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Great Neck district wrestles with fallout from armed intruders at high school | #schoolsaftey


They sneaked into Great Neck South High School, some armed with a switchblade-style knife, pepper spray and a Taser. The plan was to attack a student at the school, records show.

Three of the nine intruders, all teenagers from Queens, entered the school early the morning of Dec. 16 and went undetected most of the day by security guards, teachers and administrators. It’s unclear when the six others entered the building.

No one got hurt, and the school’s principal told parents in an email that Lake Success Village police arrested the teens following a thwarted confrontation in the boys locker room after school had ended. Months later, though, the Nassau County school, with its round-the-clock security measures and strict visitor requirements, is still grappling with the fallout from the security breach. Parents still haven’t been told the complete story, including that weapons were on school property among the 1,200 students.

The breach raises issues about the effectiveness of the school’s security, how open the district has been with parents, and whether administrators too harshly disciplined a student who said he randomly came into contact with the intruders, a Newsday investigation has found. Newsday pieced together the events of that day through documents obtained from the state Education Department, an attorney, a student’s father, law enforcement and the district.

The first details about the breach went out to the public the day it happened.

An email from Principal Christopher Gitz to the community stated that “approximately 9 non-Great Neck teenagers attempted to enter South High School” at dismissal time. Three days later, on Dec. 19, Gitz emailed parents saying trespassers had entered the school with the help of an unidentified student. He said any students involved would be disciplined, without providing further information.

District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, in a May 23 statement to Newsday made through a public relations agency, said Gitz “informed his school community of the incident with the information that was available at that time.”

The district “shared information [with parents] … to the extent that it was at liberty to do so based upon ongoing investigations being undertaken by both the School District and by law enforcement,” Prendergast said.

Great Neck launched an internal investigation into the breach, implemented additional security measures and removed a contracted security guard from serving the district, Prendergast’s statement said. The superintendent would not agree to an interview with Newsday.

According to records from a South High student disciplinary hearing, one student, a junior, was suspended for the rest of the school year because he escorted three of the intruders into the locker room. The student said he was “scared” and “didn’t know what to do,” and is fighting to clear his name. He since has returned to school while his case is on appeal.

The student, whom Newsday is not identifying because he’s a minor, appeared at the Great Neck school district administration building for the disciplinary hearing on Jan. 3. Three of the intruders were in the library with weapons when that student entered with his lunch around 12:30 p.m., according to disciplinary documents obtained from the state Education Department and the student’s attorney. 

Gitz testified during the student’s disciplinary hearing that an unspecified number of intruders entered the school by 9:30 a.m., were in the library around 12:30 p.m. and that the group grew to nine in the locker room at the end of the school day. He testified the intruders came to “visit” a girlfriend of one of the trespassers and to confront another student.

In a note to parents in December, Gitz wrote that an unidentified student let them inside the school, without saying when that occurred or how. The district declined to say whether that unidentified student — or any other students — have been disciplined.

The student in the Jan. 3 disciplinary hearing was not accused of letting the intruders inside. He testified that he randomly met three of the trespassers at lunch and later walked them to the locker room. Elmer Rodriguez, the student’s father, said his son never should have been in position to come into contact with armed intruders.

Rodriguez said his son had no affiliation with any of the trespassers and is being penalized for the district’s security breakdown.

“People tell me he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s incorrect. The school is the place he’s supposed to be. He was in the right place,” Rodriguez said. “The school is supposed to be safe.”

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa intervened in April and returned Rodriguez’s son to school as she considers his appeal of the school’s punishment.

Prendergast, in a statement, declined to comment regarding “private student matters or any disciplinary action … the district can assure that appropriate action has taken place.”

Gitz’s emails to parents provided limited information about how the trespassers got into the building. He wrote to parents Dec. 19: “The trespassers attempted to threaten another South High student and were stopped by our security staff and our physical education staff. The trespassers ran off when confronted. At that time, the Lake Success Police Department was called for assistance.”

The district gave a more detailed version of the breach at Rodriguez’s son’s disciplinary hearing two weeks later, records show.

Steven Goodstadt, an attorney for the district, said: “About nine nonstudents from, most probably I think, from Queens, were spending the day in Great Neck South High School with the intention of harming another student that attends Great Neck South High.”

Referring to the incident as “incredibly serious,” Goodstadt said, “these kids had weapons, these kids were on school ground.”

Lake Success Police Chief Joseph Gardella, in an interview, said officers responded to a call at the high school at 2:55 p.m. that day. He declined to comment further.

