Butera defends behavior as Manhasset super ‘completely professional’

Butera defends behavior as Manhasset super ‘completely professional’
Former Manhasset Superintendent Vincent Butera reflected on his time as the head of schools in a letter to Blank Slate Media. (Photo courtesy of the Island 360 Archives)

Former Manhasset Superintendent Vincent Butera in a letter to the community said he was not aware interactions he called part of his daily responsibilities were perceived “as anything less than completely professional.” 

Butera wrote to Blank Slate Media an op-ed giving his perspective on the complaint involving sexual harassment and subsequent investigation two years ago that ended in his resignation from the district.

“It has always been my intent to demonstrate care and kindness in my personal and professional interactions,” Butera said. “Those who know me know that had I been made aware, I would have responded immediately and appropriately.”

In September 2020, a Shelter Rock Elementary School teacher filed a complaint alleging that Butera made her feel uncomfortable after hugging her twice in school and frequently visiting her classroom to “just stand in the back and stare,” according to NBC News. Both incidents were described as “creepy.” Following Butera’s voluntary leave, the school district appointed Gaurav Passi to serve as interim superintendent in August, a position he remains in.

After that filing, the district hired the law office of Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert to investigate the allegations, according to reports. Two months later, the firm found that since Butera’s actions were perceived as unwelcome by the teacher, they were against district policy.

Blank Slate Media tried to obtain a document outlining the law firm’s findings through a public-records request in May, but Rosemary Johnson, deputy superintendent for business and operations, declined to release it, citing the district’s attorney-client privilege and saying the record’s disclosure would “result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Johnson issued an impassioned defense of Butera at a school board meeting last year. She called Butera an educational visionary with an unblemished career, arguing that a personnel change had led to Butera’s sexual harassment scandal.

The Manhasset Board of Education unanimously approved a separation agreement with Butera during a special meeting in February. At the time, Butera was on paid administrative leave since May 2021 and will remain so until his resignation from the district becomes effective on July 11, according to the agreement. Butera will also receive the full remainder of his annual pay, $286,844, until his contract expires on June 30, 2023, according to the agreement.

Acting Superintendent Gaurav Passi, who was appointed to fill in for Butera during the investigation, was appointed to become the district’s full-time superintendent after the board reached the separation agreement with Butera.

In a letter to the community, Butera said it is surreal to have his reputation “subjected to this degree of calumny.” Butera said he was also thankful for the Manhasset community that supported him. 

“The past several years have shown each of us that every so often the universe sends us a message that life is sometimes hard and unfair, yet the only thing we control is how we respond and what we learn from these moments,” Butera said. “While there are many challenges that lie ahead, may our willingness to engage in a dialogue of understanding and care make this a time of resilience, healing, and personal growth for all.”

Officials from the Manhasset School District and Board of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Board of Education President Pat Aitken previously acknowledged the “heated reaction in the school community” as a result of the investigation but said some of the claims against Butera by those urging that he be removed from his position were “uninformed.”

Aitken said Butera helped navigate the district through the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritized the mental health and well-being of students, staff and families during his four-year tenure as superintendent.

“With the passage of time, both Dr. Butera and the district have mutually agreed that it is now best to put this chapter behind us,” Aitken previously said. This understandably has been a difficult time for the Manhasset school community, Dr. Butera, and everyone involved in this matter. We remain hopeful this resolution will enable all to move forward.”

Butera, in an earlier statement through spokesperson Jamie Moss of newsPros, said he appreciated the board’s “comprehensive understanding of the complexity of the situation” and that the decision to not enforce any disciplinary actions was the correct one.

“I am pleased that as a result of what the board learned during the investigation process, it made necessary and recommended revisions to the district’s harassment policy for the benefit of all,” Butera said.

District officials did not say what the specific changes to the harassment policy were.

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