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Parents disappointed with Greenport school’s response to student arrest

The Greenport Board of Education responded Tuesday to often angry parents concerned about school security and other issues following the Jan. 3 arrest of a 16-year-old Greenport student who police said used his cellphone to take inappropriate photographs and video of three female students. 

The student, who has not been identified due to his age, was charged with two counts of unlawful surveillance in the second degree, a felony, and one count of attempted unlawful surveillance in the second degree, a misdemeanor.

The parents of one victim obtained an order of protection against the student, who has not returned to the school since he was arrested and the order was issued, Superintendent David Gamberg said.

But those parents said at Tuesday’s school board meeting that the incident has not been handled correctly, and explained to Mr. Gamberg how frustrated they were with many aspects of the situation. One of their biggest concerns was that although the order of protection was delivered Jan. 3, many staff members weren’t made aware of its existence until Jan. 8.

“After your child has a situation like this, a crime has been committed, you just assume people will do the right thing and you don’t have to make phone calls and check on everything,” parent Donna Medina said. “And we talked to the police officer and he said, ‘Let me bring [the order of protection.] Let me explain to them how serious this is.’ … They brought it here and no one knew. I don’t understand. That is unacceptable.”

Board member Heather Wolf reminded the audience of nearly 30 people that school was closed Jan. 4 and 5 due to snow and Jan. 6 and 7 were weekend days. In response, Ms. Medina said an email should have gone out to staff immediately on Jan. 3.

The Medinas weren’t the only ones to share their stories. Numerous other parents described incidents that have occurred in the school at all grade levels, including verbal bullying, violence and sexual harassment — many of which school board members said they were hearing about for the first time. Greenport parent Krista de Kerillis said she knew of girls in the district whose buttocks had been slapped by male students, and also described an incident in which a boy tried to grab a girl’s chest.

“I hear all the time about the way the boys talk to them and the way they grab girls if they can,” Ms. DeKerillis said. “It’s not OK. And the thing is, [a female student] says teachers will see it and no one says anything. It can’t be ‘boys will be boys.’!”

Parents called for change in the district regarding policies and procedures for all faculty, staff and administration and asked for further discipline when incidents like these do occur.

Suggestions made during the sometimes heated public discussion included having the police department instruct students in safe use of the internet and devices such as cellphones; allocating reserve funds to increase security efforts in the school; and rewriting policies to more effectively discipline students and train staff and faculty.

“Just today, I stopped by to check the mailbox for the PTO and there was nobody sitting at the front desk,” said Kim Moore, parent of a second-grader. “I walked into the building and could have gone anywhere I wanted. If I were a disgruntled student, a bullied student, I would have had free range of the school.”

Mr. Gamberg said that some mistakes were made in handling the situation, which he called rare for the district, and said the district is looking at ways it can improve the school’s response to something like this moving forward.

Meanwhile, he said, he and Southold Town police officer Bill Brewer would visit seventh- to 12th-grade English classrooms Wednesday and Thursday to explain what is and is not allowed on campus.
After the meeting Ms. Medina’s husband, Angel, said he was still frustrated with district.

“We want to see the school do right for the kids and make it the safest environment for them,” Ms. Medina said.

Photo caption: Greenport Board of Education president Babette Cornine and superintendent David Gamberg at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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