02/07/14 8:00am
SANDRA KOLBO PHOTO | Students in Riverhead Middle School English teacher's Mindy Benze classes recently initiated a "Water Challenge" to promote clean drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa communities.

SANDRA KOLBO PHOTO | Students in Riverhead Middle School English teacher’s Mindy Benze’s classes recently initiated a “Water Challenge” to promote clean drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa communities.

Drawing inspiration from “A Long Walk to Water,” a book they read in English class about a Sudanese refugee whose mission is to provide clean water to sub-Saharan African communities, students at Riverhead Middle School recently launched a “Water Challenge” — a venture that has raised more than a thousand dollars. (more…)

01/31/14 4:00pm
01/31/2014 4:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Happy Ending featuring (from left) Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide, Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown after their double wedding at the Mission.

Riverhead Middle School Middle Masques will present “Guys and Dolls Jr.” on Fridays and Saturdays, Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 7 and 8, in the middle school cafetorium. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 5 p.m. Saturdays. (more…)

01/13/14 5:30pm
01/13/2014 5:30 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | From left, Riverhead High School students Matthew Barnard, Amy Methven, Aidan Saltini and David White have been selected to preform at this year's Long Island String Festival.

COURTESY PHOTO | From left, Riverhead High School students Matthew Barnard, Amy Methven, Aidan Saltini and David White have been selected to preform at this year’s Long Island String Festival.

The Riverhead School District has announced with students will be participating in this year’s Long Island String Festival and the Suffolk County Music Educators’ Association Festival.

The Long Island String Festival will take place at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket. Elementary students are scheduled to perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Secondary level students are scheduled to perform Jan. 31 and Feb. 1-2. Riverhead High School students Matthew Barnard, Amy Methven, Aidan Saltini and David White and middle school student Jacob Nitti have been selected to preform.

The Suffolk County Music Educators’ Association Festival will be held in March. The following students have been selected to preform from Pulaski Street School: Matthew Jakubowsky, Benjamin Mancini. Jordan Devereaux, Madison Kelly. Lily Kutner. Hailey Nitti, Scarlett Olsen, Leslie Alvizures, Nathaniel Bollermann, Lana Fusco; Riverhead Middle School: Kimberlyn Ligon, Alex Montalbano, Christiana Santoro, Brady Wells, Ruby Ernst, Evelyn Kennedy, Sarah Anne Fried, Yasmine Kocan, Lauren Schaefer.

From Riverhead High School, the following students were selected: Ella Baldwin, Peter Cook, Michael Harris, Ryan Mancini, Shannon McAlister, Lauren Schmitt, Philip Schmitt, Nicholas Waldron, Ella Baldwin, Chloe Halpin, Ryan Macini, Samuel Mancini, William Pasciutti, Daniel Jones, Aidan Saltini, David White.

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12/03/13 5:11pm

BARBARAELLEN FILE KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead High School band director Lee Hanwick conducts ninth-graders Jessica Sisti (left) and Kayla Myers in playing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ during the school’s March concert. The orchestra and senior band also performed.

The Riverhead School District has announced its upcoming event and concerts.

• Phillips Avenue’s concert is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Riley Avenue’s concert is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Aquebogue’s winter concert will take place Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Pulaski Street’s winter concert is set for Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Roanoke Avenue’s winter concert is scheduled for Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• The middle school’s eighth-grade winter concert will take place Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s seventh-grade winter concert is set for Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s choir, chamber orchestra and jazz band will perform at Martha Clara Vineyard on Dec. 21 at 11 a.m.

• The high school’s chamber choir is scheduled to perform at House of Praise on Hubbard Avenue in Riverhead on Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.; and the Jamesport Meeting House next Friday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m. On Dec. 15, the chamber choir will also perform at Diliberto Winery at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church located on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

• The high school’s winter concert is set for Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the school. Performances include full choir, and 10th-12th grade band and orchestra.

• The high school’s chamber orchestra is scheduled to perform at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m.

