who attended for sharing their thoughts and suggestions, which are being carefully considered, and I look forward to sharing more detail about the additional plans we announced last week separately.
New Mask Guidance
As you’re likely aware, the governor announced that New York State will adopt the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance which indicates that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask in most public places. It is important to note that the new guidance does not currently apply to schools, and therefore all students, staff and parents are required to continue wearing masks on school property.
PCR and Antigen (Rapid) Tests
NYS Department of Health has issued new guidance which states that asymptomatic individuals who test positive on a rapid screening test must enter precautionary quarantine. But if they subsequently test negative with a PCR test, they may exit quarantine. We have updated our quarantine protocols to reflect this new guidance.
I recently remarked on the success of bringing our seniors back together into the building for a Senior Commitment Day celebration, and I’m happy to report we scheduled an additional three days for our seniors to come together in the building again prior to graduation, the first taking place this week. I’m glad we are able to provide these additional opportunities for our seniors to come together as a class before they move on to their next chapters.
No School Thursday and Friday
Just a reminder that next week, all schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday. I hope you all enjoy the extended weekend.
On Sunday, a long-planned rally for Peace, Unity, and Action was held at the Syosset LIRR station. I’m so proud of Sabrina Guo and siblings Alan and Elizabeth Huang (Class of ‘20), student leaders of the event, and the many student and community organizations that contributed to the event. I spoke, along with a number of elected officials and community leaders, to show support for the Asian-American members of our community.
Although tremendous progress has been made against the pandemic locally, we remain very much aware of the critical situation elsewhere in the world, and I’m so proud of HBT student Misbah Iqbal for her efforts to send aid to those struggling with the outbreak in India. Earlier this month, along with fellow HBT student Bella Chvasta, she organized a fundraiser selling refreshments and reached out to family and friends for donations. As a result, approximately $2,000 was raised to ship oxygen concentrators and other much needed supplies directly to India.
These young people show that Syosset students can make positive change both close to home and halfway around the globe. I find their kindness and desire to promote unity inspirational. Great job Alan, Bella, Elizabeth, Misbah, and Sabrina for leading the way!
Have a safe and enjoyable weekend.
May 15, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
I know our community has been anxious for an update on the status of our investigation of the incident that occurred last week at South Woods Middle School and we have been working daily to ensure the investigation is meticulous and thorough.
Last week, biased statements, hateful statements and physical aggression were alleged to have occurred involving students at South Woods Middle School. Throughout the course of our investigation, we consulted with our school attorneys and we have been in contact with authorities including the Nassau County Police Department, the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, the Nassau County Office of Asian-American Affairs, the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) and the New York State Troopers assigned to support DHR.
On May 11, News 12 reported the Nassau County Police Department stated: "This is an internal school investigation and none of the allegations are criminal in nature. The parents also do not wish to press any charges at this time."
Privacy laws prevent us from providing specific information to the public, but at this point in our investigation, we have substantiated statements of bias made by children of varying ethnicities directed at children whose ethnicities differed from their own. We also substantiated an instance of limited physical contact and of misogynistic language. For every circumstance we could substantiate, we have consulted with our school attorneys and imposed age-appropriate consequences consistent with our findings thus far.
There are also more serious allegations of hateful speech and physical aggression that we have been investigating. Over the course of the last week, the District has interviewed and, in many cases, re-interviewed dozens of students, their parents, and staff and has extensively reviewed surveillance video from the day. We have consulted with our attorneys on this aspect of the investigation as well and they have advised that our findings to date are not yet sufficient to substantiate these allegations. As we indicated on Sunday, we will pursue any additional first-hand information that comes to light.
To Be Clear
There is no place in school and no place in society for words that do harm. Words of hate are particularly offensive because they are attacks on peoples’ very identities – their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation, their disability status -- and because they harm not only those to whom they are directed, but every person who shares the identity under attack. They should, and do, anger us. And this is why the District has made extensive efforts to promote inclusivity, celebrate diversity, and reexamine our work District-wide.
