The Riverhead Central School District is moving forward preparing possible disciplinary charges against former principal Dr. Charles Regan, who was removed from his post earlier this month after a female student accused him of sexual abuse.
The district’s legal counsel Christopher Venator said he has taken charge of an investigation initiated internally by assistant superintendent Christine Tona.
Venator said he is currently gathering evidence. Over the past week and a half, he said, the district has “obtained a bunch of additional information which will help support the district in moving forward with charges” against Regan, Venator said at last night’s school board meeting.
“Right now our primary focus is on moving from a personnel standpoint in terms of moving forward with disciplinary action,” Venator said. “We have a time frame, which we need to move on.”
That time frame is before the end of the school year in June, Venator said, when the school board will be taking action.
Since the investigation is ongoing, no final decision as to disciplinary charges has been made.
Any action to terminate a tenured teacher requires a prior hearing before an impartial hearing officer, pursuant to New York State Education Law.
Aside from the disciplinary investigation being conducted by the school in conjunction with Venator’s law firm, the Riverhead Town Police Department has also started a separate investigation into the allegations, Venator said. Currently no criminal charges have been filed against Regan. (See prior story)
The school board meeting grew tense as a group of Riverhead residents expressed their frustrations about the sex scandal involving Regan Riverhead High School senior Anastasia Stapon, 18.
Stapon accused Regan of grooming her for a sexual relationship over a period of a few months, then engaging in explicit sexting with her for a month before forcibly kissing her in his office at the high school on April 29.
In a May 6 press conference, Stapon’s attorney John Ray of Miller Place displayed selfies he said Regan sent to Stapon, along with printouts of hundreds of sexually explicit text messages between Regan and the student.
Ray has filed a $10 million notice of claim against the district on behalf of Stapon.
The district said from the very beginning, it strictly followed protocol in dealing with the situation.
Upon learning of that incident, the district immediately contacted police and Stapon’s family, fulfilled its reporting obligations to the New York State Education Department, immediately removed Regan from the building and reassigned him away from the district, school board president Susan Koukounas said in a prepared statemenst she read at the May 14 board meeting.
“We recognize that the public wants to get more information,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said last night. “Unfortunately, we are not able to share details beyond” the information provided by the district’s legal counsel at the meeting.
Members of the audience, however, were not satisfied with Venator’s statements, accusing the board of not providing enough information and calling for an independent investigator.
“Is there something you are not disclosing to us?” Riverhead resident Dhonna Goodale said. “We are the taxpayers. We have a right to know. I ask you simple remedial questions and you can’t answer them.”
School board trustee Gregory Meyer said that the board is “very, very sorry and very annoyed” about this situation, but due to legal constraints, is not able to speak freely. Since the district has been served with a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — officials are prevented from answering any specific questions or providing details regarding the investigation.
“We would probably love to go out and kick the dirt as much as everybody else does,” Meyer said. “It’s a very emotional thing for everybody, but the biggest thing is that we can’t just openly come out and talk about a personnel situation. We have our attorney that is trying to do his best to try and explain kind of where we are in the whole process.”
Public demands for clarity into the current investigative process continued throughout the evening. How was the investigation started, who is conducting it, who is supervising it and other similar questions were raised multiple times over the space of almost an hour by a group of about seven Riverhead town residents.
“We need an independent outside investigation on this matter. I think you’ve made enormous progress in addressing the challenges that Riverhead [school district] faces, but this disgrace, which is national news, does not inspire confidence in the board and in the system,” Aquebogue resident Ron Hariri told the board.
Venator said throughout the evening that the school board has considered an independent investigation— once the disciplinary investigation conducted by him in conjunction with the school concludes next month — but the board has not made a final determination yet.
In an interview he said that the disciplinary investigation was “the number one priority” and that the district is adhering to the protocol that is done “in every single instance.” He said that “this school district or other school districts follow this same process” and that “you don’t bring and independent person when you have a lawyer on retainer — that is what the firm does for you. We want to move quickly and aggressively.”
“The investigation that people are talking about, I think it’s something different,” Venator said. “I think what they’re suggesting and asking is: How do we take measures and investigate whether or not this could have been prevented? And how do we prevent this from happening in the future? It’s a whole separate question.”
Members of the audience also raised questions in regards to the the district’s decision to reassign Regan home with pay, rather than suspend him without pay.
“How long the investigation will take? Is he [Regan] being paid while he is reassigned home and why?” asked Riverhead resident Loni Lewis, who has a son in the district.
Venator said according to New York state education law, when “a tenured employee is administratively reassigned to home, pending investigation and in consideration of charges, a school district has a legal obligation to pay that individual.”
He indicated that there are exceptions where tenured employees may be suspended without pay, like being convicted of a sex crime, which he said didn’t apply right now, since Regan has not yet been convicted.
“Riverhead school district is required to pay Mr. Regan during the investigation and during the pendency of these charges. We don’t have any discretion in that. That’s firmly established in Section 3028 of the New York State Education Law.”
Stapon’s attorney disagrees.
At the May 14 school board meeting, he asked for the district to immediately suspend Regan without pay. In that meeting, Ray said the district is allowed to do that under “a provision on the statute itself” and that they should “give very careful consideration to it.”
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