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Philadelphia Phillies’ Aaron Nola pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)


Local
breaking top story
'Black Lives Matter' to be painted on MLK Boulevard in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Officials are taking proactive steps to both support the Black Lives Matter movement and prevent further disruptions from a planned protest later this week.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. and city officials announced a community event for 2:30 p.m. Friday where local artists will paint “Black Lives Matter” on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in front of the Civil Rights Garden. The city’s event will run counter to a 1 p.m. rally that same day in front of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, where organizer and local activist Steve Young has said he intends to paint the Boardwalk with BLM, a move that would violate local laws.

Young has organized three rallies this year, only one of which was without incident. A May demonstration ended with looting and vandalism, while another in July resulted in Young and six others being arrested after they intentionally blocked entrance into the city from the Atlantic City Expressway.

Small, during a news conference Wednesday at the Civil Rights Garden, said the city was “not going to tolerate the embarrassing behavior any longer.”

“I want to assure the business community that anything that happens on Friday, you will be protected. To the residents, you will be protected as well,” the mayor said.

Small said he wanted to “extend an olive branch” to Young and invited him to participate Friday.

Reached after the mayor’s speech, Young said in an interview Friday’s rally will go on as scheduled and will include a brother of George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police inspired worldwide protests.

The mayor said the city wanted to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement because “what’s going on in this country is sickening.” Small said the city needed to “take action,” and the community event and painting of Black Lives Matter was the way to do that.

“As a Black man, I’m offended. I’m appalled,” Small said of the violence and civil unrest happening all over the country. “We truly believe that all lives matter, but for all lives to matter, Black lives have to matter as well.”

NAACP Atlantic City chapter President and 3rd Ward Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said it was unfortunate that in 2020 people were still “fighting for civil rights, basic human rights and have to even make the statement that Black lives matter.”

“The mayor’s vision is correct — Black lives must matter, and we must say it,” Shabazz said.

Bishop Robert F. Hargrove II, president of the Fellowship of Churches in the Atlantic City area, said the membership would be out in “big numbers” Friday.

“We’re in 100% support of this mayor and his administration on this historical moment of putting Atlantic City, again, on the map of doing something big,” Hargrove said.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is also lending support to the Black Lives Matter movement by displaying the mantra on the electronic billboards on the Atlantic City Convention Center and The Wave parking garage, both of which will be visible to anyone entering the city from the expressway.

City Council voted last week to begin the process of removing Young, 60, from his seat on the Citizens Advisory Board and his position as chairman of the Planning Board. The vote comes in the wake of Young’s arrest during a protest he organized in July aiming to “shut the city down.”

Staff Writer Molly Bilinski and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

PHOTOS from Fourth of July Black Lives Matter protest in Atlantic City

{standaloneHead}Barnegat returns to school{/standaloneHead}


Students reported for their first day of hybrid learning Tuesday at the Joseph T. Donahue School in Barnegat Township. At top, staff check students’ temperatures before they are allowed to enter the building. At right, Principal John Fiorentino greets third- and fourth-grade students coming off the bus. See more first-day-back photos from Barnegat at PressofAC.com.


Education
Photos wanted from first day of school

As the 2020-21 school year begins and not all students are returning to their brick-and-mortar buildings this fall, The Press of Atlantic City is inviting parents of school-aged children to submit photos of their students on their first day of school, whether in person or remote.

Photos can be submitted for consideration to be included in our online gallery or a future print edition of the paper. Visit pressofac.com/photosubmissions and complete the form. Be sure to include your student’s name, grade, school and date of their first day.

GALLERY: First day of school in Barnegat Township

State
AP top story
Tape measures, tapas on tap as indoor dining draws near

BRICK — Tape measures will join tapas as social distancing becomes essential to the ambiance at New Jersey restaurants preparing for the limited resumption of indoor dining.

The Jersey Shore’s Rainbow Diner, an oasis known for its overflowing Greek salads that never skimp on the feta cheese or Kalamata olives, has packed them in for decades.

When the coronavirus outbreak hit this year, owner Bill Hrisafinis pivoted to outdoor dining, desperate to keep the business afloat even as the virus killed his cousin, a fellow diner owner elsewhere in New Jersey.

Now, the Rainbow is one of thousands of New Jersey eateries scrambling to prepare for Friday’s change. Gov. Phil Murphy gave the go-ahead Monday for indoor dining not to exceed 25% of capacity.

It has touched off a mad scramble to dig wine bottles of out storage, try to hire new servers in a week when many young people have already gone back to school, measure 6 feet between tables and figure out how many tables can be used without running afoul of state guidelines.

It also poses a more fundamental dilemma: trying to guess how much food and staffing will be needed when no one knows for sure what demand will be.

“It’s been hell up to now, scratching and fighting,” Hrisafinis said.

Earlier this week, he and his staff were measuring tables and floor distances, trying to decide whether to use big “X”s of masking tape to denote tables that won’t be in use, or trying to drag them somewhere out of the way. The canvas tarps they strung over some tables in the parking lot will stay until the weather gets cold.

When that happens, Hrisafinis figures, his indoor business will be about the same as what his outdoor business was during the summer — about half of normal levels.

“Who knew that part of the restaurant business in 2020 would be checking the weather forecast to make sure the tarps don’t blow away, or wondering how much food to get ready for the next day if it’s going to rain at 1 o’clock?”

New Jersey is beating its big-city neighbors to reopening indoor dining. Philadelphia is planning a return to indoor dining Sept. 8, also with restrictions like New Jersey. New York City hasn’t reopened indoor dining yet.

Since the height of the outbreak in New Jersey, the trends have moved in a positive direction. Spot positivity, which reflects the percentage of people who test positive for the virus, has hovered around 2%. In April, it was over 40%.

