- Click for Restaurant Directory_____

 

Find us wherever you are!
Subscribe To Smithtown Matters
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
_________________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

 



*******************************************************************

Editorial / Op Ed

 

 

 


Friday
Jun292018

Editorial - Getting Ejected At Zeldin Kick-Off

 

 

I am at a loss for words. Last night I was ejected from the Lee Zeldin kick-off rally, which I WAS INVITED TO, without cause. Yes, I was invited to attend the rally by the Zeldin Campaign and was credentialed by the Zeldin Campaign.  Upon arrival I was told to go anywhere I wanted to take photos, again by the Zeldin campaign. I stood in the same spot, with my credentials plainly in sight, for roughly an hour and a half before, out of the blue, I was told to leave…  without an explanation. I was forced to climb over a rope to get to the path leading to a door (one woman sneered and said “bye bye” as I walked past).  Once out the door and in a back yard area, I was mocked by a group of people. A man upset that I was taking photos smacked my camera and I was told by security to leave the Elks Club premises. All while I was wearing the press badge supplied by the Zeldin campaign and telling everyone I was an invited press person.

 

I am confident that my behavior was professional. This was not a ‘question and answer’ press event.  The press was there as observers.  I took photos, and for approximately one and a half hours I listened to guest speakers talk about Lee Zeldin and their impression of his work ethic, his belief in America and his relationship with Donald Trump. This was a rally for supporters meant to energize, create positive thoughts and a “can do” attitude about this candidate.

 

Here’s what the speakers didn’t say, and you should now know about Lee Zeldin. He, through his staff, will discriminate, try to embarrass, and arbitrarily have the invited press removed without benefit of an explanation and without cause. Another thing the speakers didn’t mention about Lee Zeldin was that his love of country falls short of the 1st Amendment rights of free speech or free press. Was the Press being invited to cover his event and then being ejected, (David Ambro of The Smithtown News was also ejected), for the purpose of showing his disregard for the work journalists do?  Was it intended as a preemptive strike against future work? This behavior was an attempt to taint the belief in journalist objectivity - after all, he can say that he had to have the Press ejected. Imagine a news article written about Lee Zeldin now…  imagine how the story is perceived by someone who learns that the writer was thrown out of his kick-off rally. Will the writer be seen as a fair source of information?

These are challenging times. Elected officials are taking unique steps to quiet the voices of those who challenge or question them. For our democracy to flourish a strong press is necessary. I will continue to do all I can to maintain a high ethical standard and I call on you to push back on abuses like this.

Pat Biancaniello and this is Smithtown Matters

Wednesday
Jun202018

Op Ed- Zeldin's Op Ed On Prescription Drug Cost Is Wrong

By Perry Gershon

The United States is home to some of the world’s best pharmaceutical research and doctors; nevertheless, the world’s richest and most powerful country has worse medical outcomes and higher drug costs than the rest of the developed world. The United States should be a leader in affordable health care, not drug addiction. Something is deeply wrong when American patients scream in anguish over the ever-rising cost of prescription drugs. When our patients are forced to take only half the prescribed number of pills for an ailment because they can’t afford their medication, and when they suffer from higher and higher rates of drug abuse, we need to act to cure our broken prescription drug system and we need to act now!

I come from a medical family. My mother was a lead researcher in the development of the chickenpox vaccine, which improved the quality of life for millions of Americans. My father has done ground-breaking research discovering how the nervous system of the gut (“the second brain”) controls the behavior of the bowel. My mother’s dad was a Colonel in the US Army Medical Corps who participated in the liberation of Dachau. I grew up around practitioners and doctors who would do anything for their patients. Trust me when I say that even though the Affordable Care Act was a great first step, it is not enough. America needs Medicare for All to improve the American healthcare delivery system and curb the excessive costs of prescription drugs once and for all.