There is no place in school for physical aggression, or for biased or hateful speech. Every student, in every situation, should feel that school is the safest place they can possibly be.
I know that comparisons to the vandalism incident in 2017 have raised the question of whether our commitment to fighting hate remains undiminished or is conditioned on the identity of the victims. To be clear: acts of hate against any group based on their ethnicity, country of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability status are all abhorrent. Period.
This incident has caused anger and frustration not just among Asian-American members of our community, and concern that the District take such allegations and acts very seriously. This incident should not redefine the inclusive Syosset community our leaders have been striving to build, but it underscores the need to build confidence in our processes and how to access them. It serves as a reminder of how urgent that effort is, and why we can never stop.
To that end, this Monday evening at 7:00 pm, we will be hosting a forum at Syosset High School with Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, and the Nassau County District Attorney’s office represented by Caryn Stepner, the head of the Hate Crimes unit we worked with in 2017 and the current head of the Hate Crime Unit, Joseb Gim. Mindful of the current context, we will discuss how the public can work in partnership with law enforcement to keep our communities free of hate and bias. We invite the community to join that discussion in person or observe via livestream (a link will be posted on the District website).
Shortly thereafter, we will be convening a group of community leaders, as we did in 2017, to take stock of the District’s efforts to fight hate and promote inclusivity, and to focus on specific efforts the District can make to fight the anti-Asian hate that has risen so sharply in our country in recent months.
To jumpstart that work, we have already identified partner organizations through the Chinese American Association of Syosset, the Asian-American Bar Association of New York, and Partners in Inclusivity, Inc. Together we will: accelerate our planned incorporation of the contributions of Asians and Asian-Americans in our curriculum, supplement our anti-hate and anti-bias programming, ensure children know where and how to ask for help, and facilitate a restorative process to help our community heal.
The conversation at the Board of Education meeting yielded a number of constructive ideas from the public as well suggestions for where we can improve. At every level, from our Board to the Administration and staff, to our Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force, we remain committed to that ongoing effort.
May 9, 2021
I apologize for interrupting your Mother’s Day, but I felt it was important to update you on the investigation of the incident I alerted the community to on Friday.
That investigation is ongoing, including additional parental contacts over the weekend. At this point, we have interviewed more than 2 dozen individuals, and have been in contact with the families of every student alleged to have been involved, whether as a witness, a victim, or one of the accused. Because that investigation is ongoing, the District must refrain from characterizing events in a way that presumes we have reached a conclusion about what happened.
It is important to have as much information as possible about the event itself and also any actions leading up to it. If you have not been contacted by the District, it means your child was not named by any other participants. If you believe your child may have first-hand knowledge to share, please notify the principal, Ms. Burget, so your child can be interviewed later today by phone, or in school on Monday.
In addition, we have been in contact with the Nassau County Office of Asian-American Affairs and have sought their guidance and support as we continue this investigation and work with the school community later this week.
I want to answer some questions that I know are on all parents’ minds.
Is the District taking this seriously?
Yes, absolutely. Allegations of bias-related incidents are very serious. They cause hurt and pain not just to the immediate victims, but to our entire learning community. They must be investigated thoroughly, even if that takes time.
How are these investigations conducted?
Per our DASA policy and state law, investigations of this nature are conducted at the building level. Any time the District investigates a serious incident, we consult with school attorneys to ensure that our investigation is comprehensive and complies with the law.
When the investigation concludes, what information will be shared with the public?
By Federal law known as FERPA, all parties involved have the right to privacy, including the accused. As a result, the law prevents the District from releasing the findings of any investigation, the names of any students involved, or the conclusions and consequences.
Will the investigation be shared with the authorities?
At the conclusion of a serious investigation, the District takes direction from our school attorneys to ensure that we report our findings to any appropriate authorities.