In Gitz’s Dec. 19 email, he said police charged two of the intruders with felony burglary and issued trespassing summonses to the other seven. Felony burglary is defined as when a person “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime.”

Lake Success Village attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto confirmed in a June 1 email that village police arrested nine minors that day. She said the two charged with felony burglary also faced weapons charges — one for possessing a “butterfly knife” and the other for possessing a stun gun.

Gitz said at the student’s disciplinary hearing that a physical education staffer held three of the trespassers inside in the gym while the others fled. Lake Success police found the other intruders at a neighboring office building, he said. 

Gitz testified that police found a Taser and pepper spray on one of the intruders held inside the building, and a “butterfly knife” and another Taser from one of the teenagers caught off school grounds. 

In a May 25 email to Newsday, Great Neck school board president Rebecca Sassouni said: “At the time that the incident occurred, the Board of Education directed an immediate investigation and the implementation of actions and procedures to secure the safety of students, staff and buildings.”

Sassouni declined to say what the investigation found.

Prendergast said in her statement that “it was determined by the District on that day and the days that followed that the buildings were secure and the safety of students and staff not in jeopardy.”

Great Neck South, one of two high schools in one of Long Island’s top-achieving districts, is surrounded by a perimeter fence and equipped with round-the-clock security and closed-circuit surveillance cameras.

Students tap in and out with identification badges that they must display at all times. Visitors are buzzed into the building through a hardened security vestibule after being interviewed by a security guard.

The district declined to specify how many security guards are posted at Great Neck South.

Dale Yeager, chief executive of Pennsylvania-based SERAPH Inc., which provides security consulting for schools and advised the White House after the Columbine, Colorado, shooting, said roving patrols of security guards both outside and inside the building should have caught the intruders.

“This should have never happened,” he said, adding: “Frankly, this is an outrage because this is a very rare occurrence in most school systems.”

U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks Great Neck South as one of the nation’s best high schools. Last year, it was ranked second on the Island, behind Jericho High School, and in the top 200 nationally.

For Rodriguez’s son, Dec. 16 began like a typical Friday. Around 12:30 p.m., he entered the library with his lunch and sat at the same table he does every day, always next to the teen with whom he shares an earlier math class, he said.

Rodriguez’s son testified that other people at the table got his attention, told him they had weapons and threatened violence if he said anything about what they were discussing. He said they showed him a video on a phone of them beating someone.

Describing himself as “absolutely terrified,” the student determined his best option was to sit in silence as they discussed their plans to harm a student. When his lunch period ended, the student didn’t get up to go to his Spanish class.

“Because 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 said they would,” Rodriguez’s son said at the disciplinary hearing.

The student testified that the trespassers were looking for someone to show them to the locker room, and another student pointed to him because he’s on an athletic team. He said he didn’t tell a teacher because he was worried the trespassers would find out and come after him, and he didn’t think teachers would take him seriously. He walked them to the east gym boys locker room.

On Dec. 19, the first school day after the breach, records show Gitz summoned the student to his office, interviewed him about his interactions with the intruders and instructed him to write down his version of events and sign it.

The student wrote, “I went to hang out with … in the library and these kids from Flushing and they were talking about the whole situation and had weapons and said that I shouldn’t tell anybody anything or they would come after me next … .”

He also wrote, “Originally when I went to hang out with them I didn’t recognize the kids and only went to hang out with … like I usually do.”

The district then suspended the student, pending a disciplinary hearing Jan. 3.

In a letter to the student’s father, Gitz wrote that his son’s “continued presence in school poses a continuing danger and/or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic process.” If the student is found on school property, he would be subject to arrest.

The district accused the student of violating the school’s Code of Conduct because he “endangered” the safety of its students and staff by walking an armed intruder to a gym locker room.

Rodriguez figured it was a misunderstanding. He said he expected the district to return his son to school once he explained that his son randomly had met the intruders, was threatened and acted under duress.

A Dec. 22 letter said they could bring an attorney to the hearing; the student and his father did not. 

At the Jan. 3 hearing, Gitz testified that surveillance video showed the student walking intruders to the locker room and that the student admitted to Gitz he did so. Gitz said the student explained that they had weapons and “he was afraid that they would hurt him.”

The student’s statement was introduced as evidence, according to the transcript.

The hearing officer, Richard Thompson, asked the student to read the statement, and then Thompson said: “That sounds like you went to hang out with the kids from Flushing.”