Republicans like Lee Zeldin want you to believe that buying prescription drugs could be like buying a shirt or a television set. The problem with this simplistic analogy is that while consumers of shirts or television sets have a choice, sick patients do not. One can skip the purchase of another shirt or television set, shop around for a discount, or bargain with the seller. Sick patients have none of the options; they need medical care and they often need it immediately. One can get another opinion, but one cannot ask people to search for the cheapest brain surgeon. Sick patients are free neither to choose their care nor to skip it. Delays in treatment and avoidance of preventive care lead to higher costs in the end. These delays are a major reason that that American healthcare costs so much in aggregate. Too many people defer preventative healthcare and resort to emergency rooms (where costs are multiplied) for treatment when they are in extremis. The alternative is not a cheap neurosurgeon or a discounted heart valve, but pain and suffering, or even death. This lack of effective choice opens the door for exploitation, providing an opportunity for people like Martin Shkreli to gouge patients for life-saving HIV treatments for HIV. It makes it possible for unscrupulous companies like NextSource to raise the price of its life-extending cancer drug Lomustine by 1400%. Pharmaceutical companies charge this much because they can. They know, unlike other businesses, that their customers are at their mercy, and fundamentally cannot say no.

The misleading assertion that deregulation of pharmaceutical companies will not lead to price-gouging uses the same logic that led to the assertion that deregulation of banks would not lead to fraud and speculation. Theft is controlled by law and regulation, not by asserting that thieves will not steal if only they could be deregulated. It is not only wrong—it is an example of how willfully complicit Republicans are in corporations putting profits above people. Corporations exist to maximize profit. Patients, who have no ability to shop around for medical care, are required to pay what private corporations charge and, as a result, are typically overcharged for health care. Deregulation cannot change behavior. It is inherent in the business model. 

Medicare for All is the best way to correct this imbalance and to ensure that patients get a fair price on their prescriptions. In his Op-Ed, Lee Zeldin claims that “doctors, often small practitioners who lack the market power to bargain effectively,” enable pharmaceutical companies to overcharge. Zeldin implies that the government leaves the negotiating to people without marketing power because the government is incompetent, negligent or mean. In fact, the Republicans pushed through a prohibition that forbids the Government from using its great purchasing power to negotiate favorable drug prices. This Republican-passed prohibition accounts for why drugs are cheaper in Canada than in the USA. Zeldin destroys his own argument. He illustrates the importance of governmental action. Reducing regulations has not and will not lower costs; it may make drugs less safe, but not less expensive. I can think of no better argument for Medicare for All. Medicare for All will allow patients to maximize their market power and enable all 325 million Americans to bargain collectively to get the best prices for their prescription drugs. Medicare for All will ensure that pharmaceutical companies are no longer able to exploit their customers. We must act now, before even the most basic prescriptions are out of reach of all but the wealthiest Americans. 

Perry Gershon is a businessman and entrepreneur who is running for elected office to represent the people residing in New York’s First Congressional District. Mr. Gershon is a candidate in a Democratic primary on June 26.

 

Monday
Jun182018

Op Ed- Congressman Zeldin Lowering Cost Of Prescription Drugs

Lowering the Burdensome Cost of Needed Prescription Drugs

Part 1 of a 2 Part Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1)

The rising cost of prescription drugs has dealt a crushing blow to the wallets of everyday Americans and put a great strain on the government supported programs some of our country’s most vulnerable populations, our seniors, children, disabled and impoverished communities, rely on.

According to a report by Express Scripts, a prescription benefits company, between 2008 and 2015, name brand drug prices increased by 164%. These price spikes frequently make life-saving medications unaffordable. When it comes to driving down the cost of prescription drugs for those who need it most, we must consider every option.

This Congress, in an effort to keep pace with an ever-changing marketplace and ever-evolving scientific innovation, the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2430) was passed into law to bring lower-cost generic drug alternatives and biosimilars to market faster by increasing competition and lowering drug costs. With an increase in authority and flexibility, this reauthorization streamlines the process for reviewing and approving new treatments and cures for patients, ultimately delivering new and innovative therapies, drugs and devices to patients more quickly.

Under current law, the federal government has the ability to negotiate the prices of the prescription drugs government purchases from manufacturers, but the negotiating authority is insufficient and outdated. Currently, the federal government has the ability to negotiate prices under Medicare, but even when the government can negotiate prices, it is hamstrung by overregulation that ensures it cannot push for the same prices charged throughout the rest of the world. 

