In a split vote and facing loud criticism from members of the community during an emotionally charged meeting, the Riverhead school board last night accepted the resignation of disgraced Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan, effective Sept. 27.
The board voted 4-3 to accept Regan’s resignation, with board vice president Brian Connelly and members Laurie Downs and Therese Zuhoski voting no.
Downs said she felt “a moral obligation. . . to stand behind the charges” the district brought against Regan.
The district’s disciplinary charges, now pending before an impartial hearing officer as per state law, will be dropped as a result of the resignation, because the hearing officer will no longer have jurisdiction over the matter.
Board members who supported accepting the resignation and the school district’s legal counsel last night tried to assure community members that the State Education Department will continue a separate process against Regan’s license and certification, as a result of complaints filed by the district after the principal’s behavior came to light.
The district learned on April 29 of Regan’s relationship with a female high school student that allegedly included sexually charged and sexually explicit text messages and forcibly kissing the student in his office on that day, according to a notice of claim filed by the student and lawsuit filed this month in federal district court.
The district administratively reassigned Regan to his home on April 30 and barred him from school district property. He has remained on home assignment — and on the district payroll — since that date.
From the outset, school officials have stressed that they followed all protocols and laws pertaining to reporting allegations against Regan to the State Education Department and Riverhead Town Police. Regan has not been charged with any crime.
Board president Greg Meyer opened up the meeting by reading a statement about Regan’s resignation and the board majority’s intention to accept it.
“We share in the community’s disgust,” Meyer said.
By accepting Regan’s resignation, the board was choosing to “end his employment and remove him from the payroll as soon as possible.” The pending disciplinary charges, with hearing dates scheduled in September and October, would likely not result in any decision until January, he said. Accepting his resignation effective Sept. 27 could save the district more than $100,000, according to Meyer.
And while the evidence against the former principal is “overwhelming and disturbing,” Meyer said, “you still never know” what the hearing officer’s decision will be.
That sentiment was echoed by trustee Christopher Dorr before casting his vote to accept Regan’s resignation, despite finding the former principal’s behavior “disgusting.”
“We’ve all seen court cases where we thought somebody was completely guilty and the judge or jury came back and found them innocent,” Dorr said. “The worst thing I can possibly imagine is the hearing officer decides to fine him six months’ salary and put him back in his job.”
Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez, in her own prepared statement made before the board took up its agenda last night, said, though the decision rests entirely with the board of education, she felt compelled to speak directly to the community. She voiced her agreement with the board majority on the issue of Regan’s resignation.
“Since this became public, I’ve witnessed what students, teachers and staff have gone through,” Henriquez said. Accepting Regan’s resignation not only saves the district money but also “allows us to rebuild after teaching under the very dark cloud of Mr. Regan’s actions,” she said.
“We share your disdain,” Henriquez told the crowd attending the school board meeting in the high school cafeteria last night. “We have endured a lot because of what Mr. Regan did. You never sign up for having an employee that acts in such a heinous way,” she said.
“This experience will remain with us the rest of our lives.”
The superintendent said the district will do “everything in our power to implore the State Education Department to make the right decision” about the former principal’s certifications and licenses.
Many community members in attendance voiced opposition to the board’s decision to accept the resignation tendered by Regan.
Flanders resident Dhonna Goodale accused school officials of “playing us along” even though they intended to accept the principal’s resignation and not pursue disciplinary action.
“You fish the public along and you lied to us all along,” Goodale charged, her voice rising. “You’re not going to do sh#t,” she said, prompting the board president to caution her to “watch your language” and an audience member to remind her that there were children present. Goodale apologized for cursing, saying she was “having a Maxine Waters moment,” but did not let up in her criticism or lighten her tone.
“Supposedly Mr. Regan said if he goes down he’s taking everyone with him,” Goodale said, accusing the board of “cronyism” that she said “allows the Rivehread children and the other children of the world” to be placed in jeopardy.
Goodale said she plans to sue the district. “Don’t laugh, clown,” she said, addressing the district’s legal counsel, Christopher Venator. “I love when people doubt me,” she said. “And I have real lawyers.”
Resident Yolanda Thompson took the podium to review the disciplinary process. Regan chose to have a hearing instead of resigning in May. She accused the former principal of “trying to game the system.”
“As a taxpayer I’d rather see the hearing go through. The hearing officer makes recommendations. The hearing officer doesn’t decide. The board makes the decision,” Thompson said.
That assertion and the school lawyer’s disagreement led to a back-and-forth with Venator that ended with Thompson accusing the lawyer of lying in public and making fun of her.
“I don’t appreciate the lying or the assumption that the public is stupid,” she said.
Meyer said the district “followed every single step and … filed every single paper we were required to file.”
Three former school board presidents in attendance last night questioned the board’s decision.
“I believe there is a higher moral obligation to students,” Angela DeVito said. “Accepting the resignation is sending a message, ‘Do wrong and you have the option of just resigning and going on your merry way,” DeVito said. She questioned whether accepting the resignation would have an impact on the State Education Department’s decision on Regan’s certifications and licenses. She also questioned its impact on the pending lawsuit brought by the student against the district and district officials both present and past, including herself.
Venator said he sought the opinion of the attorneys handling the student’s claim and was assured accepting Regan’s resignation would have “no impact” on the lawsuit. He also said he is “confident” it won’t have an impact on the State Education Department either.
Kathleen Berezny questioned the the one-month delay. “I don’t think that’s kosher,” she said.
Venator said the district doesn’t have any control over what an employee chooses as an effective date for his resignation.
“We did implore his representative to make it sooner. This was the best we could get,” Venator said.
The slate should have been cleaned this evening,” Berezny replied.
Ann Cotten-DeGrasse questioned whether Regan will receive any payouts for unpaid sick days, vacation days and the like.
Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider said Regan’s employment contract entitles him to be paid for unused vacation time, but not used sick days, upon termination of his employment. He said he did not know how much accrued vacation time Regan has.
Since Regan’s resignation doesn’t take effect for a month, he will continue collecting a paycheck and accruing benefits for the next month, including paid vacation, sick time and personal leave to which he is entitled under his contract.
Maryann Wojcik, parent of the student who came forward with allegations against the principal, asked if the district had “any feedback from the private investigator” it hired to look into the circumstances of Regan’s hiring or his behavior since his hiring as an assistant principal in 2006.
Venator said he did not have the investigator’s report with him, “but nothing shed any light on the circumstances of Regan’s hiring and it didn’t uncover any information about other students.”
The student’s lawyer, John Ray of Miller Place, has also filed a notice of claim against the Eastport-South Manor school district, where Regan was employed before coming to Riverhead. He filed the claim on behalf of a 35-year-old woman who accuses Regan of sex abuse and rape while she was a student in the district.
“If he resigned from Manorville and we were able to hire him without knowing what happened there, does this mean he can get another job in another school district,” asked Ronnie Lewis of Riverhead. “How can we prevent that from happening?”
The district is cooperating with the State Education Department, Venator replied, “to make sure he loses his license and certification permanently.”
“We also hope that the attention given to this situation makes it unlikely that any employer would ever hire Mr. Regan as a teacher or administrator,” Venator said.
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