Manhasset schools seek way to hold senior events for class of 2021

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Student representative Mir Zayid Alam (outlined in green) addresses a meeting of the Manhasset school board last week. (Screencap)

Members of the Manhasset school board and the district’s administration said at a meeting that they hope to hold traditional senior events for the class of 2021, but must adhere to COVID-19 protocols above all.

Conducted over Zoom last Thursday, the meeting took place on the penultimate day of a fully remote week for Manhasset Secondary School, which the district ordered once it was discovered that students were attending parties identified as superspreader events during the midwinter recess. A total of 50 cases of COVID-19 were reported among the school’s population following the return to classes.

Superintendent of Schools Vincent Butera began the meeting by acknowledging that it had been a long time since the school district went remote due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been almost a year since we’ve been in this environment, and it’s tough to imagine it’s been that long,” Butera said. “I think the board members, administrators and my colleagues would agree, what we’ve missed the most is seeing our students shine and being able to celebrate our students. We are going to start to transition into what we hope will be a more normal environment soon. That’s where we want to go. I think we’re all tired of having to exist this way. We certainly have an eye towards that day when it doesn’t look like this.”

He added that even with “numbers coming down and vaccines going up,” the district had to continue to be vigilant in light of the past week.

“I think this past, this past week has shown us that we are still in an environment where we need to be incredibly vigilant,” Butera said. “And while it has been incredibly difficult over these past two weeks, for sure, what I also want to point out, and I’ve been able to say this to a number of parents and faculty directly, we want to focus on what is it that we want to grow, and more specifically, that is on providing our students more and more of the experiences that they’ve come to love here in Manhasset, and to be able to do it safely.

“That’s where I’d like to devote a lot of our energies over the period of March, April and May, so we can conclude the year in a stronger fashion as possible, and really set ourselves up for the following year. So there are a lot of decisions we’ll be needing to make over the coming weeks.”

Mir Zayid Alam, a Manhasset senior and the student representative to the school board, mentioned that the discussions concerning senior traditions were prevalent among students.

“There’s a lot of discussion going on right now about senior year activities,” Alam said. “I know, and as you guys might have imagined, there’s a high degree of enthusiasm for discussion about how we can bring some degree of normalcy back.”

More of Alam’s classmates spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, beginning with senior Jonathan Malary.

“Regarding graduation and prom, what would our class have to do for us to have a normalized graduation and prom where the whole group could be together?” Malary asked.

The superintendent replied that state guidelines regarding limits on gatherings were preventing such events from taking place.

“If we are limited by the number of people that can actually be together, then we have to find a different way to do it,” Butera said. “There’s very specific guidelines saying you cannot have more than a certain number of people [in one place], which simply means we have to find a different way to celebrate.”

Board President Patricia Aitken added that she wanted such events to take place as well.

“There’s nothing more that we would rather do than be able to have the kind of graduation and events that you guys want,” Aitken said. “Unfortunately, those restrictions from the state and the Health Department, that’s the rules of the game we have to play. And it may change, though we monitor them regularly.”

Board Trustee Ann Marie Curd, the parent of a 2020 graduate, said that she had spent the end of the 2019-20 school year signing petitions and calling elected officials, resulting in a delayed graduation that July.

“My advice to you is, search out those things to make your voices heard,” Curd said. “Get your classmates, write the governor, don’t be afraid. Get out there and say, ‘Hey, this is what we want.’ These are your elected officials that are making these decisions. So by all means, just as you come to our meetings and you talk to us, make your voices be heard.”

Senior Sofia Kim suggested that members of her grade could be more involved.

“Lately as a class, we’ve been feeling like we’ve been left out in the dark and kind of gotten the short end of the stick,” Kim said. “We’re all feeling mentally drained … I’ve been fully remote since day two. I’ve been doing classes from 8:13 to 3:08 every day, from Monday to Friday. And with all these online assignments, I feel like we all need something to look forward to, whether it be a senior send-off, or even just having every single senior back in school for a week. And I feel like we’re all young and creative, and we’d like to be more involved in these decisions of what’s happening in the upcoming months.”

School board Vice President Christine Monterosso, while supporting the idea of seniors and sixth-graders returning to their buildings, said that the district would have to move “cautiously.”

“We have COVID fatigue, all of us,” Monterosso said. “I do want particularly the sixth-graders and the seniors to have some semblance of a final year in their buildings. So we’re going to be cautious, we’ll move it as cautiously as we need to, and I hope the community is patient with us on that. We’re really trying to balance everybody’s interests and needs and to stay safe.”

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