Under Medicare Part D, before reimbursing doctors, Medicare adds 6% to the sales price reported by pharmaceutical companies, then forces patients to cover 20% of the total cost. The burden to negotiate for prices is disproportionately left to doctors, often small practitioners who lack the market power to bargain effectively. As a result, Medicare pays significantly more than European countries for the same drugs, passing costs along to taxpayers and patients alike. The drug companies receive a windfall from Medicare’s lack of negotiating ability, reporting profit margins more than double market averages and earning upwards of an additional $50 billion annually in revenue from overcharging consumers. 

So what else can government do to lower the price of prescription drug prices? With some reforms, Medicare Part D could provide the rough outlines of a solution. Within Medicare Part D, private non-profit and for-profit health insurance companies bid to provide prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and separately negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. The incentive for Part D plan sponsors to negotiate lower prices comes from the fact that they can then reduce their premiums for Medicare beneficiaries and therefore attract more customers. Due to the fact the taxpayer subsidy depends on the bids submitted by plan sponsors, this competition benefits not only Medicare beneficiaries, but taxpayers overall. Medicare Part D should be reformed to provide plans increased flexibility to enhance negotiating power with drug manufacturers and drive down costs for beneficiaries.

Notably, the bid system within Medicare Part D could ensure that cheap and effective generic products reach consumers. By forcing companies to bid for Medicare’s business, the government could promote competition within the marketplace, driving down prices on name-brand products. While depression medication Welbutrin costs, on average, $6,000 per 100 pills, its generic counterpart, Bupropion, costs only $50-$60 for the same quantity. Though name-brand anxiety drug Adivan also costs, on average, $6,000 for 100 pills, an equal supply of Lorazepam costs only $2-$3. The shocking discrepancies in price continue across the board, from asthma medication to EpiPens to blood pressure drugs to cancer treatments. The recent price spike in a 2-pack of EpiPens from around $100 to over $600 epitomizes the monopoly power of the drug companies. The producer of EpiPens could overcharge customers at will, confident that few generic counterparts could compete. Similarly, the price of insulin to treat diabetes tripled within 10 years, the cost of asthma medication increased 6% and the price of Betaseron spiked from $8,000 per year to close to $60,000.

Americans who rely on EpiPens and other drugs in potentially life and death situations have been railroaded with a lifesaving medication at a price they cannot afford and we must work to drive down the increasingly burdensome cost they have been saddled with.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York in Congress where he services on both the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.


Thursday
Apr052018

Op Ed- "Ten Years Is A Long Time Making Choices Based On Flawed Info"

 

By DUWAYNE GREGORY

The addition of a question on the 2020 census relating to citizenship status is chilling in its simplistic attempt to suppress the political influence of Latinos and racially diverse communities by intimidating immigrants and their families.

Allowed to move forward, it will accomplish what it is designed to do: instill fear in immigrant communities across Long Island and reduce response rates among this vulnerable population.

The provocative addition of this question, in a climate of intimidation advanced by the President and his administration, will force immigrants into the shadows and disproportionately impact representation and federal funding for things like Medicaid and infrastructure across the country and specifically on Long Island where Hispanics and Latinos make up an estimated 17% of the population in Suffolk and 15% in Nassau. 

The consequences of under-counting our country’s population, especially in areas like Long Island could create a disadvantage in representation in the House and create a disparity in distribution of the $600 billion plus in federal funding. 

The administration’s argument that it will help with protecting minority voting rights is disingenuous since the government already collects data that can be used to assist with enforcement. In addition, non-citizens are prohibited from voting and there has been no evidence that the fabricated stories that millions of illegals voted in the 2016 election are true. 

Immigrants are however, guaranteed representation in the House and by under-counting them they – along with others in areas where they are under-counted – would lose that representation. 

As of now 16 states and the District of Columbia have filed lawsuits against President Trump and the Department of Commerce, with New York leading the multi-state action to block the citizenship question from being included on the 2020 census. The lawsuit notes that the 2010 census failed to include more than 1.5 million minorities. 

