Trustee Brian Connelly takes the oath of office as board president at the July 5 organizational meeting of the Riverhead Board of Education. District Clerk Lisa Rheaume administered the oath. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Riverhead Board of Education elected Brian Connelly president and Laurie Downs vice president for the 2022-2023 school year during the board’s annual organizational meeting last night.

Connelly was elected unanimously, while Downs, the board’s immediate past-president, was elected VP in a 6-1 vote, with Trustee Christopher Dorr dissenting. There were no other nominations made for president or vice president during the meeting.

At the annual organizational meeting, the board of education takes care of a variety of housekeeping tasks, including approving appointments to board committees, appointing impartial hearing officers, designating the district’s official depositories (banks) for the district’s funds and official newspapers/media for the district’s public notices, setting meeting dates and appointing club advisors and coaches. See the full agenda online.

During the meeting, the board also approved a contract with Superintendent Augustine Tornatore for the new school year. The contract was not attached to the agenda item and was not available at the meeting. A request for the document sent to District Clerk Lisa Rheaume was not answered before publication of this article. 

The board also voted 5-2 to accept the first reading of revised board policies 4810 and 9120.1 — which govern teaching about controversial issues and conflict of interests, respectively — with Dorr and Trustee Therese Zuhoski dissenting. 

The amendment to the board’s policy on teaching “controversial issues,” which are defined by the amendment as issues that “deal with matters about which there are varied levels of opposing or conflicting views, biases, emotions, and/or opinions,” would be left to the discretion of the teacher. The current policy requires they be handled as they arise in the normal course of instruction and neither “sought nor avoided.” Discussions would be “conducted in a manner that takes into account students’ age and development level.”

Teachers would be required to present “adequate background information” for students when having a discussion on a controversial issue and grade students based on “objective criteria, without bias toward students’ positions on the subject matter,” according to the amendment. 

The amendment also removes the requirement for teachers to present materials about controversial issues to a building principal or the principal’s designee for screening and prior approval before presenting to students. 

The conflict of interest policy would be effectively unchanged.

Dorr asked before the vote whether the changes to the controversial issues policy came from the New York State School Boards Association or from within the district. Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said the changes came from the New York State School Boards Association.

“As you know BOE members represent the community and from my perspective I believe sensitive situations require trained professionals and expertise. I do not believe the policy should be changed,” Zuhoski said today in a text message after being reached by phone for comment on her vote.

Dorr did not respond to requests for comment on his decision to vote against the reading before this article was published.

The board also authorized Rodney Asse, the new assistant superintendent for finance and operations, to act as the district’s purchasing agent. Tornatore said Asse was also appointed to the purchasing agent position because the prior purchasing agent, Janette Velardi, was hired as the new district treasurer to replace Nancy Raynor, who retired at the turn of the school year. Tornatore said the district is in the process of hiring a new purchasing agent and have offered the job to two people who were interviewed; both declined the offer.

The board also approved a $46,800 contract with Edjuncture Inc. for “executive leadership development” coaching. The contract states the focus of the coaching will be “To set a professional goal with a focus on the guiding principle of building a Collaborative Culture.” 

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: