Flanders resident Susan Tocci, whose daughter was injured last month when her school bus stopped short to avoid an accident, complained to school board members Tuesday night about district officials unwillingness to answer questions or provide information about the incident.
Tocci’s 10-year-old daughter Olivia, a 6th-grader at Pulaski Street School, suffered a concussion and whiplash in the Sept. 29 incident, but sat in class for nearly five hours without medical attention for her injury and without notification to her parents.
Frustrated by the response of district officials not only to the incident itself but also to her attempts to get information about it and about district protocol for handling such incidents, Tocci took her complaints to the board in a public forum Tuesday night.
“We all unfortunately know accidents happen,” Tocci said, “but the intentional disregard for procedures and protocols was wrong.”
Tocci said when she first spoke to Superintendent Nancy Carney, she was told the incident was being investigated and was “led to believe” she would get “some sort of a report” when the investigation was concluded. Carney later informed her the report would not be forthcoming, Tocci told the board.
She made no headway on that front at the board meeting, as an exchange with the board president, who refused to answer her questions, angered her.
“Just so you know, Mrs. Tocci, please respect the fact that the board cannot discuss any personnel or student in public session,” board president Susan Koukounas said. “So, you’re not going to get—”
“Not going to get any answers?” Tocci interrupted. “It’s not about a student. There’s other questions I have for you.”
“But, we can’t answer any so please respect that,” Koukounas said.
“Respect that?” Tocci asked.
“Yes,” Koukounas said.
“No, I don’t respect that,” Tocci responded. She said she was asking about school district policies, not about personnel. “What about the policy when a child’s hurt on a bus? What about that policy? Can we talk about that?”
Koukounas responded by saying that the board could speak on policy and asked Tocci to come back up to the podium allowing other members of the community to speak, at which time comments came from the audience to allow Tocci to continue speaking.
“I’m asking you a question. Is it normal to complete a report and only ask the bus driver? That’s it.” Tocci asked.
But Koukounas responded by asking Tocci to give “a list of questions” to the district clerk.
“You can’t answer those questions for me?” Tocci asked. Koukounas responded that she would not be able to give a full answer.
Tocci said that no one had interviewed her daughter about the incident. She said she asked the superintendent about that and Carney told her that standard procedure, because “the district does not question 10 year-olds” and “the bus driver has a better view.” Carney denies making those statements.
“Ms. Tocci, do you have a list of question that you can give the district clerk and we’ll have them answered properly,” Koukounas asked.
“You won’t give me any answers,” Tocci said. “A week ago, a week after the incident I had to file a police report to try to get some sort of information from this district. It is appalling that a parent has to file a police report to get some sort of response from you.”
“Again, Ms. Tocci I don’t want this to become an argument,” Koukounas stated.
“It’s not an argument,” Tocci responded. “You’re not answering any questions.”
Noting that Tocci was “starting to get a little loud,” Koukounas reiterated that the board “cannot answer any personal questions in public session” and repeated her request to provide the district clerk with “a list of questions” so the district can provide “appropriate answers for them.”
Tocci was followed to the podium by Laurie Downs, of Riverhead, who chided the board for being “all about secrets.”
“There was a time when our transportation department had a number one rating,” Downs said. “Number one for safety and mechanics. Our mechanics are awesome. However, somewhere between a retirement of a gentleman and the hiring of this woman everything started to go downhill. This should never have happened,” Downs said.
Downs then asked a series of questions to which Koukounas repeated her statement that the board couldn’t discuss the issue in public.
“This board has been all about secrets,” Downs said.
“It’s school law, Ms. Downs,” Koukounas replied.
In an exchange that grew heated, Downs challenged the board president to recite the law. She said previous administrations had been more forthcoming.
“We don’t get any answers from this district, whether you’re a taxpayer or a parent.”
“We are looking into the cause of the incident and the reaction of the driver thereafter,” Carney told RiverheadLOCAL on Sept. 30.
“I am not at liberty to discuss any disciplinary action being taken against the driver, but we will use this incident to further our training and our procedure exercises with all our drivers,” Carney said in an email.
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