We must not allow the exclusion of a significant portion of this country’s population to go uncounted. As Americans we have an obligation to demand a complete and accurate accounting. Anything less could have far reaching implications that would alter essential information impacting everything from political representation to key demographic data used by business and government and localities in their decision-making. 

Ten years is a long time to be making choices based on flawed information. 

DuWayne Gregory is Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer

Thursday
Mar222018

Op Ed- A Teachable Moment

 

By Duwayne Gregory  

There are times throughout our lives in which we have opportunity to set aside our own personal feelings and authoritative judgment to prove a point. We call those teachable moments. 

It is a time when – as a parent, educator, boss or individual in a place of authority – you can look at a situation objectively, set aside prejudices that might hamper that objectivity, and go along with an idea with which you might not agree, understanding the broader lesson to be learned and illustrating respect for an individual’s need to express him or herself. 

School officials on Long Island had that opportunity on March 14. It was a teachable moment; an opportunity to show students that their feelings, their ideas, their need to express themselves was respected. 

A handful of districts wasted that opportunity by penalizing students for walking out for 17 minutes during their school day to send a message about gun violence and more importantly that they – as our next generation – have had enough following the murder of 17 innocents in Parkland, Florida.

This is not intended as a criticism. There were obviously reasons that those districts, which then suspended students for not following instructions that prohibited them from participating, believed the walkout was not a good idea. Perhaps it was the safety of the students, or the idea that the walkout was not manageable… all real concerns. 

However, many other districts permitted the students to express themselves, instituted measures to ensure their safety and created a manageable environment.

That’s where the trust comes in and the more important message. 

As a country we have experienced difficult times in our history. Certainly the 1960’s was among the most divisive; the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of our leaders. It was a time in which we believed the chasm would not ever be bridged. 

But we overcame. We disagreed, we argued and we expressed ourselves in any way we could – including sometimes violent protests - but we survived and as a result became a stronger - better country.

We are at a crossroads in uncharted territory. Our country is divided by so many issues, not the least of which is gun control. But we are a country that allows diverse positions; we permit discussion and disagreement and sometimes we are terrified that it all may have a devastating impact. But we move on in the hope that it will influence change.

By preventing students from participating in the walkout without penalty, school districts took away the right of students to express themselves in a way in which they saw fit. It was a moment in time…a spontaneous illustration of their anger and frustration with a government that has let them down and they had every right to do what they did. 

Movements such as this should be encouraged, not discouraged. The lessons learned are too vital to dismiss and too important to the growth and understanding of the differences that are part of our great country.  We should all be listening.  

DuWayne Gregory is Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer

Tuesday
Mar062018

Op-Ed A Call For Action On School Gun Violence 

School Superintendents Appeal for Action
By Gary Bixhorn and Lars Clemensen


The murder of 17 students and teachers in the corridors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a gunman armed with an AR-15 assault rifle is one more episode in a series of violent acts targeting our nation’s youth. Now, Parkland joins Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and dozens of other educational settings as the name of a crime scene, not a school. Our heartbreak increases as the list gets longer and longer. The Parkland tragedy reminds us that an American school shooting has taken place, on average, once per week in 2018, and it is only February.

Addressing this national epidemic demands bold action. Our national response must evolve to be more than just messages of “thoughts and prayers” and hand-wringing about our inability to stop this. The students in Florida want this to be the tipping point; they want this to be the “last mass shooting.” This siren must get our attention. And this issue should be the one to galvanize our elected officials in Washington, state capitals and local communities. By rejecting mass shootings as a “new normal,” the federal government has the chance to seize the grief and the anger of this overwhelming moment and act now. The nation is ready.

New York State passed sensible guns laws in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre in neighboring Connecticut. This bipartisan measure includes many provisions that our national leaders can use as a model. Assault weapons, background checks, ammunition sales, mental health screenings and more, it’s all in there. It wasn’t perfect when it was passed, but through a series of amendments, it’s been improved. We’re certain that critics can identify several concerns about the law, but there are none that can’t be resolved. Take New York State’s SAFE Act and use it as a template for federal action.

