Greenport School District

Greenport students stage walkout over math teacher’s suspension

About 40 students at the Greenport Union Free School District staged a walk-out Thursday to protest the suspension of a longtime math teacher.

A petition on to “bring Mr. (John) Tramontana back” to Greenport High School had 329 signatures as of April 14. 

“It was unprofessional for putting him on leave,” reads the petition. “He did everything he could to help us students and teachers and all his intentions were making this school a better place and a good environment. We want him back.”

The school district has offered no public comment on why Mr. Tramontana was placed on leave. Superintendent Marlon Small said reasons for the disciplinary action are confidential. 

Parents received a letter from secondary principal Gary Kalish on Tuesday acknowledging Mr. Tramontana’s absence from the classroom over the past few days and stating he’s been put “on leave until further notice.”

“During Mr. Tramontana’s absence, your child’s classes will be taught by our remaining math teachers until our search for a regular replacement is completed,” Mr. Kalish wrote. “I know there might be some anxiety with this change, however, please rest assured that every effort will be made to ensure that our students will continue to have a positive and productive learning experience for the remaining days of the school year.”

The suspension was not discussed during a school board meeting Tuesday, although a math leave substitute replacement was appointed following an executive session. Nicole Iannone was hired from May 10 through June 30, according to the approved resolution. The appointment was made without discussion and members of the public offered no comment.

In an email Friday, school board president Kim Swann said she’s unable to comment on personnel matters.

“However, I will say I’m proud of our students for speaking up,” Ms. Swann wrote. “Encouraging them to voice their feelings is important and they should know their voices are heard.”

Mr. Tramontana — who teaches eighth grade math, Algebra 1 and Intro to Algebra — could not be reached for comment Thursday. North Fork Patch reported that in an interview he stated he was not given a reason for being placed on leave.

Abby Whittington, a ninth grade student of Mr. Tramontana, sent The Suffolk Times a letter she said she plans to send to the school board. 

“His untimely suspension right before the Regents, the most important test of the year, is affecting all of the students negatively,” she wrote. “We’ve been studying with Mr. Tramontana all year, now we’ve been forced to attend a different class. We still had three chapters in the textbook to learn and we were mid-lesson when this happened. It’s unfair that we’re having this time taken away from us right before our finals. It puts us at a drastic disadvantage for our state testing.”

She wrote that the move was a “slap in the face” to Mr. Tramontana’s students, and said he’s been a “good, loyal and professional teacher.”

“For a lot of kids, he was the first teacher to actually help us truly understand math, and do well. Thanks to him things are actually clicking, and it’s not fair to take that away from the kids now,” she wrote. “All that we want is to have our class back to normal.”

She participated in the protest Thursday, holding a sign that said, “Our education matters,” and “We need our teacher,” with the acronym W.W.T.B. — We Want Tramontana Back. She distributed fliers citing Tinker v. Des Moines, case law establishing students’ first amendment rights in public schools. She said Mr. Tramontana’s students came to class after the suspension to find a note on the door redirecting them to another classroom and classes continued “as if nothing happened.” The administration did not explain the suspension to students, she said.

Raelynn Hayes, a ninth grader, said she believes the district has been “incredibly unfair” to Mr. Tramontana and also expressed concern about preparation for Regents. 

“He was actually one of, if not the best teacher at this school, and a lot of students do care about him. He’s done a lot for the community,” Raelynn said. “Everything that happens during our high school career 100% impacts the rest of our future.”

Mr. Small and Mr. Kalish spoke to the students during the walkout to say they’re proud of them for speaking out on issues they feel strongly about and acknowledged their right to peacefully protest. Anyone missing a class would be marked with an unexcused absence, but otherwise the school does not intend to issue consequences. 

“Not only was he a fun teacher, but he gave us learning,” one student responded to the administrators. She asked them to consider how the suspension would affect students. 

“Our job as teachers or administrators is to make sure that you have a quality education,” Mr. Small said. “You have a right to advocate on your behalf.”

Mr. Small told The Suffolk Times that he could not comment on confidential personnel matters, but the school supports the students’ advocacy.

Greenport teachers union officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.