Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan at commencement in June 2018. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Former high school principal Charles Regan has requested a hearing after being served with disciplinary charges earlier this month related to the notice of claim filed by a Riverhead High School student alleging sexual abuse, an attorney for the school district said during Tuesday night’s meeting.

Regan was reassigned to his home April 30 after a female student accused him of sending her sexually graphic text messages for at least a month and forcibly kissing her in his office on April 29.

Pursuant to New York education law section 3020-a, the board of education and Regan’s counsel have to agree on a hearing officer, a process that has already started, school attorney Michael Raniere of law firm Igerman Smith, said yesterday.

Once the hearing officer has been agreed upon, Raniere said, all evidence and testimony will be presented within approximately 120 days from the start of the hearing—a period of time that can be extended if the hearing officer makes that determination. After a decision has been made, an appeal process can also commence. Charges or any information pertaining to the hearing cannot be made public, Raniere said.

Earlier this month the district hired a separate law firm, Sokoloff Stern, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the accusations against Regan. This firm will act independently and will not be connected to the disciplinary proceeding.

However, six residents objected the lack of information from the district in regards this situation, and also questioned the board’s decisions on how the matter was handled internally.

“Why did you not, number one, have an independent investigator right from the get go. That should not have been something that took 10 meetings of parents, demanding for that to be done,” Baiting Hollow resident and RCSD parent Yolanda Thompson said.

“It doesn’t it engender trust, it doesn’t gain our trust when we see things handled in this matter. And some of the answers that were given are not forthright either,” she said.

Raniere and board president Sue Koukounas defended their decisions and said that the district was following “a process.”

“It’s not all done tomorrow,” Koukounas said. “It has to be done with due diligence, otherwise, it will not be effective. And I understand, I understand everybody’s frustration, but this is what we have to do.”

Community members pushed back, expressing particular frustration with the board’s decision to reassign, and then suspend, Regan with pay.

Thompson said that a probable cause expedited hearing could have been pursued and that would have allowed to suspend Regan without pay.

“Education law does not specify that there needs to be a finding of guilt; that there needs to be criminal charges filed by the police,” Thompson said. “You have great latitude to bring forth the charges and allow that hearing officer to make a decision on the merits of those charges and during that time period, he could have been suspended without pay.”

“Had the hearing officer decided that the charges were without merit, then the hearing officer could have decided that he would have received his back pay with interest.”

Raniere acknowledged Thompson’s assertion and said that the law did provide that option, but he said that it was too “open to interpretation, and open to guidance.”

He also said that had the district lost in a probable cause hearing scenario, there could have been several potential consequences and risks, such as having to give Regan pay, plus nine percent interest, as well as other additional fees.

“The board missed an opportunity to do the right thing and send a strong message,” Thompson said. “ I do firmly believe that having the probable cause expediting hearing would have sent a twofold message, it would have send out a message to the community and to parents, that you are not going to tolerate this kind of conduct and misbehavior. And I believe we missed the boat on that.”

Dhonna Goodale asked the board what it’s doing to make sure students are protected in the future. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Flanders resident Dhonna Goodale asked the board about the steps that are being taken to ensure that a similar situation does not occur in the future.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said that they are looking at the practices at the district in terms of making sure people are properly vetted. Background checks are already being conducted, she said.

“When Dr. Reagan started in the district, that was some time ago, but it’s certainly has caused us to discuss ways that we can ensure that proper vetting is happening here,” she said.

Henriquez also said that there have discussions about making sure all office doors have windows, and that those windows are not covered. She said they are in the process of checking that and will install windows, where necessary, this summer.

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