• The high school’s ninth-grade band and orchestra is set to perform the second winter concert on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

• Riverhead Free Library is currently exhibiting student art work. Pieces from Pulaski Street will be on display this month; Roanoke Avenue next month; Aquebogue in January; and Phillips Avenue in February. Riley Avenue and high school students’ art work will be displayed in March.

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05/20/13 4:45pm
05/20/2013 4:45 PM
Riverhead Middle School in court

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead Middle School principal Andrea Pekar and her attorney, John Shields, shake hands outside federal court Monday after a jury ruled Ms. Pekar was not guilty of illegally searching a middle school student in 2007.

A federal jury has rejected a former Riverhead Middle School student’s claims that he was illegally searched by the school’s principal in 2007, saying the student and his mother failed to prove the search ever occurred.

The jury deliberated for three hours in U.S. Eastern District Court Monday before reaching a verdict.

Tarone Love, now 21, and his mother, Marilyn, had filed a lawsuit against the principal, Andrea Pekar, as well as the school district, middle school, Board of Education and then-superintendent Paul Doyle.

They alleged that Mr. Love was called to the principal’s office in February 2007, made to empty his pockets, patted down and forced to remove his shoes. Mr. Love had claimed the school targeted him because administrators thought he was selling drugs.

Throughout the trial, district officials have consistently denied the incident happened.

As the jury’s verdict was read, Ms. Pekar sat with her hands over her mouth. She nodded and relaxed in her seat as the verdict was announced.

Mr. Love, seated at the plaintiff’s table with his lawyer, Harriet Gilliam, sat motionless and didn’t move until the jury was led out of the room. He quickly left the court room and declined to comment on the verdict.

John Shields, the defense attorney for Ms. Pekar, said he was “confident” in the jury’s deliberations.

“I think the jury made the right decision,” he said. “It was a privilege to represent a person of such high character.”

The claims against all defendants except Ms. Pekar had been thrown out of court Friday, after Judge Arthur Spatt ruled the Love family had not proven the district’s policies were in violation of the law.

Additional claims of racial profiling were also dismissed.

The jury began deliberations about 12:25 p.m. after hearing closing arguments from both attorneys in the case. Ms. Gilliam questioned the testimony of security guards and Ms. Pekar — all of whom said they either didn’t remember the search or that it never happened.

Ms. Gilliam said the school was engaging in a “cover-up,” while Mr. Shields said the family offered no proof of the search, and said it was unlikely the district would have gone to such lengths to mask the supposed incident.

Outside the court room, Ms. Love said she and her son had filed the suit to expose wrongdoings in the Riverhead schools.

“We weren’t here for the money,” she said. “We were here for the kids in the school … In a way, [Tarone] didn’t lose, because he opened the eyes of so many parents.”

Ms. Gilliam, a Riverhead High School graduate, said she had “bittersweet” feelings about the verdict.

“I’m very proud of Tarone,” she said. “He stood up and took a stand.”

Ms. Gilliam said the family may file an appeal, adding she would need to speak to her clients.

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05/17/13 1:00pm
05/17/2013 1:00 PM
Federal court in Centrai Islip

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The United States Eastern District Court in Central Islip.

Only one defendant accused in a civil rights and privacy lawsuit over an alleged illegal search in Riverhead Middle School in 2007 is still facing charges after a federal judge threw out most of the case Thursday.

Judge Arthur Spatt made his decision to toss all but one of 10 charges in the civil case after determining the district’s student search policy is not illegal.

“There’s nothing wrong with the searches set forth in this policy,” Judge Spatt said from his bench in a U.S. Eastern District courtroom in Central Islip.

Allegations of discriminatory behavior were dismissed for all defendants after Judge Spatt said the student and his mother failed to prove the school targeted black students for questioning.

That leaves only Middle School principal Andrea Pekar remaining as the sole defendant to answer to a 4th Amendment allegation involving an illegal search.

Riverhead residents Tarone Love, 21, and his mother, Marilyn, had sued the district, then-superintendent Paul Doyle, the middle school, and the Board of Education for $2 million in damages. Mr. Love, a teenager at the time, was allegedly patted down by school security and accused of selling drugs in school without “reasonable suspicion,” the lawsuit claims.