The student responded, “My intent wasn’t to hang out with these kids from Flushing. Because I didn’t know they were from Flushing to begin with … I never knew these kids from Flushing, I never knew their names. I only realized and understand the information as it transpired down by the library. My intent was to hang out with … like I do every single day.”

The student also testified he told other students about the trespassers and that they didn’t take him seriously.

Thompson concluded that the student’s testimony was “not credible” and “his claim that he only cooperated with the non-student trespassers because he was afraid that they might hurt him is not believable.” 

Thompson added that the student admitted escorting the trespassers and admitted “hanging out” with them for more than two periods.

“It is hard to imagine any student in actual danger would not seek a teacher’s help solely because he doesn’t trust teachers and never speaks to them,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson, reached by phone, declined to comment.

Rodriguez said his son is telling the truth.

“There are many things I will do for him. I will not lie for him,” Rodriguez said in an interview. At the hearing, he asked officials to consider the safety and mental well-being of his son, who he said desperately missed being in school and playing athletics.

“How is it possible that a child who does nothing but comes to school and run[s] into this problem and be punished?” the father told the hearing officer. “Please, God, have mercy.”

Based on Thompson’s ruling, the district suspended the student and banned him from district property for the final six months of the school year, despite the student’s clean disciplinary record.

“This is a very serious matter that warrants a significant penalty,” Thompson wrote.

After the school board upheld the suspension in February, Rodriguez appealed to the state, and with help from Manhattan-based attorney Cynthia Augello, Rosa intervened. She returned the student to school in April — against the written wishes of the district — while considering an appeal. The district initially sent him to its alternative high school, but Rosa overruled that, too.

Prendergast’s statement to Newsday read: “Since this is a student matter and the appeal is currently pending before the Commissioner of Education, the District is unable to comment further.” 

Rosa’s ruling on the appeal of the suspension could come at any time.

One expert who reviewed the documents questioned the penalty.

“What was accomplished by keeping this child out of school for an entire semester? He wasn’t a security threat,” said David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. “It seems to me a demonstration of how serious the district was about school safety, but they did it on the back of this student.”

After school ended on the day of the security breach, Rodriguez’s son was in the locker room with other athletes when the confrontation almost took place, he said in an interview. The group huddled around the student they came to confront, and a fight nearly broke out. Then an athletic department staffer entered the room, stopped the attack before it became physical and the trespassers ran to the exit, he said.

The student learned in the weeks after the breach that the trespassers came to the school to seek revenge on another student who allegedly had bullied a female student over social media, Augello said.

Tsoukalas Curto said the nine minors’ cases were sent to Nassau Family Court. It is not known how the intruders’ cases have played out in court because state law shields minors’ records from the public.

The Nassau County Attorney’s office, which acts as the prosecutor in family court proceedings, did not return calls seeking comment.

They sneaked into Great Neck South High School, some armed with a switchblade-style knife, pepper spray and a Taser. The plan was to attack a student at the school, records show.

Three of the nine intruders, all teenagers from Queens, entered the school early the morning of Dec. 16 and went undetected most of the day by security guards, teachers and administrators. It’s unclear when the six others entered the building.

No one got hurt, and the school’s principal told parents in an email that Lake Success Village police arrested the teens following a thwarted confrontation in the boys locker room after school had ended. Months later, though, the Nassau County school, with its round-the-clock security measures and strict visitor requirements, is still grappling with the fallout from the security breach. Parents still haven’t been told the complete story, including that weapons were on school property among the 1,200 students.

The breach raises issues about the effectiveness of the school’s security, how open the district has been with parents, and whether administrators too harshly disciplined a student who said he randomly came into contact with the intruders, a Newsday investigation has found. Newsday pieced together the events of that day through documents obtained from the state Education Department, an attorney, a student’s father, law enforcement and the district.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Nine teenagers armed with a switchblade-style knife, pepper spray and a Taser sneaked into Great Neck South High School in mid-December planning to attack a student.
  • Three of the intruders went undetected during the school day by the security officers, teachers and administrators. School officials and police would not say when the other six entered the building.
  • Great Neck school district Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said the district launched an internal investigation afterward, implemented additional security measures and removed a contracted security guard from providing services for the district.

The first details about the breach went out to the public the day it happened.

An email from Principal Christopher Gitz to the community stated that “approximately 9 non-Great Neck teenagers attempted to enter South High School” at dismissal time. Three days later, on Dec. 19, Gitz emailed parents saying trespassers had entered the school with the help of an unidentified student. He said any students involved would be disciplined, without providing further information.

