File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Board of Education fired a tenured teacher during its meeting Tuesday, after a hearing was conducted by a New York State Education Department designated hearing officer on disciplinary charges brought against the individual.

After one resident approached the podium prior to the board’s vote to speak against the firing and urge the board to table the item, an attorney for the district said the district does not comment on personnel matters. The hearing officer issued his final decision and award in the case on July 25.

The item passed as a part of the consent agenda in a unanimous vote. Trustees Christopher Dorr and Therese Zuhoski were absent from the meeting.

During the meeting, the board approved the appointment of 18 faculty members, including eight new positions in the district. The board also approved the appointment of Colleen O’Hara as assistant principal of the middle school. O’Hara will be paid $149,117 a year and replaces Jeannine Campbell, who was hired in the new position of director of STEM in May.

The board also appointed Darien Riley as the district NJROTC Instructor as a leave replacement to Charles Mahala, who retired at the end of the school year. Dena Tishim was appointed the district’s alternative school facilitator for a year with an annual salary of $121,500. Brianne Tully was appointed to the position of teacher on special assignment – special education for the current school year with an annual salary of $121,500.

The board also appointed a new assistant purchasing agent, Allison Mancuso, who will be paid an annual salary of $75,000 with benefits. Tornatore said Mancuso has to come into the district as a contracts technician due to the civil service classification of the job. Rodney Asse, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, will retain the position of purchasing agent of the district.

The board also voted 4-1 to approve four contracts with the firm Heinemann for professional development services at Aquebogue, Riley, Pulaski and Phillips elementary schools at a total cost of $54,400, paid through federal Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds. Trustee Virginia Healy voted against the item. 

Connelly also motioned to table the second reading of the revised board policies on teaching about controversial issues. During the board’s last meeting, Dorr and Zuhoski voted against the first reading of the policy. Trustee Colin Palmer was the only board member present to vote against Connelly’s motion to table.

“I would like this policy to go back to committee, due to board members concerns about how best to implement this policy,” Connelly said.

As previously reported by RiverheadLOCAL, the current policy on teaching about controversial issues 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. 

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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: [email protected]