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H. Frank Carey seniors ask for passes to be reinstated

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H. Frank Carey High School students look forward to their senior year, when they can use the school’s senior lockers, compete in the Sewanhaka Central High School District’s Sports Night and the school’s Junior-Senior challenge, and take part in events such as Spirit Week and Senior Day. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of these senior perks and events have been canceled this year.

“By now, we would have had three different events for the senior class, but we weren’t able to,” Senior Hadiqua Sandhu told Herald on Oct. 28. So, she said, she and fellow seniors Vincent Tavernese and Bella Scirica decided to try to give their classmates “a win after so much loss” by petitioning the district to reinstate the use of senior passes, which allow seniors to leave the school buildings during their lunch and free periods with their parents’ permission.

“This is a big one,” Scirica said of the senior perk. “Being that seniors are finally licensed, having the opportunity to go down the block and grab a bagel for 10 minutes means a lot when you’ve been looking forward to it for five years.”

Other area school districts are allowing their students to leave and return, Scirica noted, and when she delved more deeply, she found out that officials in some of those districts have argued that it is beneficial for students to leave during their free time to minimize the number of students in a building at a given time.

Then, when she, Sandhu and Tavernese noticed that faculty members were allowed to leave the building throughout the day, the three seniors met to discuss ways the district could implement the senior passes this year. On Oct. 27, Sandhu and Tavernese submitted a proposal to Sewanhaka district officials.

They suggested that the passes be phased in slowly to allow district officials to collect data on the program. The passes would initially be made available to students in good academic standing, and could be used only during lunch periods. The seniors would have to fill out forms indicating where they were going, and sign out of the building. When they returned, they would have to present their daily attestation form, which the district requires all students to fill out each day, indicating that they did not have any Covid-19 symptoms, and have their temperature taken.

There would be consequences for those who do not follow social distancing guidelines or adhere to the district’s Covid screenings and temperature checks, Tavernese said, and Scirica suggested that each school offer them one entrance and exit, with hand sanitizer readily available.

“This is not time-consuming and very practical,” Scirica said, since only half of each school’s student body that opted for the district’s hybrid learning plan is in a building each day, “and only a small number of those seniors are free each period.”

“It’s a simple request,” she added, “which could easily be done with such precision to keep students safe and add just a little enjoyment to our senior year.”

But at the Board of Education meeting on Oct. 27, Superintendent James Grossane said the request appeared to have come only from one school, and he would have to look at ways for the district to implement it at all five schools.

In response, Scirica created an online petition that night to prove that seniors at all five high schools want the opportunity to leave their buildings — which, Tavernese said, is a normal part of the senior experience in the district. “Our petition will prove that people from each building share our needs,” he said.

The petition reiterated that the seniors had been looking forward to the senior passes since they entered the school as seventh-graders, “but now that we’re finally there,” it states, “the circumstances have stripped from us many of those opportunities.” As a result, it says, seniors are “stuck sitting in the lunchroom in student desks, and sometimes for multiple periods a day.”

By Monday, the petition had garnered 524 signatures, with one signatory, New Hyde Park Memorial High School Senior Jenisha Saji, commenting that there would be a minimal chance of students contracting Covid in a 38-minute period, and another, Gigi Palermo, writing that “everyone taking part in in-person learning would feel more safe if we had opportunities to leave school, especially to eat.”

“It isn’t safe to be that close to anyone,” Palermo continued, “so it would be in everyone’s best interest if seniors were handed senior passes.”

Jasmine Garnica, another New Hyde Park senior, wrote, “If schools were really worried about people getting contact with the virus by leaving campus, then the teachers and security guards shouldn’t be able to leave either. They clearly aren’t immune since most of our cases have been staff.”

According to data from the state Department of Health, two on-site and one off-site teacher at New Hyde Park had tested positive for the virus as of Oct. 27, as had one on-site teacher at Elmont Memorial High School. The other three schools reported no teachers testing positive.