Middle School Latin teacher Lorene Custer, pictured here in 2010 with her husband Dr. Jeff Greenberger, has retired. File photo: Peter Blasl

Riverhead Latin teacher Lorene Custer has unexpectedly retired.

The veteran middle school teacher gave the district her notice on Wednesday, effective the next day.

Her departure leaves the district without any Latin teacher just a few days before the the start of school on Thursday, because the part-time Latin teacher hired earlier this month has already resigned.

“The district has made a commitment to the continuance of the Latin program and we are vigorously pursuing qualified and capable candidates to carry on this fine program for our students,” Interim Superintendent Christine Tona said today.

After the new part-time teacher, Charles Sloan, tendered his resignation, Custer was informed by the district she would be teaching high school Latin instead of middle-level Latin (seventh, eighth and ninth grades) as previously planned.

“It was the involuntary transfer that put me over the edge,” Custer said in an interview today. She had been teaching middle-level Latin in Riverhead since 1993.

“This is just one more loss,” she said, “the continuation of the loss we had in the spring, when we all had to say good-bye to each other because of the virus.”

It was the beginning of several devastating losses for Custer and her husband, retired Riverhead High School Latin teacher Dr. Jeff Greenberger. Greenberger’s father died of COVID-19 in March. That was followed by the death of another family member and two close friends, including Stony Brook University Latin Professor Aaron William Godfrey, who died in April at age 91. Godfrey was Greenberger’s mentor, Custer said.

Custer said she has been “utterly terrified” about the coronavirus. 

“If it had been one or the other, I would not have retired,” Custer said. “But to have to deal with the pandemic and an involuntary transfer at the same time was just too much. I had nothing left to give. So much has been taken away,” she said.

“There was just so much loss and now my home for the last 27 years is being shifted — and not for a pedagogic reason,” she said.

Her husband retired in December but stayed on to teach as a contract employee through the end of the school year. Custer, 60, said she was not planning to join him in retirement so soon but intended to continue teaching until age 62. She incurs a financial penalty under her pension plan for retiring earlier, she said.

“I’m devastated but I have to take care of myself,” Custer said.

Tona said she wishes both Custer and Greenberger long and happy retirements.

“We are grateful for their years of service to the students of Riverhead,” Tona said today.

The district has already posted the full-time Latin teacher job. It is unclear whether a second, part-time teacher will also be sought.

In the spring, it became known that the district was considering phasing out the Latin program by not having incoming middle school seventh-graders enroll in Latin. In June, parents of students who had selected Latin as their foreign language were called by a middle school secretary to tell them their children had to select either Spanish or French instead.

After an outcry from the school community and Latinist alumni, the district decided to keep the Latin program intact and hire part-time Latin teacher, who would handle 10th, 11th and 12th grade Latin classes, with Custer handling grades seven through nine. The school board on Aug. 6 appointed Sloan to the part-time position.

The school board will be accepting Sloan’s resignation at Monday’s special board meeting — along with acknowledging Custer’s retirement, Tona said.

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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.