Teens trespassed into South High with Taser, knife, pepper spray in December

Teens trespassed into South High with Taser, knife, pepper spray in December
Queens teenagers trespassed into Great Neck South High School in December, according to district officials and documents obtained by Blank Slate Media. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck School District)

A group of Queens teenagers with a Taser, switchblade-style knife and pepper spray entered Great Neck South High School in December, according to district officials and documents obtained by Blank Slate Media.

The nine teenagers all entered the building Dec. 16, according to an email to the community from South High School Principal Christopher Gitz. Three of the students entered the school in the morning, according to Gitz. It is unclear when the other six entered.

“Approximately nine non-Great Neck teenagers attempted to enter South High School,” the email read. “Most of the trespassers fled the scene and were later caught and detained by Lake Success police officers.”

Gitz, in a Dec. 19 email to the community, said a South High student gave the trespassers access into the school. Gitz met with the student, a junior, on Dec. 19 and asked him to write down his encounters with the trespassers.

The student’s written account of the incident, obtained by Newsday, said the teenagers “said that I shouldn’t tell anybody anything or they would come after me next.” The student, according to a transcript from a Jan. 3 disciplinary hearing, said the trespassers wanted to be directed to the locker room.

While no injuries were reported, Gitz said the trespassers came to “visit” the girlfriend of one of the teenagers and to confront another student, according to the transcript from the disciplinary hearing.

Elmer Rodriguez, the student’s father, said during the hearing that the incident and aftermath had taken a toll on his son.

“He was terrorized,” Rodriguez said. “He still is terrorized. He cannot sleep. This kid needs help.”

Immediate efforts to reach Rodriguez for further comment were unavailing.

During the hearing, the student said he escorted three of the teenagers into the locker room. He said during the hearing he did not notify a teacher because of the violent threats made by the trespassers and did not think teachers would take them seriously.

“I just felt like I didn’t want to put my own safety on the line because they were sitting right next to me,” the student said. “And when they said they have weapons and they were going to use it on me if I told anybody, I didn’t want to say anything. I kept my mouth shut.”

The student said he skipped his Spanish class after the lunch period ended in fear of what the trespassers would do. He also reiterated during the hearing that he did not know the teenagers “were from Flushing to begin with,” according to the transcript. 

“I never knew these kids from Flushing. I never knew their names,” he said.

Rodriguez told Richard Thompson, the hearing officer, “How is it possible that a child who does nothing but comes to school and run[s] into this problem and be punished?”

Thompson said he found the student’s testimony to “be not credible” during the hearing.

Steven Goodstadt, counsel for the school district, said during the hearing that the student’s actions were “simply unacceptable.”

“It’s crazy that we are having this conversation,” Goodstadt said during the hearing. “But at the same point, at the end of the hearing, there will be no other option but to find the student guilty.”

The district ultimately suspended Rodriguez’s son and upheld the suspension in February, according to Newsday.

Gitz said that the student would be subject to arrest if found on school property despite the student’s clean disciplinary record, according to Newsday.

Rodriguez and Augello appealed the suspension and Betty Rosa, the commissioner of the state Education Department intervened in April, allowing the student to return to school, according to Newsday.

Department officials did not comment on Rosa’s decision on the appeal.

Rosa also blocked the district’s attempt to send the student to its alternative high school, according to Newsday.

District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, following Newsday’s account of the incident on Sunday, sent an email to the community touting Great Neck’s commitment to the safety of staff and students.

“At the Board of Education’s direction, the district commenced an investigation,” Prendergast said. “As the district’s investigation of the matter unfolded, additional updates were shared with the school community. Furthermore, the district’s safety protocols and procedures were thoroughly reviewed, and reminders about such practices were shared in a series of communications.”

Prendergast did not comment on the “confidential personnel, student and litigation matters” in the email.

Gitz, in the Dec. 19 email to the community, reminded students and staff of the security protocols they must follow. Those requirements include scanning identification cards to get in and out of the building, entering through the main entrance and not “prop” open any school door during the day.

Visitors, Gitz said in the email, are required to enter through the main entrance and follow the security personnel’s direction.

“The safety of our students and staff remains my top priority,” Gitz said in the email. “Your cooperation and attention to district safety protocols is imperative for the safety of all. I am confident South High will continue to be a safe and secure environment for our students, faculty and staff.”

Gitz said during the hearing that a physical education staff member held three trespassers inside the gym while the other six fled. Gitz said the other trespassers were found by Lake Success police at a neighboring office building.

Village of Lake Success Village Attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto in an email to Blank Slate Media confirmed village police arrested nine minors that day who were all sent to family court. Curto said seven of the minors were charged with trespassing and two were charged with felony burglary and a weapons charge.

State laws prevent minors’ case information from being publicized.

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