Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 19 June 2013 00:00
If Terence Hale thought he could save the Mineola School District or himself from trouble and expense, he was sorely mistaken.
Irene Parrino isn’t going anywhere.
A month ago, Parrino—an attorney who has served as a trustee alongside Vice President Hale since 2010 but was unseated in the most recent election—filed a petition with the state Department of Education demanding Hale’s removal. That entails a hearing process in Albany that would chew up district resources.
At a June 5 meeting, Hale announced he would resign on July 2, in the hopes that his resignation would render the petition moot and that Parrino would withdraw it to spare the district.
"She got what she petitioned for,” Hale says. “I resigned.”
Parrino, suspecting a feint, has refused to withdraw. “I want to make sure he doesn’t ‘unresign’,” she says. “He’s still on the board until July 2.”
At issue are a series of emails among the board members that Parrino alleges contain “inappropriate” comments by Hale. Most of the correspondence stemmed from two parents who asked to meet with the board after a Jan. 25 incident in which 9-year-old Steven Jones nearly choked in the lunchroom during a disciplinary ‘lockdown’ of sorts, and was saved by a bold and quick-thinking classmate Nicholas Ramos. In addition to raising questions about lunchroom management and procedures, the parents turned their ire on an aide they say reprimanded the boys. Parrino’s petition focuses on the emails among board members as they discussed the issue—before declining to meet with the parents.
But the actual contents of the emails have been only obliquely described, leaving Mineola residents to wonder. Was the board indulging in vulgar language? Racial slurs? Derision of children or teachers or parents? Threats of violence?
Parrino supplied the Mineola American with a copy of the petition, which includes more than a dozen emails from various board members to each other as well as to and from parents—although none from Parrino herself. It represents only a small sample of the board’s total correspondence.
Even so, the tone is often flippant or sarcastic. One comment suggests sending the families complaining about the lunchroom incident a veggie platter, with “everything diced or julienned” but “no carrots. turnips ok?” There is sophomoric humor, such as calling the Heimlich the “hiney lick maneuver.”
Some comments are baldly insulting. Hale criticizes Mineola Teachers Association President Teresa Perrotta-Hafner as a “spineless, yellow-bellied leader” and “a disgrace to Mineola.” Then again, that sort of flak often comes with that job.
Perrotta-Hafner did not return calls for comment.
There is also, clearly, irritation from Hale and other trustees with respect to Parrino’s contribution. In several missives, board members specifically solicit her input, albeit not always in a friendly manner. There are digs suggesting she missed some meetings.
“A lot of what you’re reading in these emails is my frustration with [Parrino’s] inability to be a team player,” Hale tells the Mineola American. “She just about never gave her opinion on any discussion we had.”
Hale says he does not excuse his language, but “I thought it was a private and confidential discussion between five adults.”
Trustee Artie Barnett believes that in sharing the petition with the press Parrino may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), since the emails involved underage children. According to a representative from the state education office, if a petition does not reveal children’s names, releasing it does not violate FERPA. He would not comment specifically on Mineola’s case.
“I have questions about how all of this is being handled,” Barnett said. Some see Parrino as a litigious meddler, using this legal action to take one final dig at the board before she’s forced out. She served on the board of the Albertson Water District until 2009, subsequently suing over benefits denied to her after a state audit in 2010. She is reportedly preparing to sue another district worker over comments made at a board meeting.
At a special meeting last week, the board voted, at the recommendation of its in-house attorney, to retain special counsel because in-house counsel can be conflicted in a dispute between trustees. It’s costing the district $200 per hour.
“We’ve been advised by legal counsel that we need to [retain counsel], unless the [petition] is withdrawn,” said President William Hornberger.
Attorney Warren Richmond of Uniondale-based Harris Beach PLLC will represent Mineola in this case. He believes Hale’s resignation obviates the petition.
“It is my understanding that [Hale] has resigned and as a result, I think the petition is moot, but the state, it’s up to them how long it’s going to take honestly,” Richmond said.
Parrino maintains that she is simply demanding appropriate accountability from public servants. Her petition indicates that she expressed concerns in May, but her fellow trustees chose not to act.
“I think we’re entitled to our opinion and obviously we don’t agree,” she told her colleagues at the June 11 meeting. “You could’ve done something prior to this. [It] didn’t have to go to the next level if you would’ve taken my complaints and done something with them.”
Hale is rueful that these issues may become a distraction for the district and overshadow meaningful accomplishments. “Remember, we are here for all the students in Mineola. It’s about them. Not us or me,” he says. “I hope that my legacy is not for poor language, but for what I have done and where Mineola is going.”
The district is accepting letters of interest in Hale’s seat until June 25. Board members will interview candidates until July 2, when they’ll appoint someone to the vacant seat.
“As long we do it as quickly as possible, with [Patricia] Navarra coming in, I’d like to bring people up to speed,” said Trustee Christine Napolitano. “I’m not expecting people to storm the door for the position.”