District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, in a May 23 statement to Newsday made through a public relations agency, said Gitz “informed his school community of the incident with the information that was available at that time.”

“At dismissal time this afternoon, approximately 9 non-Great Neck teenagers attempted to enter South High School.”Source: Dec. 16 email from Principal Christopher Gitz to the community

The district “shared information [with parents] … to the extent that it was at liberty to do so based upon ongoing investigations being undertaken by both the School District and by law enforcement,” Prendergast said.

Great Neck launched an internal investigation into the breach, implemented additional security measures and removed a contracted security guard from serving the district, Prendergast’s statement said. The superintendent would not agree to an interview with Newsday.

According to records from a South High student disciplinary hearing, one student, a junior, was suspended for the rest of the school year because he escorted three of the intruders into the locker room. The student said he was “scared” and “didn’t know what to do,” and is fighting to clear his name. He since has returned to school while his case is on appeal.

“A South High School student was responsible for allowing non-South High students (trespassers) to gain access to South High.”Source: Dec. 19 email from Principal Christopher Gitz to the community

The student, whom Newsday is not identifying because he’s a minor, appeared at the Great Neck school district administration building for the disciplinary hearing on Jan. 3. Three of the intruders were in the library with weapons when that student entered with his lunch around 12:30 p.m., according to disciplinary documents obtained from the state Education Department and the student’s attorney. 

Gitz testified during the student’s disciplinary hearing that an unspecified number of intruders entered the school by 9:30 a.m., were in the library around 12:30 p.m. and that the group grew to nine in the locker room at the end of the school day. He testified the intruders came to “visit” a girlfriend of one of the trespassers and to confront another student.

In a note to parents in December, Gitz wrote that an unidentified student let them inside the school, without saying when that occurred or how. The district declined to say whether that unidentified student — or any other students — have been disciplined.

The student in the Jan. 3 disciplinary hearing was not accused of letting the intruders inside. He testified that he randomly met three of the trespassers at lunch and later walked them to the locker room. Elmer Rodriguez, the student’s father, said his son never should have been in position to come into contact with armed intruders.

Elmer Rodriguez is fighting back against the Great Neck school...

Elmer Rodriguez is fighting back against the Great Neck school district, which suspended his son. His son is back in school pending an appeal.
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Rodriguez said his son had no affiliation with any of the trespassers and is being penalized for the district’s security breakdown.

“People tell me he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s incorrect. The school is the place he’s supposed to be. He was in the right place,” Rodriguez said. “The school is supposed to be safe.”

People tell me he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s incorrect. The school is the place he’s supposed to be.

— Elmer Rodriguez, father of student who was suspended

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa intervened in April and returned Rodriguez’s son to school as she considers his appeal of the school’s punishment.

Prendergast, in a statement, declined to comment regarding “private student matters or any disciplinary action … the district can assure that appropriate action has taken place.”

‘Incredibly serious’ incident

Gitz’s emails to parents provided limited information about how the trespassers got into the building. He wrote to parents Dec. 19: “The trespassers attempted to threaten another South High student and were stopped by our security staff and our physical education staff. The trespassers ran off when confronted. At that time, the Lake Success Police Department was called for assistance.”

The district gave a more detailed version of the breach at Rodriguez’s son’s disciplinary hearing two weeks later, records show.

Steven Goodstadt, an attorney for the district, said: “About nine nonstudents from, most probably I think, from Queens, were spending the day in Great Neck South High School with the intention of harming another student that attends Great Neck South High.”

Referring to the incident as “incredibly serious,” Goodstadt said, “these kids had weapons, these kids were on school ground.”

Lake Success Police Chief Joseph Gardella, in an interview, said officers responded to a call at the high school at 2:55 p.m. that day. He declined to comment further.

In Gitz’s Dec. 19 email, he said police charged two of the intruders with felony burglary and issued trespassing summonses to the other seven. Felony burglary is defined as when a person “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime.”

Great Neck South High School Principal Christopher Gitz.

Great Neck South High School Principal Christopher Gitz.
Credit: Barry Sloan

Lake Success Village attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto confirmed in a June 1 email that village police arrested nine minors that day. She said the two charged with felony burglary also faced weapons charges — one for possessing a “butterfly knife” and the other for possessing a stun gun.

Gitz said at the student’s disciplinary hearing that a physical education staffer held three of the trespassers inside in the gym while the others fled. Lake Success police found the other intruders at a neighboring office building, he said. 