I know there are students and families who have been deeply upset by this situation. This week, our counselors, psychologists, and social workers will be available to speak with any student who needs support. I too have been deeply upset by this situation, knowing that is has brought so much anguish to the surface for so many families, and saddened that it is not reflective of the inclusive community we hope to continue to build.
The District launched it’s Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force more than a year ago – not to celebrate our progress – but to recognize that much work remains to be done.
Tomorrow, South Woods had a pre-existing plan for an 8th grade assembly with the child of a Holocaust survivor that will emphasize the universality of words, racism, prejudice, discrimination, ignorance and fear. That assembly will be the first of a series of events at South Woods over the course of the week to emphasize the values we must reinforce for every member of our learning community.
Dr. Thomas Rogers
Syosset Central School District
May 7, 2021
Dear Syosset Community,
As heartened as I was several weeks ago to see our fields covered with student athletes at the end of the day, I was even more moved to be standing on the sidelines cheering our spring sports teams, knowing that these athletes lost their season last year and that it was literally 2 years since their last chance to play. Their joy at competing once again was unmistakable. Seeing our kids doing what they love is always the best part of the day; knowing how hard we’ve worked as a community to get back to this place is a source of pride.
That joy has been dampened by learning of a racial-bias incident in our District. The District is constrained from going into detail, but it is important for the community to know that, in no uncertain terms, we absolutely do not tolerate these actions and any such incidents are taken very seriously, with thorough investigations leading to appropriate consequences. More broadly, I’m proud of the students who bravely spoke up, and moments like these underscore the importance of the work being done by our Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force, which I’ll be outlining in an update to the Board of Education at their meeting Monday night.
This week, we held the third community engagement meeting regarding the propositions to transfer the cleared portion of the Stillwell property from Nassau County to the school district, and invest in improving the property with $3 million in County funds, $2 million from reserves and $5.5 million from bonds. We appreciate all the community members who attended and provided comments and questions. Recordings of each of the meetings and the presentations given are available on the website. As a reminder, the Budget Hearing will be held on Monday at 7:45 p.m., just prior to the monthly Board of Education meeting, at South Woods Middle School.
I’m aware there is a lot of discussion in the community regarding these propositions, and I’m thankful for our engaged community. We’ve made a lot of information available on our website, and we’ve compiled this document addressing the most frequently asked questions from the community. Today or tomorrow, you should receive our budget newsletter with added pages outlining the Stillwell Propositions, which was mailed out to every resident in the district. (Note: Nassau County is under a Federal order to ensure that elections within its borders are conducted in both English and Spanish, which necessitated the translation of the Syosset Pride.)
The Show Must Go On
I’d like to take a moment to commend the high school’s Theatre Arts program on what they have been able to accomplish this year. They have persevered throughout this most unique school year and the result of the dedication and hard work of our talented students and faculty has been nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve managed to produce an evening of student directed One Acts, a New York Premiere of a contemporary play (One Stoplight Town), a Shakespeare production (Julius Caesar), and they are now finishing filming a full-length musical (High School Musical). And they’re not done! They still have a virtual evening of "Unexpected Songs" and three virtual student productions that will be going out before the end of the year. I encourage you to get your tickets to the performance of High School Musical which will be live-streamed May 26 – May 30 and show your support for these hard-working young people while also supporting the Syosset Scholarship Fund.
We started this week with a day of celebration for our seniors, and it was one of the most uplifting days of the school year. For the first time in over a year, the senior class was reunited at Syosset High School and their joy was palpable. The seniors donned garb celebrating their post-graduation plans, and we shortened the academic day to allow for a celebration on the track and turf field. Seeing the excitement with which our students are looking towards their future was so inspiring, and knowing our faculty has prepared them well for the success written all over their shirts was rewarding for us all. Congratulations to all our seniors!
Wishing a Happy Mother's Day to all the superhero moms in our community!