The aftermath of a school shooting has become all too predictable. We need a multifaceted solution that addresses all of the issues that the Parkland students are now so eloquently articulating as a result of witnessing the horrific shooting and losing classmates and teachers to gun violence. It is the only way to make significant progress towards addressing this complex matter. We have a state law in place that can be used to initiate the essential national conversation, the SAFE Act, so why not use it? We understand that what we’ve done in New York may be a hard sell elsewhere, but all kids deserve this kind of protection. We do know that nothing will improve if we do nothing, and that is not an option.

We need such changes to be able to assure students, parents and staff that our schools are safe places. Ensuring that our students receive the highest-quality programs and services in a safe, secure environment is the goal of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. It is a goal that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. A recent survey of school superintendents statewide indicates that more than half of respondents have rising concerns about the needs of our students in non-academic areas, including health, safety and mental health. Our members partner with county, town and village police departments, as well as many other non-law enforcement organizations, understanding that these needs cannot be met without robust cooperation. Only this type of cooperation will enable us to fully address these problems.

To make progress, we need strong national leadership. We need our leaders to break the patterns that have resulted in inaction time and time again. We need them to be brave and do what we have elected them to do – lead. We must demand decency and collaboration by all involved. With civility, the availability of adequate resources and exhaustive planning, we can be successful. This work demands collaboration, compromise, discussion and mutual understanding. To this end, the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association stands ready to help in this effort in any way necessary.

As Americans, we must be capable of more than one thought and one non-negotiable action plan to address this problem. In doing so, we can meet today’s challenges and achieve our goal of providing a safe, secure environment for all students. Our humanity demands it.  

Gary Bixhorn is executive director and Lars Clemensen is president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

 

Monday
Mar052018

Op-Ed The Heroin & Opioid Abuse Epidemic

 

The Leading Cause of Death: The Heroin & Opioid Abuse Epidemic 

 Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-1)

It’s not car accidents. It’s not heart attacks. It’s drug overdoses that are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. As a whole, our nation has been debilitated by the rise of the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, and as heroin and opioids flood the streets of our communities on Long Island and across America, the issue continues to become increasingly personal.

Addiction is a devastating disease that takes hold of our loved ones and impacts everyone around that person. This heartbreaking disease is claiming lives, tearing apart families and destroying our communities. I’ve been to way too many wakes as a Member of Congress where a young man or young woman was being buried due to an overdose. Even one young life lost is too many. No parent should ever have to bury their child. No mother or father should ever experience that pain; it’s a deeply gut wrenching moment that has become all too common.

These are our children, and when it comes to our sons and daughters this couldn’t possibly be any more urgent of a crisis. From law enforcement to local elected officials, medical professionals to members of local community groups, everyone has a role to play in eradicating this devastating epidemic.

In Congress, I’ve dedicated myself to working with those on both sides of the aisle to find solutions and achieve positive results. In 2016, I helped the lead the effort to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law, which provides $8.3 billion in federal funding to help combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic through treatment, education, enforcement and prevention. Furthermore, it provides $3.6 billion to fully fund the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) and maintains robust funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.

As a member of the House Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, I have supported over 20 pieces of legislation to provide our communities with the tools and resources we need to increase treatment, recovery, education, enforcement and prevention services. I recently voted for over $747 million more to address the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic and, going forward, I will fight to secure more funding for our communities this year and as we craft next year’s budget. 

In addition to vital funding, I have also made it my priority to provide Long Island with a greater supply of Naloxone, or Narcan, a life saving medication that is safe and easy to administer and is proven to reverse an overdose within minutes. It is also especially important that once an individual is saved by Narcan that they immediately get the help they need or many of these individuals will go right back to using heroin instantly.

Furthermore, we must crack down on the criminals who unlawfully import and distribute increasingly lethal drugs. Drug traffickers manufacture synthetic drugs and continue to alter molecular structures in an effort to thwart United States drug laws. These synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, can be as much as 100 times more powerful than painkillers. That’s why I cosponsor the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act to provide swifter action to stop the unlawful importation and distribution of ever-evolving synthetic drugs and provide law enforcement with the resources they need.

This is a crisis that must be addressed by every level of government, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical providers, and others, and there is not a minute to spare. In Congress, I am committed to doing everything I can to help those grappling with drug addiction and their families. This a life and death issue that could not possibly be more time sensitive.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York and is a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic in the House of Representatives, which focuses on finding solutions, spreading awareness and increasing educational efforts.

