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Acting principal outlines district’s actions to support students, staff following scandal

Riverhead High School acting principal Sean O’Hara told Riverhead community members how the district plans to support students, faculty and staff following the recent sexual misconduct allegations against former principal Charles Regan.

Mr. Regan, 48, allegedly exchanged explicit text messages and photos with 18-year-old student Anastasia Stapon and “sexually assaulted” her in his office Tuesday, April 30 — the final act that led the relationship to be exposed publicly, according to court filings and an attorney representing the victim.

Attorney John Ray of Miller Place said the former principal “predatorily groomed” the student since January. Ms. Stapon is suing the former principal, the school district and its board members for $10 million, she announced alongside her attorney and parents Monday.

“This has obviously been a very difficult week and a half,” Mr. O’Hara said at Thursday night’s Riverhead High School PTSO meeting, without specifically referencing Mr. Regan.

Alongside assistant principal Nicole Taylor, Mr. O’Hara said administrators will continue to remind students, faculty and staff that they’re supported, the year’s events will proceed as normal and the district will get through this “tough time” together.

He said the district’s main goal is to ensure students have the kind of high school experience that they expect and deserve.

“It’s basically as simple as … We’ve always been proud of how our community, our building, our teams react in difficult times,” he said. “In a very special way, in Riverhead, there’s a camaraderie, a brotherhood, a family atmosphere where people get together and watch out for one another, they support one another, they have resources to offer.”

Another part of the message, he said, encourages students to be mindful of their actions on social media. 

“An event like this provides an arena for people to come in contact with material that maybe they don’t want … maybe they’re urged to respond to,” he said.

Support services have been made available to students, staff and faculty through school counseling services, he said. Family Service League offered additional services for students Friday in addition to counseling.

“It would be a horrible thing for them to leave here and this is what they remember,” he said.

The acting principal said members of the district are finding out the news “in real time” just as the students are.

He said there were no current plans for an administrator from an outside district to step in to Mr. Regan’s role.

“I’m going to do this and take on this role,” he said. “Why disrupt another building? This is a completely capable team. We got this, and we’re going to get through this together.”

When he was initially asked to be the acting principal until the end of the academic year, he said he couldn’t speak.

“In all honesty, and I share this with the kids, too, for about three days, I couldn’t talk to anybody without crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t eat, I was having nightmares,” he said. “But about three days later, when I was able to separate the emotion and understand what took place — the clarity hit us all at once: we can do this.” 

PTSO president Mary Maki, who has two boys in 10th grade, said she believes most students want to discuss the recent allegations. 

“I think parents also have a responsibility to talk to their students at home,” she said. “They want to vent, they want to get their frustrations out at home.”

Mr. O’Hara suggested Family Service League make their services available to parents and family to talk about the situation. Ms. Maki, secretary Joyce Podlas and treasurer Kristy Wilkinson supported the decision.

Parent Dhonna Goodale said the greater community needs to be vocal about problems. She said district administrators are often lazy when it comes to problem solving. 

“I think with the past principal, and the past system, that it’s become a lazy system….It’s fallen into a pattern, a safe haven, of ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ It’s lazy. ‘Let’s put them in in-school suspension and just write it off. We don’t even have to deal with them anymore.’ ” 

She added that Mr. O’Hara has taken a proactive approach to problems and has improved the music program in his role as assistant principal.

“That music department is on point,” she said. “You’re wonderful, and you’re new, and you’re about the only principal — because I keep my ear to the grindstone — that people say really does something.”

Parent Yolanda Thompson, who attends most board meetings, said the district needs to improve communication between parents, faculty and administrators. A Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

“I never felt that parents are fully welcomed into the situation,” she said. “When you have parents that want to be involved, don’t shut the door. We want to work with you.”

Photo caption: Acting Riverhead High School principal Sean O’Hara speaks at Thursday night’s PTSO meeting. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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