02/19/14 2:00pm
02/19/2014 2:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

Local school districts are discussing approving a new property tax exemption program for veterans, with more details expected in the coming week.

School boards need to hold a public hearing prior to approving the Alternative Veterans’ Exemption, an exemption law that has been in effect statewide since the 1980s but has only been applied to the county and town’s portion of a veteran’s property tax bill.  (more…)

01/17/14 1:09pm
01/17/2014 1:09 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

The Riverhead School District has agreed to a settlement with the family of a student who broke two teeth in 2008 during an unsupervised break-dancing practice on school campus, according to the family’s attorney.

The $75,000 settlement agreement was struck after a county civil jury found the district liable for damages, but before jurors specified an amount for damages, said attorney David Raimondo of Lake Grove.

The student and his mother — Marta Laboy — had been seeking $150,000 to pay for medical expenses and “past and prior pain and suffering,” he said.

“This was one that was a fair settlement for the district and the family,” Mr. Raimondo said.

District Superintendent Nancy Carney did not return a request for comment.

The suit claimed that the then-11-year-old boy injured himself June 3, 2008, while practicing for a school concert in the cafeteria at Aquebogue Elementary School.

The boy and a fellow student were rehearsing a break-dancing routine that involved one trick in which the boy would crouch down, and the other student would jump onto his back with one foot and then spring off as the boy stood up, according to court documents.

They had practiced the trick four or five times in the cafeteria and another 15 or more times previously as part of the student-choreographed routine, the documents state.

While the “entire cast of the concert was in the cafeteria singing and dancing,” the boy thought he heard his partner call off the trick during practice, leaving him unprepared for the jump. His partner landed on the boy’s head, driving his teeth into the cafeteria floor, according to the documents.

The boy had to undergo numerous root canals after two of his teeth subsequently “went dead,” Mr. Raimondo said.

The suit claims that teachers weren’t present to supervise the practice, and that no mats had been put down in the cafeteria to protect students.

Ms. Laboy also claims that although she was aware her son would be dancing in the concert, she was not asked to sign a consent form or waiver allowing him to participate.

The case has been pending since it was filed five years ago while the district pursued all its legal options, including a motion to have a judge issue a summary judgment in the case, which was denied.

“You can’t blame them for fighting it, but at some point you have to look at [your chances],” Mr. Raimondo said, adding that settlement will be paid from a state fund for districts and will not affect taxpayers.

The district offered to settle the case late last year, Mr. Raimondo said. The suit will be officially settled once a judge determines whether the settlement constitutes fair compensation for the boy’s injuries and claims.

psquire@timesreview.com

01/08/14 1:38pm
01/08/2014 1:38 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

A Riverhead School District elementary school teacher was sentenced to three years probation and had his license suspended for six months on Wednesday, nearly two months after pleading down from a gun charge that stemmed from an incident in April of 2012.

Joe Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at Philips Avenue Elementary, was pulled over in Southampton Village nearly two years ago and after police reported that they caught him driving drunk with a loaded gun in the car, was “reassigned” to his home, pending the outcome of the case.

On Wednesday, Suffolk County Criminal Court Judge James Hudson said that the probationary period will have alcohol and narcotics conditions, “to ensure [his] probation is a success.” In addition, he will have to pay the court a surcharge and install an interlock device on his car.

Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to DWI in November, as the felony weapons charge was unable to be withheld following what prosecutors called an illegal police search.

Mr. Johnson’s attorney, Hauppauge-based William Keahon, said that the end result of the court proceedings vindicated his client.

“My position from day one has been that he never had a gun,” Mr. Keahon said. “It took this long a time to convince the DA about that, so I’m very happy for him.”

While Mr. Johnson’s case went through court proceedings, he has continued to be paid — save for a four-month span from October 2012 through January 2013. He had previously been charged with DWI, eventually pleading down to a charge of driving while ability impaired in 2006.

Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney stated previously that should Mr. Johnson be convicted of the felony gun charge, he would have been fired. And following the announcement of the plea deal in November, Ms. Carney had stated that the district was still weighing its options.

That appears to still be the case.

“A process, separate and distinct from the criminal court proceedings, has been initiated by the District against Mr. Johnson,” Ms. Carney said via email on Wednesday. “Mr. Johnson will remain on administrative reassignment pending the outcome of the administrative proceedings.”

Active in the schools, Mr. Johnson has taught in the Riverhead School District since 2000, most recently teaching fourth grade at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School, and has been a high school basketball coach. He also led the annual “Say No to Drugs” march in 2006.

Mr. Johnson’s case wouldn’t be the first in recent memory of a school employee having legal problems behind the wheel.

Former high school principal David Zimbler was arrested in June of 2008 on a DWI charge. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while ability impaired. The Riverhead Board of Education delayed his tenure by a year in the wake of the arrest, and required Mr. Zimbler to complete an employee assistance program and in community service at the time. Mr. Zimbler, a Commack resident, later left the district in 2011 to work in Westbury.

Paul Squire contributed to this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the length of Mr. Johnson’s sentence. He was sentenced to three years probation, not three months.

01/02/14 9:33am
01/02/2014 9:33 AM
JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | All school activities are cancelled today and tomorrow in RCSD.

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | All school activities are cancelled today and tomorrow in RCSD.