Tuesday
Feb062018

Op-Ed It's Time For Early Voting In NYS

Op-Ed from the Desk of Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory

In the news conference unveiling his 2018-2019 executive state budget Governor Andrew Cuomo again calls for a plan to initiate early voting in New York State along with same-day voter registration. 

It isn’t the first time he has called upon counties in New York to implement this plan. Unfortunately, his proposal has gone nowhere time and time again. 

It is time for that to change.

Cuomo’s plan would require counties to offer at least one early voting polling location for every 50,000 residents during a 12-day period before Election Day. The polling sites would be open at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends thereby providing multiple opportunities for those unable to accommodate a visit to the polls during their working hours. 

New York is one of only 13 states to lack some form of early voting. In 2016’s Presidential race, some 30 million Americans took advantage of early voting; none of them from New York. In fact, statistics show that with 60.2% of the 231 million eligible voters casting ballots in the 2016 election, an increase compared to the 58.6% in 2012, national turnout was still reduced by approximately 1.5% due to low turnout in three of the four most populous states; California, New York and Texas.

The six highest ranking states in terms of voter turnout, according to a report by Nonprofit VOTE which partners with nonprofits to assist people with participating in voting, all offered same day voting registration.

In addition, unlike voters across the country, residents of New York can only vote ahead of time by absentee ballot if they can offer proof that their profession, business, travel, school work, illness or disability prevents them from getting to the polls.  

The result of all these obstacles is that voter participation in New York is anemic. The antiquated system that exists due to an unwillingness on the part of the state legislature to adopt new procedures is hampering the rights of individuals from all walks of life who want to participate in the election process. 

In addition, counties want assurances that implementing new voting laws – which could cost an estimated $7 million - will not result in another unfunded state mandate and Governor Cuomo needs to provide that commitment. 

The early voting measure, which has been embraced by the state Assembly has unfortunately fallen victim to partisan politics in the state Senate. But modernization of the voting system in New York must be a bi-partisan priority to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised. 

Voting is one of our most cherished rights as Americans, yet voter turnout is rarely what we hope it will be. Not everyone can get to the polls on Election Day or take time off from work to vote. 

The Governor’s early voting proposal, will make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process. 

Times have changed, and although some traditions and laws forged in the past rightfully remain in place, others must adapt to changes in societal values, priorities and circumstances. I support the Governor in this endeavor and encourage our state lawmakers to do the same. You should do the same. 

Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory was reelected to a fifth term as Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer at the Legislature’s organizational meeting, held Jan. 2 in Hauppauge. 

Monday
Dec112017

Op Ed - Keeping Long Island's Schools Safe And Secure Together

Keeping Long Island’s Schools Safe and Secure Together

By Gary Bixhorn and Lars Clemensen

Events such as the Las Vegas concert and Texas church shootings remind us of the critical role that law enforcement plays in our communities. As school administrators, those events bring back horrific memories of the Newtown tragedy and cause us to reflect on the heightened level of interdependence between our public schools, often the cornerstone of Long Island’s communities, and our police.

This relationship has evolved and intensified over the years due to both legislative requirements and the increased complexity of societal and community issues. The incident that first changed the nature of the relationship occurred in Jefferson County, Colorado, in April 1999, when two Columbine High School students massacred their classmates. Prior to Columbine, interactions between schools and police on Long Island, for the most part, centered on matters such as vandalism, graffiti, the assignment of crossing guards, bomb scares and an occasional drug-related arrest. Schools and the local police responded to incidents in these and similar categories on a “case-by-case” basis. Practices varied from district to district and department to department.

Appropriately, that changed with New York State’s legislative response to Columbine. The Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE) was passed by the legislature and signed into law on July 24, 2000. The legislation, which has since been amended and supplemented, required schools and school districts to implement a number of measures, but most prominently to develop and maintain safety plans at the building and district levels and to adopt codes of conduct for the maintenance of order in school operations. The intensity and importance of the relationship between the police and schools grew as the stakes were raised, and we worked together to implement SAVE. The unthinkable required school and law enforcement officials to plan for eventualities that seemed impossible just a few months earlier. The problems of the past paled in comparison to the concerns about the future.