Gitz testified that police found a Taser and pepper spray on one of the intruders held inside the building, and a “butterfly knife” and another Taser from one of the teenagers caught off school grounds. 

In a May 25 email to Newsday, Great Neck school board president Rebecca Sassouni said: “At the time that the incident occurred, the Board of Education directed an immediate investigation and the implementation of actions and procedures to secure the safety of students, staff and buildings.”

Sassouni declined to say what the investigation found.

Prendergast said in her statement that “it was determined by the District on that day and the days that followed that the buildings were secure and the safety of students and staff not in jeopardy.”

Teresa Prendergast, Superintendent of Great Neck Schools.

Teresa Prendergast, Superintendent of Great Neck Schools.
Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

Great Neck South, one of two high schools in one of Long Island’s top-achieving districts, is surrounded by a perimeter fence and equipped with round-the-clock security and closed-circuit surveillance cameras.

Students tap in and out with identification badges that they must display at all times. Visitors are buzzed into the building through a hardened security vestibule after being interviewed by a security guard.

The district declined to specify how many security guards are posted at Great Neck South.

Dale Yeager, chief executive of Pennsylvania-based SERAPH Inc., which provides security consulting for schools and advised the White House after the Columbine, Colorado, shooting, said roving patrols of security guards both outside and inside the building should have caught the intruders.

“This should have never happened,” he said, adding: “Frankly, this is an outrage because this is a very rare occurrence in most school systems.”

U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks Great Neck South as one of the nation’s best high schools. Last year, it was ranked second on the Island, behind Jericho High School, and in the top 200 nationally.

Timeline

Nine intruders, all teenagers from Queens, entered Great Neck South High School on Dec. 16. Here’s how the day unfolded:

7:59 a.m.

School day begins.

9:30 a.m.

At least three intruders are inside Great Neck South.

12:30 p.m.

The three intruders are in the library when a junior said he sat down with his lunch. Lunch lasts about 38 minutes. The student skips his next class and stays in the library, later saying he was scared the intruders would hurt him. Between eighth and ninth periods, the student said he escorted the three down a hallway to the locker room.

2:33 p.m.

School day ends and six other trespassers gather to confront a student in the locker room. It’s not known when the other six trespassers entered the school.

2:55 p.m.

Lake Success police respond to a call to the school. School staff hold three trespassers in the east gym. Police catch six others at a nearby office building. Police recover a Taser, pepper spray and a switchblade-style knife from the intruders.

3:30 – 4 p.m.

Some of the trespassers give a name of a South High student to authorities. School officials run back video surveillance to track that student and the path of the first three intruders.

6 p.m.

Principal Christopher Gitz sends email to parents saying that “at dismissal time this afternoon, approximately 9 non-Great Neck teenagers attempted to enter South High School … Police confirmed that the trespassing teens are high school students from Queens. An investigation is underway to determine their purpose for being on South High School grounds.”

Sources: Records from the Great Neck school district, transcript of a disciplinary hearing, Lake Success police

Student: ‘Absolutely terrified’

For Rodriguez’s son, Dec. 16 began like a typical Friday. Around 12:30 p.m., he entered the library with his lunch and sat at the same table he does every day, always next to the teen with whom he shares an earlier math class, he said.

Rodriguez’s son testified that other people at the table got his attention, told him they had weapons and threatened violence if he said anything about what they were discussing. He said they showed him a video on a phone of them beating someone.

Describing himself as “absolutely terrified,” the student determined his best option was to sit in silence as they discussed their plans to harm a student. When his lunch period ended, the student didn’t get up to go to his Spanish class.

“Because 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 said they would,” Rodriguez’s son said at the disciplinary hearing.

“Because 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 said they would.”Source: Transcript of Jan. 3 student discipline hearing

The student testified that the trespassers were looking for someone to show them to the locker room, and another student pointed to him because he’s on an athletic team. He said he didn’t tell a teacher because he was worried the trespassers would find out and come after him, and he didn’t think teachers would take him seriously. He walked them to the east gym boys locker room.

On Dec. 19, the first school day after the breach, records show Gitz summoned the student to his office, interviewed him about his interactions with the intruders and instructed him to write down his version of events and sign it.

Source: Dec. 19 note written by student who encountered the intruders

The student wrote, “I went to hang out with … in the library and these kids from Flushing and they were talking about the whole situation and had weapons and said that I shouldn’t tell anybody anything or they would come after me next … .”

