Student representative Michelle Nunez addresses the Board of Education at its Nov. 28 meeting, as other student representatives Connor Moos and Aela Bailey look on. Photo: Alek Lewis

Editor’s note Dec. 5: The day after the publication of this article, Riverhead Central School District issued a statement stating that the 3:15 p.m. late buses that a student at the Nov. 29 school board said were unavailable had actually been reinstated on Nov. 15. In response to our request, the student confirmed in an email on Dec. 4 that the buses had in fact been reinstated. She said the reinstatement was never announced to students prior to the district’s posting a statement on its website Dec. 1.

Nobody present at the Nov. 28 Board of Education meeting, including the Riverhead High School principal, the district and school board members attempted to correct the student’s misstatement at the meeting. No one from the school district attempted to contact RiverheadLOCAL for a correction to the story.

Original story: Students at Riverhead High School raised their concerns about the lack of after school bus transportation and the building’s overcrowded hallways to the Board of Education during its meeting yesterday.

Student representative Michelle Nunez said there are only buses for after school transportation at 4:15 p.m., although most clubs and after school activities end at 3 p.m.. This leaves students waiting for the buses unsupervised for an hour.

“I would also like to mention that the wait time mostly discourages students from participating in other after school clubs,” Nunez said, adding that getting home late in the afternoon is what discouraged her from participating in many after school activities last year.

Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said in an interview after the meeting that the problem is a shortage of bus drivers and the district is looking to get bus routing in a better place. The district contracted with the Transpar Group for a transportation efficiency and electric vehicle feasibility study in October. Tornatore said the study will examine the students’ concerns.

“So that’s a part of this study, and that we would like to get to a place where we can restore that, because they’re 100% right, the students,” Tornatore said.

Student representative Connor Moos brought up a potential resolution for overcrowding issues experienced in the high school. He said with classes being offered in the south portables this year — a change made to allow for additional classroom space —there is only one, overcrowded hallway students can use to access the portables. Moos suggested the board and administration create an alternative route by constructing a new sidewalk from the exit doors between the cafeteria and the math wing to ease the congestion.

“It’s gridlock. It’s really difficult to get through and it does present some safety issues,” Moos said.

Moos also suggested installing an exit door inside of the nurse’s office. He said this would allow access to the ambulance staging area in case of a medical emergency without needing to close the fire doors and disrupt the flow of traffic in the hallways near the office. 

“As we work to create resolutions to redistribute paths in the halls, we understand that this cannot be a one-man job. We kindly ask for support of the board administrators within the district office to aid in these projects we are working towards,” Moos said.

Student representative Aela Bailey also mentioned an issue that students resolved recently with high school administration relating to bathroom use. The issue was caused by a “lack of communication between administration and security,” she said. Bathrooms had been closed between class periods and during the first and last 10 minutes of each class period in response to problems like “vandalism, loitering and vaping.” Bailey said locking the bathrooms violated state policy and could lead to major health concerns. After compiling a survey of her fellow students’ opinions on the issue, the matter was brought to the administration and it was decided the bathrooms will remain open during all school hours unless under maintenance. 

Superintendent Augustine Tornatore and the Board of Education at its Nov. 28 meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

Also during the meeting, the Board of Education approved the hiring of a new assistant principal for the middle school. Emmanuel Hernandez will start on Jan. 3 at an annual salary of $141,755 in the position. The addition of Hernandez means two assistant principals will be apart of the building’s administration, rather than one.

Hernandez replaces Kenneth Coard, who was Riverhead’s first dean of students before leaving earlier this month to become an assistant principal in the Amityville Union Free School District. The dean of students was a new administrative position created at the beginning of the 2021 school year to focus on improving student behavior. The position was split between both the middle and high school.  

MORE COVERAGE: Dean of Students resigns, transportation contracts approved: school board wrap-up

Tornatore said in an interview after last night’s meeting that the position moved to an assistant principal position after conversations with the middle school’s administration. He said it was a “challenge” that the dean was split between two buildings. The assistant principals in the middle school will assume the dean’s former responsibilities, each of them taking on a grade level, Tornatore said. He said that the district is looking at “different options” available to fill the dean’s role in the high school.

“I really wanted to see what was the best support we could offer to students, and so the decision was that we really needed to move the position to a full-time AP position — because the dean’s position was really 10 months — and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done over the summer and preparing for the next school year and working with students,” Tornatore said, adding that although the dean position had the summer off, Coard served as the summer school principal.

Tornatore said in an interview after accepting Coard’s resignation that the district would look to hire another dean of students, although the district only posted for an assistant principal position following the comment.

The Board of Education also:

  • Approved an agreement with Suffolk County to continue the stop arm camera program for this school year.
  • Approved a contract with Louis E. Mora, PhD to provide neuropsychological evaluations to special education students for the 2022-2023 school year at a rate of $200 per hour not to exceed $3,000 per evaluation.
  • Approved the purchasing of a 2019 Ford F250 fitted with a plow for snow removal for $52,908.62.
  • Approved two multi-year agreements with Eastern Suffolk BOCES for instructional technology services and administrative technology services for a period from Dec. 1, 2022 through June 30, 2028. The contracts cost $162,105.01 and $425,644.84, respectively.

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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: alek@riverheadlocal.com