Today, the partnership is more important than ever, as both police and schools are called upon to deal with local manifestations of issues of national prominence, the opioid crisis and gang violence. Opioid abuse occurs all around us every day. The epidemic cuts blindly through race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Its consequences impact people of all ages in all communities. In 2016, Long Island suffered 519 opioid-related deaths. Recently, more than 400 educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement came together at a regional conference sponsored jointly by LI-CAN, the island’s school superintendents’ associations and SCOPE to discuss this issue. 

Gang violence, while far less pervasive, does exist on Long Island. While schools are not a center of gang activity, they are places where young people gather and information is exchanged. As a result, there is a mutual benefit to the partnership between schools and law enforcement because we must address this problem together. The introduction of school resource officers (SRO), uniformed police personnel assigned to certain schools, has facilitated this communication and has been a powerful approach in emphasizing the role of police officer as community leader. The SRO plays a crucial role in our schools – not just by responding to incidents, but in building positive relationships with students, staff and parents. We support a well-structured, thoughtful expansion of this important program. 

Assuring that our students receive the highest-quality programs and services in a safe, secure environment is the goal of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. A recent survey of school superintendents statewide indicates that half of respondents have rising concerns about the needs of our students in non-academic areas, including health, safety and mental health. Members of the association partner with county, town and village police departments, and many other non-law enforcement organizations recognize that these needs cannot be met without robust cooperation. Only this type of cooperation will enable us to fully address these problems.  

The key to future success is mutual respect, the availability of adequate resources and exhaustive planning. We’ve come a long way since 2000 and we have much more to do. Together, with the right school district and law enforcement leadership in place, including the new Suffolk County district attorney, Tim Sini, and soon-to-be-named police commissioner, we can meet today’s challenges and achieve our goal of providing a safe, secure environment for all students.

Gary Bixhorn is executive director and Lars Clemensen is president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Sunday
Oct082017

Editorial - Thank You For Listening And 12 Angry Men

Going through the channel guide last night I noticed 12 Angry Men (1957) was on TV. The movie is a classic and even though I had seen it before I decided to watch it. As I watched I became more reflective about the world we live in. 12 Angry Men is timeless. A story written in the 1950’s still relevant in 2017.

In 12 Angry Men jurors are asked to examine facts and determine if the defendant, a young poor man living in a slum, is guilty of murdering his father. The facts as laid out by the prosecutor engendered most jurors to render a guilty vote.  One juror, played by Henry Fonda, was not convinced the evidence was enough to convict, he had reasonable doubt. Another juror played by Joseph Sweeny gave Fonda the opportunity to explain why he doubted the defendant committed the murder. 

Although they were all white males, the twelve jurors came from different socio-economic backgrounds and had very different life experiences. Each man’s experience shaped his opinion and led him to look at the facts with a unique perspective. The men had a difficult time understanding why others did not see things the same as they did. There was a lot of anger and posturing in the jury room. In the end what could have ended in a hung jury ended in a not-guilty verdict. Reason, discussion and listening  led to the conclusion that there was not enough information to convict. Whether or not the defendant was innocent was never answered. The verdict was simply, we do not have enough information to declare the defendent guilty.

12 Angry Men is a snapshot of where we are as a nation. We are divided. Personal experience shapes the way we think and how we look at facts. We don’t gather information to educate ourselves as much as we seek to validate positions. We listen superficially not for understanding and we wait for the opportunity to destroy the person who dares to speak a contadicting idea. 

We, like the media we follow, are authorities. No longer do we say I heard, I think, my opinion is; we say everyone knows and we say it’s a fact even when too often it’s not. Alternative facts have become acceptable and quoted and no one seems to want to hear that an alternative fact is nothing more than someone’s spin.

It is time for Americans to understand that we are in the jury room and we will be going nowhere fast if we don’t take time to HEAR what what others are saying. Communication is a give and take endeavor. If we don’t do a better job of listening and understanding what’s at stake, we may just render a death sentence to our future.

Pat