Editorial: Riverhead should hire independent investigator for transparency

More than three weeks after allegations surfaced of an inappropriate relationship between Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan and a senior student, many questions remain unanswered.

The school district’s priority should be dutifully examining Mr. Regan’s more than decade-long history with the district to determine if similar cases of inappropriate behavior occurred. The best way to do that is by hiring an outside investigator to lead the effort.

An independent investigator should be given the opportunity and freedom to interview staff members and students about what they observed about Mr. Regan’s interaction with teenagers, specifically the 18-year-old who has accused him of sexual misconduct.

Impending litigation shouldn’t give the district an excuse to remain silent and avoid difficult questions about what transpired. If there was a pattern of inappropriate behavior, warning signs that were missed or fellow staff members who turned a blind eye, school district residents deserve to know.

And if it turns out this was an isolated case that no one could have seen coming, then the district should be more than willing to share that disclosure.

In a statement published on the district website one day after a press conference outlining the allegations, Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said the district is legally obligated to conduct an investigation. Some details on that investigation emerged during Tuesday night’s school board meeting from attorney Christopher Venator of Ingerman Smith, LLP, which represents the school district. He said that Christina Tona, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, began the initial investigation, which has now been turned over to his firm. Whether any conclusions will result from that investigation is unclear.

New allegations emerged Friday of Mr. Regan sexually assaulting a 16-year-old student in 2000 while he was a teacher and basketball coach in the Eastport School District. The victim, who did not wish to revel her identity, filed a notice of claim against the Eastport-South Manor District and Mr. Regan with intentions to sue for $20 million. The new allegations raise more questions of how Mr. Regan’s hiring in 2006 as an assistant principal was handled and whether there are any more victims from Riverhead.

If there are other victims out there, the district should be encouraging them to come forward. Where’s the outreach on the district’s part to offer a safe space for possible victims to come forward?

In its statement, the district has already tried to distance itself from the issue of Mr. Regan’s initial hiring, noting that it occurred during a previous administration.

But his record deserves close scrutiny, even regarding incidents less serious than possible sexual misconduct. Did other students in recent years receive fair treatment from Mr. Regan? His judgment, as the allegations against him appear to show, is widely off base. How much did that transpire into his everyday role as principal?

These questions won’t be easily answered, but the best way to seek the truth is to bring in an independent investigator.

Editor’s Note: This editorial that ran in the May 30 print edition was updated after new allegations against Mr. Regan emerged Friday.