Riverhead Middle School Latin students at the Certamen competition at Stony Brook University in 2013, where they took first place in the contest, sponsored by the Suffolk County Classical Society. Courtesy photo.

Riverhead Central School District officials are considering phasing out the district’s Latin program.

Riverhead School Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said in an email today that “no final decision” has been made about the Latin program for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The district is currently reviewing the number of students who have expressed interest in enrolling in the program,” Henriquez wrote.

Parents of sixth-graders who requested to take Latin in seventh grade report receiving a phone call from a middle school secretary yesterday morning to advise them that their children had to pick a different foreign language because “the Latin program is being phased out.”

Kathleen Maciora of Aquebogue said the school called at 8:30 yesterday morning and said her child had to choose French or Spanish — on the spot, she said.

She and other parents, who expressed their feelings on social media, were outraged.

Maciora wrote to the the superintendent yesterday and today spoke with the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and professional personnel, Lori Koerner.

“I was told 17 children expressed interest in taking Latin in seventh grade,” Maciora said.

The district didn’t do anything to encourage enrollment in Latin, Maciora said, following the announcement by longtime Latin teacher Jeff “Doc” Greenberger that he would be retiring at the end of December. Greenberger stayed on as a contract employee until the end of the school year.

“It’s a surprise and a heartbreak to hear it seems to be the district’s intention to shut the program down,” Greenberger said in an interview today.

The current plan is for longtime middle school Latin teacher Lorene Custer, Greenberger’s wife, to teach eighth-grade Latin as well as Latin classes at the high school level. If the program were to be phased out, it would be logical for it to be phased out over a three-year period. That would allow students taking eighth-grade Latin in 2020-2021 to take Latin in ninth and 10th grades, fulfilling the Regents three-year language requirement and allowing the students to take the Regents exam at the end of 10th grade.

There were 40 seventh-grade Latin student students this year, Greenberger said. “It doesn’t make sense that demand is down.”

While he had no way to know how many students sought to take seventh-grade Latin in the coming school year, Greenberger said, “We’ve had a robust program. Our enrollment has been really good for a long time.”

Maciora said students would not be inclined to enroll in seventh-grade Latin if they didn’t think they’d be able to take it in high school — and given Greenberger’s impending retirement and no announcement of a replacement, that would be a logical conclusion, she said. “The district never came forward and said we value this program and its history and we’re going to find a new teacher.”

Maciora said she questioned the board in an open meeting in December or January about what was being done to fill the position.

“I was assured the district and the board of ed were were committed to the program,” Maciora said.

“And now six months later we learn in a phone call from a school secretary that it’s being phased out?” She was incensed that the district would make a decision about it without an open discussion by the board at a public meeting, she said.

“It’s a sad, sad day for this district,” Maciora said. “The Latin program has deep roots in this district and has always been well-regarded and well-respected,” she said.

“I just hope that Latin will continue in Riverhead for another 100 years-plus,” Greenberger said today. It’s been taught in Riverhead since the 19th Century,” he noted.

“Latin is part of the fabric of the district and a point of pride,” Greenberger said. He suggested the current administration doesn’t fully appreciate the role of the Latin program here.

“We know in the current iteration of the Riverhead Central School District, no one in the D.O. [district office] is a Blue Wave or studied Latin,” Greenberger said.

“We always aim to make decisions in the best interest of all students,” Henriquez said in her email today. “We have heard from several parents and members of the community. We are definitely considering all that has been shared with us and will make a decision based on everyone’s input.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.