Many people appear eager to eat indoors again. JoAnne Hanvey Granato, of Brooklyn, New York, said she is “completely comfortable with indoor dining.”

“We are adults who know what to do and don’t take chances,” she said.

But Annie Smith, of Centereach, New York, isn’t ready yet.

“It is proven that being inside anywhere with others without a mask is a risk,” she said. “I’ll do takeout or cook at home.” New Jersey is requiring masks for indoor diners but allows them to be temporarily removed while consuming food or beverages.

The resumption of indoor dining has been eagerly awaited by Atlantic City’s nine casinos, who have been operating at 25% of capacity since early July after being closed for three months. Even when they were allowed to reopen, indoor food and drinks were prohibited.

Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, acknowledged the challenges of ramping up so quickly.

“Opening on a busy holiday weekend, followed by the seasonality of the slower fall months while continuing outdoor service, presents a staffing challenge right now,” he said. “Getting through this weekend is our priority, and we look to remain flexible as we move forward.”

Mike Morin and his brother Brian won widespread acclaim in March when they took out a $50,000 line of credit to ensure their Belmar pizzeria would be able to make payroll during the virus outbreak. Aside from a 10-day shutdown due to an employee contracting the virus, Federico’s has been open all summer.

But now, with indoor dining on the horizon, it’s hard to find new help.

“We haven’t been able to hire one new person yet,” Mike Morin said. “People have already gone back to school.”

Carlo Momo owns Mediterra in Princeton and worries about what will happen once it is too cold for outdoor dining. In the four restaurants he owns, he has eliminated about 100 jobs out of 300 because of the slowdown.

“I gotta tell you that 25% is not gonna cover (it) if we don’t have this,” he said of his outdoor dining area.

GALLERY: Outdoor dining at Atlantic City casinos

Education
breaking featured
Hammonton teachers union concerned about restart plan, but board president says 'full steam ahead'

HAMMONTON — Teachers here are planning to confront the local school board Thursday night over its reopening plan and a blanket refusal to allow any teacher to work from home during the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hammonton Education Association President Anthony Angelozzi said this week the union, which represents about 400 teachers and support staff across four buildings, is planning a strong showing to express concerns about air filtration systems, custodial staff and the district’s ability to keep all staff and students safe.

“In a situation as dangerous as this, transparency is really important. The board, they can’t guarantee safety for anyone. This is an experiment,” Angelozzi said. “That’s the message that needs to go out to the community: Not everything is going to be OK.”

Board President Sam Mento III disagreed with the union’s assessment.

“I was disappointed to read that our local teachers union leadership had decided to mischaracterize the school district’s actions regarding our school opening and approval of staff accommodations and leaves. Frankly, these claims are no more than a blatantly obvious attempt to force our hand to open our schools completely remotely for the 2020-21 school year — something our parents are overwhelmingly against doing,” Mento said Wednesday afternoon.

Photos wanted from first day of school

As the 2020-21 school year begins and not all students are returning to their brick-and-mortar buildings this fall, The Press of Atlantic City is inviting parents of school-aged children to submit photos of their students on their first day of school, whether in person or remote.

Angelozzi said that after surveying members during a union meeting Tuesday night, he is expecting about a quarter of the union membership to show up to the board meeting Thursday, set to be held in person at the Hammonton High School library.

One concern among the Hammonton school staff is that the district doesn’t use a MERV-13 air filter in its HVAC systems, which is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the National Air Filtration Association. Another is the number of custodians available each day to clean the buildings, which in a normal year would be one per day, per building, Angelozzi said.

Mento said that this year, the district offered part-time custodial work to bus drivers in between runs to fill the gaps. He said the district is also working to obtain the highest grade filters available for its system, but was not able to give more details.

The union also was critical of the district for what it called a “blanket denial” of requests for work-from-home accommodations for staff members who had family members with health concerns. Angelozzi said that while his members who personally had health issues were accommodated, about 20 that he knew of who were requesting accommodations due to family members’ health issues were denied as of Aug. 28, when they were led to believe they would be accommodated.

Superintendent Robin Chieco said while she could not comment on personnel issues, the district has worked with its solicitor to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations.

The denial hit hard after last week, when the district shared a job posting for substitute teachers with a pay rate of $225 a day, more than double its regular rate for short-term substitutes. The ad cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the wage increase.

“Personally, I think the district is doing whatever they can to prevent a staff shortage, and from a union perspective, I don’t think they’re treating their employees very well,” Angelozzi said.

Angelozzi, a history teacher with 13 years in the district, is in his second year as union president. He said the pandemic has consumed his summer as he spent hours each week answering emails and calls from members who are concerned about going back to school.

“It’s kind of like we’re wait and see, we’re the test case,” he said. “The union was involved in a lot of the district restart meetings, and in a lot of these meetings there was the admission that we would probably have positive COVID tests within days or weeks of reopening.”

Angelozzi said the union feels the school board has made it known it wants to reopen schools to in-person learning, no matter what.

Mento said he has long supported and worked with the teachers union in Hammonton, but that the district’s plan responds to the needs of the community and the orders of the state to offer some in-person learning.

“Instead of trying to divide our school community, I would have hoped our local union leadership would have recognized all the efforts we have made to provide the best educational environment for our students, staff and community,” Mento said.

Mento said the restart plan was unanimously approved, and the board is “full steam ahead.”

“I just want the teachers to know and the faculty to know that the Board of Education is going to make every effort to ensure their safety and well-being, and we’re all in this together,” Mento said.

Hammonton’s school year begins Tuesday.

GALLERY: First day of school in Barnegat Township

GALLERY: First day of school in Barnegat Township