They also accused the district of searching Mr. Love, an African-American, because of his race.

District officials, including Ms. Pekar, have maintained throughout the trial, which started with jury selection Monday, that the incident never occurred.

Recalling the incident, Mr. Love testified Thursday that he had run into two friends in the hallways of Riverhead Middle School on Feb. 15, 2007.

He said he paid back the first boy a dollar that Mr. Love had borrowed, and then gave the other student $5 to pay for snacks.

Mr. Love said he was pulled out of math class the next period and taken to the school’s principal’s office, where Ms. Pekar accused him of selling drugs to students after school officials saw him exchanging money.

A security guard then allegedly patted down Mr. Love, removed items from his pockets and made him take off his boots.

Mr. Love testified that no drugs were ever found and he was sent back to class.

The alleged event left him rattled, he said Thursday, and fostered his distrust and dislike of school authority.

“I felt violated,” Mr. Love said in court. “[Ms. Pekar] made me feel guilty even though I didn’t do anything. It’s still with me, that I was singled out for no apparent reason.”

Ms. Love had testified Wednesday that her son was shaking when he returned home from school that day, tearing up from the stand as she described what happened.

“He was hysterical” Ms. Love said. “It makes me upset every time I think about it.”

While on the stand, Ms. Love was asked by her attorney why she never contacted the school about the alleged search, only reaching out to them through a lawyer two years later.

“I didn’t contact the school because they didn’t contact me [about the incident],” she said. “They should have contacted me first.”

Mr. Love said he only continued going to school because of his mother’s support, saying he was humiliated and feared his classmates would treat him differently after he was taken out of class.

But after Mr. Love testified Thursday that he had respected authority before the alleged search, John Shields, the attorney for the defense, made Mr. Love review his prior disciplinary record for that school year.

As Mr. Shields went one-by-one through a list of eight recorded school infractions from that school year, Mr. Love admitted that on four of those occasions — all before the alleged search — he had disrespected authority.

Mr. Shields also pressed Mr. Love on his age at the time of the incident. Mr. Love had said he was 13 at the time , but Mr. Shields pointed out he would have been 15 when the incident happened, according to his birthdate.

When asked if he was actually 15 at the time of the alleged incident, Mr. Love paused for a moment.

“I can’t do math right now,” he said. “My mind is too cluttered.”

Mr. Love later stated that he dropped out of high school after spending two years in the ninth grade, and never finished.

He said he “couldn’t recall” whether the incident affected his grades.

Ms. Pekar, the two security guards who allegedly took part in the search, and a then-assistant principal at the school, Stephen Hudson, all said in their testimony this week that the search never happened.

Ms. Pekar also said Thursday that had a student been searched in her school in 2007, that student would have been asked to empty his or her pockets  — but no security guard would ever have reached into a student’s pockets.

“The number one reason is safety,” she said, describing how a student could have syringes, knives or box cutters in their pockets. “I would never put myself of any of my security guards in danger.”

After both sides finished giving their evidence, Mr. Shields moved to have all the illegal search charges dismissed Thursday, saying the Love family failed to prove the district’s policies over student searches were improper, meaning the district couldn’t be blamed for any alleged incident.

The family’s attorney, Harriet Gilliam, said the superintendent and school board were ultimately liable for the alleged improper actions of Ms. Pekar,  but Judge Spatt disagreed and threw out the illegal search court actions against all defendants but Ms. Pekar.

Mr. Shields then asked to have the discrimination part of the suit dismissed as well, adding there was no proof the district had targeted black students specifically.

“There’s been no expert, there’s been no data, there’s been nothing,” Mr. Shields told the judge.

One security guard, who is black and had worked in the middle school in 2007, testified this week that he had seen black, white, and Hispanic students searched in the school.

