Last night’s Riverhead Board of Education meeting honored 20 retiring teachers and staff members, along with Board of Education member Thomas Carson.

The retirees recognized:

  1. Debra Knaub – Riverhead Middle School English Teacher – 29 years
  2. Nancy King – Riverhead Middle School Family and Consumer Science Teacher – 28 years
  3. Kathleen Lester – Riverhead Middle School Special Education Teacher – 29 years
  4. Susan MacLellan – Riverhead Middle School Special Education Teacher – 34 years
  5. Janice Szczesny – Riverhead High School Family and Consumer Science Teacher – 18 years
  6. Jane Tully – Riverhead Middle School Social Studies Teacher – 22 years
  7. Kathryn Duzel – Riley Avenue Teaching Assistant – 15 years
  8. Adrienne Ince – Aquebogue Teaching Assistance – 16 years
  9. Gail Kappenberg – Riley Avenue Teaching Assistant – 30 years
  10. Dorothy Madonia – Riverhead High School Teaching Assistant – 17 years
  11. Maxine Utter – Roanoke Avenue Teaching Assistant – 30 years
  12. Barbara Vail – Roanoke Teaching Assistant – 36 years
  13. Beatrice Ash – Phillips Avenue School Teacher Aide – 13 years
  14. Alice Blackmore – Riverhead High School Computer Lab Assistant – 22 years
  15. Jeannie Drozd – Buildings and Grounds Senior Clerk Typist – 25 years
  16. Dianne Haupt – Riverhead High School Senior Clerk Typist – 34 years
  17. Robert Lucas – Phillips Avenue Custodial Worker – 35 years
  18. Walter Pytell – School Bus Driver – 13 years
  19. Patricia Skura – Riverhead Middle School Senior Clerk Typist – 35 years
  20. Carolyn Gremillion – Payroll Manager – 23 years

In addition, the board also recognized Laurie Downs for her 15 years of service to the district as a volunteer who video taped the meetings and delivered those tapes to the town, allowing the public to view the school board meetings on public access television. It is not immediately clear if the meetings will be recorded in the future, as last night’s meeting was not recorded.

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Emergency medical treatment on school busses

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Patty Fitzgerald, school district bus driver, demanded the district make changes to its procedure for medical emergency treatment in school buses. Photo: Dawn Bozuhoski

School bus driver Patty Fitzgerald of Riverhead spoke again at the Board of Education meeting last night regarding the district’s medical procedure for the emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock on school busses by EpiPens. To illustrate her point Fitzgerald described three scenerios from her perspective as a bus driver and the only adult on the bus.

“I just want to give you an idea; this is the 3rd and final time I am going to address this – what this would look like with one adult driving. I am on my bus; my bus is half-full with 30 children. Somehow, I am made aware that one of the children is having a problem with an allergic reaction.

“One scenario would be that that child is self carrying, self administering and has administered the EpiPen. I would have to pull the bus over, secure it, radio in the problem and they would have to send an ambulance and hopefully keep bus calm and everything would be ok.

“The other route that it could take is that this child is self carrying, self administering and talks herself out of doing it, can wait until the next bus stop, doesn’t want to draw attention to herself and I am made aware of it by a fuss in the bus. I have to then pull the bus over, secure the bus, which means turning it off. I have to go to that student. I have been told that this self-carrying, self-administering allergy student has an EpiPen. So I have to go in her/his bookbag, find the EpiPen, administer the EpiPen while keeping the rest of the 30 kids calm, cool and collected.

“Then I have to go back to the radio, radio in that there is a problem. I have to get the help specifics, the location, while maintaining the bus full of kids, calm, cool and collected. I have to wait for the ambulance. I am the only adult on the bus. The ambulance comes and takes that child off my bus alone, puts that child on an ambulance and drives away. And, I don’t know if they have notified the parents. I don’t know who’s going to meet this child at the hospital. I have no idea what’s going to happen.

“Worst case scenario, the child doesn’t administer the EpiPen. I’m not made aware of it in time and the worst possible scenario happens. Now you have 30 kids who have just witnessed a horrible, horrible thing. I am by myself on the bus. That’s what it looks like.”

