New York State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa ordered the Great Neck School District to expunge a Great Neck South High School student’s disciplinary record in a sharply critical ruling released last week.
Rosa called the suspension of the student, 16, in connection with a security breach last December “shocking to the conscience.”
“Nowhere does it suggest that students are responsible for the security of school buildings—and nor should they be,” Rosa said.
The student had been deemed responsible for aiding armed intruders who entered the school in December and faced suspension for the rest of the school year.
Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said in a statement to Blank Slate Media that he had received Rosa’s decision, but could not comment “out of respect for our students’ rights and privacy (guided by FERPA).”
He said he would comply with the “Commissioner’s directive.”
Bossert also said “there have been no administrative changes based on this incident. I remain committed to investigating the matter in its entirety and reviewing with all parties involved. Appropriate outreach has been made to review the matter.”
He added that “any and all security/procedural enhancements that are deemed appropriate have already been implemented or will be for the coming school year.”
The suspended student, whose identity was not released, was in the lunchroom when he spotted two of the nine intruders, all teens from Queens. The student assumed the intruders attended Great Neck South, the hearing decision said.
Then, “according to the student, the non-students indicated that they had weapons and would use them against the student if he told anyone,” the ruling reads. “The student further testified that some of the non-students showed him a video of them assaulting someone. At approximately 1:00 p.m., at the request of the non-students, the student. The two intruders planned to visit the girlfriend of one of the students and “confront” another student, according to the decision.
After the school day ended, the intruders were discovered by the high school administration and surveillance footage showed the student escorting one of the intruders to the locker room.
Two underage individuals faced charges of felony burglary as well as criminal possession of a weapon.
One of them was charged due to the possession of a butterfly knife, while the other faced charges for being in possession of a stun gun. When searched, one had a TASER and pepper spray while a second had a TASER and a butterfly knife.
The student had a meeting with both the principal and assistant principal on Dec. 19. At the principal’s request, the student drafted a written statement detailing his involvement in the incident.
Subsequently, the principal imposed a five-day suspension on the student.
In response to the security breach, the district initiated an internal inquiry, introduced supplementary security protocols, and terminated the services of a contracted security guard within the district.
On Jan. 3, the district organized a hearing for an extended suspension to address the student’s behavior, charging them with engaging in disorderly/disruptive conduct and endangering the safety, morals, health, or welfare of himself or others.
Following the hearing’s conclusion, hearing officer Richard Thompson determined the student’s innocence regarding one charge but declared the student guilty of the second charge.
Thompson recommended a suspension until June 30. This suggestion was later adopted by the superintendent in a decision dated Jan. 6.
In April, after an appeal from the student’s father, Elmer Rodriguez. to the state, the student was placed back in school against the written wishes of the district. The district then sent him to its alternative high school, but Rosa overruled that decision as well.
Rodriguez argued that the hearing officer improperly determined the student’s testimony lacked credibility, according to Rosa’s decision. He said he was also denied the chance to cross-examine witnesses and present his son’s side of the story.
The father also disputed the reliability and adequacy of the evidence presented by the district, a substantial portion of which was based on hearsay or double hearsay, he contended.
For relief, the father sought the removal of the short-term and long-term suspensions from the student’s record.
The Board of Education said the student’s guilt had been proven and the suspension was reasonable based on the misconduct.
Education Law states that “no student may be suspended in excess of five school days unless the student and person in parental relation to the student have an opportunity for a fair hearing, upon reasonable notice, at which the student has the right to be represented by counsel, to question witnesses who testify against the student, and to present witnesses and other evidence on his or her own behalf.”
At the hearing, the student admitted to walking one of the intruders to a room but said, “If I went anywhere, if I told anybody, if I, you know, escaped from them per se, they might have tried to hurt me later on, like, they had said they would. And they told me to bring him to the locker room. I didn’t go on my own will.”
Thompson said during the hearing that the student’s claim was “not believable.”
Rosa wrote in her ruling that Thompson’s findings are “grounded in unsupported assumptions about what a reasonable student should have done rather than the evidence in the record.”
She also wrote at the end of her ruling that the student was under no legal duty to inform an adult of the non-students presence. And that, “his culpability in this incident was minimal. His escorting of a single non-student under threat of violence pales in comparison to respondent’s inability to prevent, or discover, the unauthorized entry of nine non-students into one of its high schools.”