When asked by Judge Spatt what proof Ms. Gilliam had of discriminatory behavior, she responded Mr. Love would testify that one of the boys he gave money to, a light-skinned Hispanic student, was not searched while Mr. Love and his other friend, who is black, were searched.

But Judge Spatt said Mr. Love and his mother needed proof the Hispanic student was or was not searched. Ms. Gilliam had not called either of the other two students as witnesses in the case, and had only put the black student on a pre-trial list of potential witnesses.

Ms. Gilliam answered that she could bring in those students to testify.

But Judge Spatt said it was too late.

He then threw out all of the discrimination charges, saying it was “totally improper” to call more witnesses after the trial was over, especially ones the defense team was not aware of, and had not prepared for.

“We’re not going to bring in someone from left field like that,” he said.

After court proceedings, Ms. Gilliam said in an interview she felt the district should have been held liable in this case, and that she was still hopeful Ms. Pekar would be found guilty.

“[I hope] at the very least, principals are held accountable … they can’t just do what they want to do,” she said.

Mr. Shields declined to comment about the case, saying he could not discuss ongoing litigation.

The jury will reconvene Monday morning to begin deliberations on a verdict.

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05/13/13 2:00pm

The family of a former Riverhead Middle School student is alleging district officials illegally searched their son in 2007, and is seeking $2 million in damages in a civil rights lawsuit set to go to jury trial in federal court this week, according to court documents.

The suit, filed by the former student’s mother, Marilyn Love, alleges the school violated the student’s fourth and fourteenth amendment rights by subjecting him to an unreasonable search “based on his race as an African American.”

In February 2007, Ms. Love’s son — who is a plaintiff but is not identified in the complaint due to his age at the time of the incident — was pulled out of his eighth grade class by a district security guard, according to the suit. He was brought to the principal’s office, where he was accused of selling drugs in school because he was seen giving money to two students that morning, the suit states.

The student denied the claims and was searched. School officials did not find any drugs, and warned him not to sell any on district grounds, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Love and her son claim the district didn’t have “reasonable grounds” to search him, and did not search the other student who was seen talking to Ms. Love’s son, according to the suit. That student who was not searched is white.

The Riverhead School District, Board of Education, district superintendent at the time Paul Doyle, and Middle School principal Andrea Pekar, are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Several others, including Angela Devito, a former school board member, appear on a list of potential witnesses in the trial.

District officials could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Love also alleges in the suit that the school did not tell her that her son had been removed from class to be searched and did not properly train employees to search students.

Jury selection in the case began at Eastern District Court in Central Islip Monday and opening statements are expected Tuesday.

The student is now 20 years old, said Harriet Gilliam, the attorney for Ms. Love and her son.

As a result of the search, the student “suffered emotional harm, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, damage to his good name and reputation and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to court documents.

“I would say, certainly, it’s had a long-term effect on him as far as his outlook through school and of school administrators,” Ms. Gilliam said. “Instead of him seeing them as people who are there to help and have them provide a nurturing environment, he instead had an experience of seeing them in a different light [by accusing him and searching him]. He’s jaded. He came away having a bad taste in his mouth.”

Ms. Gilliam said there were discussions with the district and other co-defendants to settle out of court but “there was nothing really of substance in terms of any offer.”

The case has taken so long to get to trial because of various motions made by the district’s lawyers to have the case dismissed, Ms. Gilliam added.

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03/22/13 2:00pm
03/22/2013 2:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Rex Vazquez as ‘Narcissus’ being stalked by ‘Echo,’ played by Evelyn Kennedy-Jaffe, during Riverhead Middle School’s dress rehearsal Wednesday of ‘Echo, Narcissus and the Duck.’

Riverhead Middle School students performed ‘Echo, Narcissus and the Duck’ at the 17th annual Roman Banquet Thursday night. The eighth-graders wrote the play over summer vacation following seventh grade. Editing of the play began in September and auditions and casting of characters began before December break.

After hundreds of hours of editing and rehearsals that began in January, the 37 students took to the stage to show off their talents.

Food at the Roman Banquet is prepared by the students’ families and served by Latin students dressed in togas and tunics.