Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order directing all schools in New York to close by March 18 for two weeks ending April 1, which was then extended through May 15, pending a decision to close for the rest of the year. The 180-day instructional requirement was temporarily waived; however, school districts are required to continue instruction from home, online.
“The single most effective way to slow the spread of this virus is to reduce close contacts, and that includes in our schools,” Cuomo said last month.
Just ahead of Easter, mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City’s public schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. However, according to Cuomo, Long Island school closures will be addressed on a regional basis.
“The entire district and myself understand the importance of a student’s senior year,” said Connetquot High School principal Michael Moran. “Like every school district on Long Island, we are awaiting direction from the Governor’s Office before we can discuss the prom and graduation or a contingency plan, but we remain hopeful.”
Rob Burger, Connetquot High School varsity baseball coach, would have been coaching his 22nd year with his second season as head coach. He said the team, though training through the winter, start- ed their season on March 9 and was quickly shut down, with their last practice on March 14. The shutdown, he said, is hardest on the eight seniors who won’t have next year to play.
“We have a very talented team this year and were expected to compete in the county championship,” a disappointed Burger said, explaining that the team won the counties last year. “We knew coming in this was a very special group of guys.”
The only thing he could remotely compare the shutdown to was when he coached during 9/11 in 2001. At that time, he was coaching football and the team was shut down for almost two weeks and missed one game. “But it was nothing like this,” he added, stating that the kids have already been out of the game for a month, with the hope of returning in May.
Still, he said, to keep up hope and con- tinue the vigorous training, the team has been in constant (virtual) communication and even conducted a drive-by birthday for a senior on the team.
“It’s hard to teach 17 and 18-year-olds to stay away from each other; I don’t think they understand the magnitude of it all,” Burger added. “It was great to see the guys through a window.”
The coaches have soft plans to reopen the season, should the schools reopen, as late as mid-May. However, it would likely be a localized season with no county or state championships. Also, there would be no spectators or fans, and players would have to remain at a distance from each other.
Twin seniors James and Anthony Trink are both starting pitchers for the varsity team as well as honors students. They both are committed to SUNY New Paltz next year to play baseball, James for engineering and Anthony for nursing.
The worst part, Anthony said, was that they trained since the start of the school year, for six months, and didn’t even get to play one game. He has been playing since he was 8 years old, and this is his first time not being able to play.
“Last year we had a really good team and I didn’t get to play as much, but this year was going to be the year we took over the team and have our own season,” he said of the current seniors. “It’s hard trying to just stay in shape and hard not knowing if we are even going back.”
In the meantime, he and his brother go for runs, work out and practice as much as possible.
“It’s a big disappointment; we were really going to have a good team this year and it was our chance to be a big part of the team,” added James. “We worked four years for this.”
Dominick Katrivanos is president of National Business Honor Society and vice president of the National Honor Society, as well as one of the captains of the boys varsity winter and spring track and field teams, and is in Top 10 percent of his class. He has missed out on the winter nationals for track and part of his spring track season.
“I am most sad about not seeing my friends every day,” he said of the social distancing expectation. “In the end, we are all going somewhere and will make new friends and memories, so even if we miss out on some now we will make plenty more in the future.”
Katrivanos will be attending Stony Brook University in the fall, running on their Division 1 track and field team.
Kate Priola is a four-year varsity swimmer and captain of the team. She also is a member of the National and Social Studies honor societies. This year she has already missed out on the swim club awards dinner and her county championship, the last swim meet of her career, as well as her college’s (SUNY Cortland) accepted students day and possibly, prom and graduation.
“I am most sad about possibly not being able to walk at graduation,” she explained. “I worked very hard in my school career that I feel that I’d be missing out on a right of passage.”
For now, she said, she tries to keep strong and remember that they will eventually be able to celebrate the most important thing—healthy people.
Senior Eddie Sollazzo is the president of the Math Honor Society, Math League and on the tennis and volleyball teams. Out- side of school, he is an Eagle Scout and troop leader. Thankfully, he completed his volleyball season, but spring tennis was completely cancelled.
As for the Math League, he said it hasn’t affected any competitions, but the closure has made it tough to have meetings, so the club is currently not functional.
He said the most important thing for him and his friends was to walk at graduation.
“Not being able to say goodbye to my friends and teachers and just have a day or two with them is a simple thing,” he added. “We are still hopeful.”
John Tafe is a member of the Animal Conservation and National and Foreign Language honor societies. He said he is most disappointed by all the cancelled spring events, especially Senior Day, where seniors get out of the classroom and have fun outside with a barbecue and yearbook signing.
“Those things won’t happen, though I know Connetquot will do everything to try and let us have some sort of graduation,” he said, also disappointed by the possibility of prom and banquet being taken away. “Unfortunately, the Class of 2020 has gone through a lot of hardship and tragedy, but we always rose above that and we are strong people because of that.”
Emily Augulis a member of many honor societies and an officer for the Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society, which just started up last year.
“We had many plans for the club that were sadly cancelled,” she said, disappointed. “But I am most sad about missing school in general. I miss my friends and teachers a lot.”
Despite the uncertainties of what the new normal might look like, she said she hopes one day soon they will all be able to look back and see how the community came together.
“March 13 was the last day I walked the halls; hopefully, it won’t be the final last time,” she added.
Jenna Murphy, mother of senior Kieran Murphy, said her son was a big part of the music and theater department that was also hit hard by the closures. The music department was forced to cancel their trips, but most importantly, the high school musical.
Kieran, a four-year pit orchestra saxophonist, was geared to play in the school’s musical, “The Music Man,” at the end of March. Murphy said that even though the theatre department rehearsed since December and made it through the weeks before the full dress rehearsal, they were never able to actually perform. There is currently no talk of postponing the play.
“It’s just heartbreaking, it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” she said of seeing her senior miss out on his final year in high school.
Kieran also made the varsity tennis team at the beginning of March, but never saw a practice or match. At home, he is also a cashier at the Ronkonkoma Meat Farms, a tough job on the front lines. He has traded his cap and gown for gloves and a mask, and when he gets home from work he sanitizes before coming inside and immediately showers.
Sam Ferrentino said she is also known as one of the music kids involved with the musical, chorus and choir every year.
“It hurts to know that I might not be able to finish out my senior year with everyone,” she said of being forced to study from home. She was scheduled to play Marian in “The Music Man.” “It just sucks that all of that hard work was put to waste,” she added. “But I am happy I was able to make the memories that I did.”
As for the possibility of not having a prom or graduation, she said that makes her really upset because it was something she has been dreaming of since she was young. “Still, this whole situation has made me realize how lucky I am and how I should never take anything for granted,” she continued.