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Former Riverhead principal requests hearing after district files disciplinary charges

The Riverhead Central School District announced Tuesday through its attorney that reassigned high school principal Charles Regan will seek a hearing following the district’s decision to file disciplinary charges against him.

Michael Raniere of Igerman Smith, LLP said the district filed disciplinary charges earlier this month in accordance with Section 3020a of the State Education Law.

While a hearing date has not been determined, Mr. Raniere said, the district has received a list of potential hearing officers and is “working with [Mr. Regan’s] counsel to agree upon a hearing officer.” Once a hearing officer is appointed, a date will be set, he said.

Mr. Regan was reassigned to home April 30 following an accusation of alleged “sexual misconduct” leveled by 18-year-old Riverhead High School senior Anastasia Stapon. Ms. Stapon, who discussed the matter publicly last month, is suing Mr. Regan and the school district for at least $10 million.

Charges were filed by the district against Mr. Regan June 11. The timeline for filing formal charges has not changed, Mr. Raniere said, and all testimony and evidence should be presented and received no later than 120 days from that date. If procedures are completed, a resolution can be expected in October, in accordance with Section 3020a of the State Education Law. However, that date can be postponed.

Riverhead resident Loni Lewis, who has a son in the school district, pointed out that the principal will continue to be paid during his reassignment. She asked where that additional money goes following the resolution of the charges.

“Does he pay that money back, or does he get to keep it?” she asked.

“Generally speaking, in these situations, an employee is not required to repay salary paid during that period of time,” Mr. Raniere replied. If there’s an alternative option to recover the money, the district will explore that, he added.

Some community members expressed frustration about why charges against Mr. Regan weren’t pressed sooner.

Yolanda Thompson of Baiting Hollow, whose daughter attends the high school, asked why the board chose to pursue a traditional 3020a hearing and not an expedited due process.

“Education law does not specify that there need to be criminal charges filed by police,” she said. “He could have been suspended without pay.”

Later, Mr. Raniere agreed: “The law does provide an expedited due process … in certain cases, which could allow a school district to withhold pay during that time.”

“So, why wasn’t that avenue taken?” asked Dhonna Goodale of Flanders.

Mr. Raniere said the law is open to interpretation. As an attorney, he’s limited as to what the information he can disclose. He added that it’s not his responsibility, or the responsibility of the district, to decide if Mr. Regan is charged with a crime; that’s directed to the police department.

Earlier this month, the district approved a contract with the law firm Sokoloff Stern LLP of Carle Place to investigate the claim brought forth by Ms. Stapon. The firm will be paid at the rate of $225 per hour, according to a previous report, under the open-ended contract, which took effect June 12.

Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez spoke about measures the district will take to move forward on making sure an alleged incident like this does not happen again. One key method, she said, is properly vetting candidates before they begin working in the district.

“We have been looking at our practices here in terms of ensuring that people are property vetted,” she said. “[Background checks] are absolutely happening now and have been happening. I can’t speak to what happened before I was here.”

The school board has also discussed office security, she said. The district hopes to install windows in all office doors as a preventive action and make sure they’re not covered.

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