While the general student population is out on winter break, Riverhead Central School District announced this morning that in anticipation of a heavy snowfall expected today, all school-related practices and activities will be cancelled on Thursday and Friday.

According to the district, school offices will be closed on Friday as well.

Shoreham-Wading River followed suit on Thursday afternoon, informing district parents that all school buildings will be closed Thursday afternoon starting at 2 p.m., and through Friday. McGann-Mercy cancelled all afternoon/evening activities on Thursday and all on Friday.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning starting at 1 p.m. on Thursday, forecasting up to 10 inches of snow in total in the area into Friday. Three to seven inches are forecast through Thursday night, with another three expected on Friday.

Check back with the Riverhead News-Review throughout the storm for the latest information.

11/13/13 10:40pm
11/13/2013 10:40 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

The Riverhead elementary school teacher arrested last year on weapons and other charges after a traffic stop in Southampton has side-stepped the gun charges, pleading guilty only to driving while intoxicated — an outcome prosecutors blamed on an illegal police search.

Joe Johnson, 40, a fourth-grade teacher at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, was arrested by Southampton Village police about 3:30 a.m. on April 21, 2012. He’s been on leave at his home ever since, pending the outcome of the criminal case, Riverhead School District officials have said.

Judge James Hudson agreed with prosecutors’ assessment of the search, which resulted in the discovery of the handgun, prosecutors said.

“After a review of the facts and circumstances of the arrest, and an analysis of applicable law relating to the police officer’s post-arrest search of the car and consequential discovery of the gun, the district attorney’s office determined it could not sustain the burden of proof necessary to establish the legality of the search,” reads a press release issued about 10:30 p.m. by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

Mr. Johnson, who had also been a high school basketball coach prior to his arrest, was facing multiple gun charges after police had caught him driving drunk, allegedly with an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May 2012.

The top charge Mr. Johnson faced was second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Mr. Johnson is due to be sentenced on the DWI charge on Jan. 8.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that town police arrested Joe Johnson in April 2012. 

Southampton Village police made the arrest.

11/13/13 11:44am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Aquebogue Elementary principal Phil Kent discusses Common Core at Tuesday night's board of education meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Aquebogue Elementary principal Phil Kent discusses Common Core at Tuesday night’s board of education meeting.

Riverhead third-graders are learning how to attribute information in their writing and are building a stronger foundation in math fundamentals under the new Common Core guidelines, administrators said Tuesday night.

Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent and school literacy coach Vanessa Williams gave a presentation about Common Core practices within third grade at this week’s school board meeting at the Riverhead High School auditorium.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of benchmarks that require instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age to better prepare them for college and careers. After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate that schools use these lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.

Related: Common Core meeting with State Education Commissioner John King to be held later this month in Manorville

Ms. Williams said teachers are receiving professional development and lessons plans from Engage NY and Teachers College at Columbia University, which the district has used for several years. During her presentation, she talked about how ELA is changing under Common Core, including how third-graders are asked to read more texts about history, social studies and science.

“They’re answering questions about what they’ve learned based on the text itself — not prior knowledge,” she said. “That’s a really big emphasis with Common Core.”

As for math, Mr. Kent said third-graders are focusing on building a foundation with multiplication and division before moving on to learning about the area of objects, fractions and measuring weight and volume.

Last month, Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School principal Thomas Payton gave a joint presentation about Common Core practices within ELA and math in kindergarten through second grade.

TUTHILL DEAL FINAL

The school board unanimously approved a resolution to finalize the district’s Tuthill Lane land deal with the county.

Assistant superintendent Sam Schneider said the development rights for the nearly 23-acre property in Aquebogue were sold for about $53,000 per acre. The land deal, which was struck in 2012, totals about $1.2 million.

The district had planned to use those proceeds to purchase land near Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside to relocate the bus garage, but scrapped the proposal after voters rejected a proposition that would have allowed the district to explore the feasibility of acquiring the Riverside property.

The district is currently forming a volunteer committee tasked with finding a way to deal with the district’s crumbling bus barn.

RILEY PROBE

The Riverhead Police Department is investigating an unspecified incident at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Police were called to the school shortly after 11 a.m. Friday, officials said. Police declined further comment because the investigation involves juveniles.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said no injuries were reported and “nothing materialized” from the incident. She said the district follows its code of conduct with all reported incidents and declined further comment, citing student privacy reasons.

No other information about the incident was immediately available.

09/05/12 5:00pm
Riverhead Central School District, Phillips Avenue Elementary School

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers welcomes back fourth-grader Mahki Adams with a warm hug.

Phillips Avenue Elementary School principal Debra Rodgers welcomed back students during the first day of classes Wednesday in Riverhead schools.

She gave out some hugs and also chided some of the children who did not respond when she said, “Good morning children, welcome back.”

About 550 students arrived by bus, cars and also by taxi to the Riverside elementary school.

The new kindergarten students lined the entrance corridor until teachers and aides could check their tags and steer them into the correct classrooms.

With seven schools in the district there will be almost 5,000 students attending class this year.

Also, Tuesday, Sept. 18 is open house at Phillips at 7 p.m. and the school’s parent-teacher organization, which uses the acronym P.A.C.T. (People Advancing Children Together), will have its first meeting Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

photo@timesreview.com

/ 11