Manhasset Overcomes Challenges: Excitement, uncertainty greet new year

Acting Superintendent of Schools Gaurav Passi watches as the board of education recognized students Caitlin Bock and Michael Ma of the Contemporary Music Ensemble Members at the Sept. 9 meeting. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Hurricane Ida, on Sept. 1, did not spare even solidly-built school buildings.

Manhasset Schools Acting Superintendent Dr. Gaurav Passi told the board of education at its Sept. 9 meeting about the damage wrought by the storm.

“I can tell you that the Munsey Park [Elementary School] auditorium flooded,” he said. “We had significant rainwater come into the ground floor of the secondary school, which caused some concern. We had some rainfall in one of our small rooms at Shelter Rock [Elementary School]. So each building did have damage from the storm and in each building our crews worked through the night so that we were able to open on time for the students.”

Deputy Superintendent for Business and Operations Rosemary Johnson said the district’s insurance company made an assessment of the damages, “and the biggest area we’ll focus on is the Munsey Park Auditorium—the whole pit was flooded.”

She noted that the district did have flood insurance and added, “The insurance company said we fared significantly better than many of their other school districts. So even though for us it was quite significant, our teams put in a herculean effort once again on the heels of that whole weekend getting ready for school. So we fared better, and for that we are grateful.”

The Manhasset Press requested a monetary figure for the damage, but as of press time had not heard back from the district’s public relations firm.

Getting It Done

Passi showed a series of slides to highlight improvements to the outside spaces.
The new traffic pattern was much safer for students, Passi noted. The renovations created sidewalks and crosswalks so students will no longer be walking amidst the traffic.

Trustee Regina Rule was impressed by how smoothly Sept. 1, the first day of school, went.
“It’s always amazing to me how before school starts everything is still in the hallways and the floors are still being polished and then everything comes together,” she said, asking Johnson to convey her kudos to the maintenance staff, led by Director of School Facilities Frederick Bruder.

Johnson said it was an unusually challenging summer with all the outside and inside construction.

Passi joked that he asked Johnson, “What about plan B? What if [construction] doesn’t get done [in time]?”

She replied, “Plan B? Plan B is they’re going to get it done (laughter).”

A number of new classrooms were shown in the presentation, and Passi said he was especially proud of a new space in the secondary school captioned in the slide as the “Learning and Wellness Center.” It will put all the mental health services—guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists—in one place.

“It’s a very welcoming area. No other school has an area quite like this,” Passi said. “It’s dedicated to social and emotional learning. So we are really excited to be cutting edge here.”


After an unsettled 2020-21, Passi was glad to announce that “All students are returning to in-person instruction. It was wonderful to see kids back, to feel the energy back in the building.”

The guiding principles of reopening, according to the presentation, were “Return to our pre-pandemic in-person educational and full co-curricular program, to the fullest extent possible,” and “Include layered COVID mitigation strategies to limit disruptions to in-person learning and co-curricular activities.”

He put up slides showing the new COVID safety protocols.

The acting superintendent said the six-foot lunchroom distancing was a late-breaking change mandated by the state.

“When we set out in the beginning of the summer to reopen schools, we had planned for all kids to return to normal operations in going back to the cafeteria,” he said. “Once the guidance came out we had to adjust.”

Lunch is pre-ordered and delivered, and half the pupils are eating in the classroom to maintain the six-foot distance.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities for students to socially interact at lunch while maintaining physical distancing,” Passi explained.

The district has hired additional COVID-related aides to enforce the cafeteria regulations.
New Governor Kathy Hochul has mandated weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated staff.
“We’re in the process of working with our legal counsel to understand those requirements,” Passi said. “The mandates have been issued, but the guidance underneath the mandates has not come out.”

He said the district still hasn’t worked out the details regarding diagnostic testing.
“Many questions remain, questions such as funding for the testing, when will it be provided—during the work day, outside of the work day?” Passi observed, adding that he’s waiting for more guidance. “For now we are preparing to implement this mandate.”

Odd and Ends

Board President Pat Aitken introduced Kathryn Cajdjis as the student representative and non-voting member. Aitken asked if she had any comment from the student perspective on the opening of schools.

“Everybody’s really excited to be back in person and to be able to be surrounded by our classmates once again and to learn in person,” Cajdjis replied. “And even with masks on, it’s just a thrill to be back in person and have some sense of normalcy back.”

For a second straight meeting, resident Donna Loh took issue with the mask mandate, claiming she suffered from skin conditions that the masks exacerbated. At the Aug. 26 meeting she stated that parents ought to have a say in whether or not their children should be masked.

“The mandate is from the governor, from the state Department of Health,” replied Aitken. “School districts have no discretion.”

She noted that the commissioner of education had warned that districts that flouted the rule could be fined and their board members removed.

“We appreciate your comments and understand that there are different perspectives on [the issue],” Aitken told Loh.


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