BY ROSE WELDON AND SAMUELE PETRUCCELLI
Manhasset School Superintendent Vincent Butera is taking a leave of absence after allegations that he sexually harassed a teacher, the Board of Education has announced.
“The past two weeks have been an incredibly difficult time for the Manhasset school community,” the board said in an emailed statement to the community last Thursday signed by its five members. “Effective today, Dr. Vincent Butera will be on a leave of absence so, that as we close out the school year, the district’s sole focus will be on supporting our students, faculty and staff.”
The news came after an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations made last fall by an unnamed former teacher at Shelter Rock Elementary School, citing frequent classroom visits and two unwelcome hugs from the superintendent.
The investigation by an independent counsel found that since Butera’s actions were perceived as unwelcome by the teacher, they were against district policy. Butera said at a Manhasset Board of Education meeting on May 6 that he was “disheartened” that the complainant had construed his actions as troublesome.
“Despite my intent, the independent counsel did find that my attention was perceived by the complainant as unwelcome, and therefore, a violation of district policy,” Butera said at the meeting. “My actions and behavior have always been intended to mirror the values and high standards that so many of us hold, to convey care and concern. And the thought that even one person perceived that differently brings me profound regret and sadness, and for that I have reflected deeply.”
An exact length of the leave of absence, as well as whether Butera would return to his position in the fall, has not been revealed. Whether the leave was voluntary or mandated by the district and whether it is paid leave has also not been disclosed.
A perceived lack of action and transparency from the school board on the case led to criticism from parents and students alike, with over 200 seniors walking out of class last Friday in protest of Butera still having a job.
Stacy Kelly, whose petition calling for Butera’s termination has over 800 signatures, said in a phone interview that the Board of Education needed to take additional action, calling the leave a “Band-aid” on a much larger wound.
“The board has not actually acted, but they want us to feel as if they’ve acted,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that the investigation and its aftermath was “clearly not on the top of [the board’s] list.”
“Their silence on this issue speaks volumes about what they think the priorities for the district should be,” Kelly said. “Their silence speaks volumes about whether they believe that Manhasset should be a zero tolerance district for sexual harassment.”
She also said that the school board had to be “held to account” for “[getting] it wrong.”
“They blew it,” Kelly said. “Our only way to hold them accountable is by voting them out.”
Blank Slate Media has reached out to the school board for comment regarding Kelly’s statements.
Earlier, Pat Aitken, the school board president, said the board had determined that the matter had to be handled confidentially. “That is not the same as a lack of transparency,” she said.
The board also announced in the statement that Rosemary Johnson, the deputy superintendent for business and operations, would serve as acting superintendent.