Fired Riley teacher defends rep after knife incident

06/06/2014 8:00 AM |
Riley Avenue Elementary School teacher Jutta Mariotti believes her handling of a second-grade student who brought a knife into the Calverton school in November only proves her capabilities as a teacher. Still, she’s being terminated after this school year. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Riley Avenue Elementary School teacher Jutta Mariotti believes her handling of a second-grade student who brought a knife into the Calverton school in November only proves her capabilities as a teacher. Still, she’s being terminated after this school year. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

As Baiting Hollow parent Terri Nirrengarten stood at the podium during the May 13 Riverhead school board meeting, she became frustrated by the responses to her questions.

She wanted to know why parents hadn’t been notified when a second-grader brought a knife to school in November. She also asked that the board hold off on firing the student’s teacher, Jutta Mariotti, who claims she had been told in July, before the incident, that she would not receive tenure at the end of the current school year.

The knife incident happened Nov. 11 at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton, where two boys had allegedly planned an attack on a classmate. Like Ms. Nirrengarten, many parents had been asking why they hadn’t been notified of the incident and, in some cases, had only learned about it from a Feb. 27 News-Review cover story. Parents of children in Ms. Mariotti’s class also asked why her employment was being terminated.

“We cannot discuss personnel matters” was the response school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse gave Ms. Nirrengarten as she addressed the board. Undeterred, Ms. Nirrengarten returned to the podium that evening and asked questions again.

This time, Superintendent Nancy Carney responded.

“Whenever an incident occurs, we deal with the people involved in the incident,” she said. “If we notified parents every single time an incident occurred, that’s all we would be doing.”

As Ms. Nirrengarten continued to express her disgust over the way the district had handled the situation, she was joined at the podium by Vonda Trent, mother of the student allegedly targeted in the plot, who also said she was upset by the district’s decision not to inform parents about the incident.

During the May 13 meeting, the school board approved Ms. Carney’s recommendation to deny Ms. Mariotti tenure. A few days later, the second grade teacher agreed to the News-Review’s request for an interview.

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Ms. Mariotti, a German immigrant who’s worked in the district since 2006, said although she’s hurt by the way the administration has treated her, she doesn’t blame anyone and isn’t looking for revenge.

“I’m 57. I will never go back into a classroom again,” she said. “I want people to know the story.”