Fitzgerald also noted that while she is aware of the one child on her bus who carries an EpiPen, she does not know if there are other, unreported children who are also carrying EpiPens but whose situation she has not been notified about.

It is a lot of responsibility to place on one adult alone on a bus, Fitzgerald stated, expressing concern that the district is not considering this situation from the perspective of the bus driver.

“The answer is not to put every part of this responsibility on the shoulders of a bus driver who is going through the community with the traffic, with the weather conditions and everything else. And, we can’t even see because the seats are so high – which are so high to protect the kids. So, it’s unconscionable that you would put that kind of responsibility on one person carrying sometimes 60 kids from Kindergarten through fourth grade on one bus.”

Clearly frustrated and emotional, Fitzgerald pleaded with the board to take action. “We cannot possibly protect them by ourselves. We can’t protect them. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. We can’t do it.”

In addition, Fitzgerald drew attention to comments made at the previous board of education meeting on June 9 where transportation supervisor Amala Cain and high school nurse Dan Hull spoke, stating that EpiPen training was voluntary.

“It is not voluntary, I know that for a fact,” Fitzgerald stated. “I was asked to sign a paper. I was told that the nurse was going to meet me at the bus and it would only take a couple of minutes to train me to administer this EpiPen. I refused to sign and I went to work that morning, on my bus that I have had for three years – I was called in early on my second shift and I was taken off my bus because I could not perform my duties. Totally unfair to me and unfair to the kids on my bus.”

Parent Doreen Moore of Wading River also spoke in regard to transportation safety for children with allergies. After the last meeting, Moore had a conversation with her son’s bus driver and found that he was not aware that her child has an allergy and carries an EpiPen. “That’s really alarming, to not know that the person that you entrust your child’s life with doesn’t even know that there could be a problem.” Moore stated.

Greg Meyer, president of the Board of Education, responded to questions about the transportation concerns stating that the district is aware and is taking the matter very seriously, but that it takes time to explore the issue and make a plan.

“I’m trying to compile as much info as we can so we can dig into it. So we can try to come up with the best plan we can,” Meyer said. “It’s ongoing, it not something we could do over night, or over the span of two or three meetings. It’s taking a while.”

Moore requested that, before school returns to session in September, the district hold a parent forum to inform parents of children with allergies what plans the district is making, and what plan will be in place for busses when school resumes.

“I just think that having a forum is good,” Fitzgerald responded, adding, “I think you have to take into consideration all of the children on the bus.” Fitzgerald noted that the medical equipment could pose a risk to other children who could gain access to them. “Kids do whacko things,” she said, noting that legislature permits carrying of other medical interventions including Inhalers, Insulin for diabetic children as well as syringes. “I think you have to take the kids who don’t have EpiPens and protect them as well.”

Meyer agreed that the issue is larger than it might seem, “It’s not just a simple ‘this child has an EpiPen,’ and what are we going to do to help that child,” Meyer stated, explaining that any plan implemented needs to take into account all parties involved including children and adults.

Concerns over construction change orders

“I realize that things happen and changes need to be made,” former board member Angela DeVito said, “but it seems as if there are a tremendous amount of change orders. For example: Asbestos Removal Work. That should have been in the original BID. Things like that concern me.”

In the current agenda there are 11 change orders listed, and while that number may be high for one meeting, there have been many other change orders at pervious meetings as well, DeVito noted.

“What is the total cost increase up to date for change orders?” DeVito questioned. “Are we getting close to exhausting the contingency funds?”

DeVito asked the board to present an update to the public on where the finances stand with the bond and construction being completed, including the change orders made to date – and the impact that has had on the amount budgeted to complete the projects.

“I think in terms of the public being aware of what’s going on it is important to keep everyone informed,” DeVito stated, requesting that when the board presents this information it should be advertised to the public so that interested community members have the opportunity to hear the information.

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Dawn is a graphic artist, designer and editorial assistant with many years of newsroom experience. A mother of four, Dawn is a Girl Scout leader and a longtime Riverhead resident. Email Dawn