He also wrote, “Originally when I went to hang out with them I didn’t recognize the kids and only went to hang out with … like I usually do.”

The district then suspended the student, pending a disciplinary hearing Jan. 3.

In a letter to the student’s father, Gitz wrote that his son’s “continued presence in school poses a continuing danger and/or an ongoing threat of disruption to the academic process.” If the student is found on school property, he would be subject to arrest.

The district accused the student of violating the school’s Code of Conduct because he “endangered” the safety of its students and staff by walking an armed intruder to a gym locker room.

Rodriguez figured it was a misunderstanding. He said he expected the district to return his son to school once he explained that his son randomly had met the intruders, was threatened and acted under duress.

A Dec. 22 letter said they could bring an attorney to the hearing; the student and his father did not. 

At the Jan. 3 hearing, Gitz testified that surveillance video showed the student walking intruders to the locker room and that the student admitted to Gitz he did so. Gitz said the student explained that they had weapons and “he was afraid that they would hurt him.”

The student’s statement was introduced as evidence, according to the transcript.

The hearing officer, Richard Thompson, asked the student to read the statement, and then Thompson said: “That sounds like you went to hang out with the kids from Flushing.”

The student responded, “My intent wasn’t to hang out with these kids from Flushing. Because I didn’t know they were from Flushing to begin with … I never knew these kids from Flushing, I never knew their names. I only realized and understand the information as it transpired down by the library. My intent was to hang out with … like I do every single day.”

The student also testified he told other students about the trespassers and that they didn’t take him seriously.

Thompson concluded that the student’s testimony was “not credible” and “his claim that he only cooperated with the non-student trespassers because he was afraid that they might hurt him is not believable.” 

Thompson added that the student admitted escorting the trespassers and admitted “hanging out” with them for more than two periods.

“It is hard to imagine any student in actual danger would not seek a teacher’s help solely because he doesn’t trust teachers and never speaks to them,” Thompson wrote.

It is hard to imagine any student in actual danger would not seek a teacher’s help solely because he doesn’t trust teachers and never speaks to them.

— Richard Thompson, hearing officer, in a written report

Thompson, reached by phone, declined to comment.

Rodriguez said his son is telling the truth.

“There are many things I will do for him. I will not lie for him,” Rodriguez said in an interview. At the hearing, he asked officials to consider the safety and mental well-being of his son, who he said desperately missed being in school and playing athletics.

There are many things I will do for him. I will not lie for him.

— Elmer Rodriguez, father of student who was suspended

“How is it possible that a child who does nothing but comes to school and run[s] into this problem and be punished?” the father told the hearing officer. “Please, God, have mercy.”

Based on Thompson’s ruling, the district suspended the student and banned him from district property for the final six months of the school year, despite the student’s clean disciplinary record.

“This is a very serious matter that warrants a significant penalty,” Thompson wrote.

After the school board upheld the suspension in February, Rodriguez appealed to the state, and with help from Manhattan-based attorney Cynthia Augello, Rosa intervened. She returned the student to school in April — against the written wishes of the district — while considering an appeal. The district initially sent him to its alternative high school, but Rosa overruled that, too.

Prendergast’s statement to Newsday read: “Since this is a student matter and the appeal is currently pending before the Commissioner of Education, the District is unable to comment further.” 

Rosa’s ruling on the appeal of the suspension could come at any time.

One expert who reviewed the documents questioned the penalty.

“What was accomplished by keeping this child out of school for an entire semester? He wasn’t a security threat,” said David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. “It seems to me a demonstration of how serious the district was about school safety, but they did it on the back of this student.”

What was accomplished by keeping this child out of school for an entire semester?

— David Bloomfield, education law professor

Intruders’ fate unknown

After school ended on the day of the security breach, Rodriguez’s son was in the locker room with other athletes when the confrontation almost took place, he said in an interview. The group huddled around the student they came to confront, and a fight nearly broke out. Then an athletic department staffer entered the room, stopped the attack before it became physical and the trespassers ran to the exit, he said.

The student learned in the weeks after the breach that the trespassers came to the school to seek revenge on another student who allegedly had bullied a female student over social media, Augello said.

Tsoukalas Curto said the nine minors’ cases were sent to Nassau Family Court. It is not known how the intruders’ cases have played out in court because state law shields minors’ records from the public.

The Nassau County Attorney’s office, which acts as the prosecutor in family court proceedings, did not return calls seeking comment.

SCHOOL SECURITY

In the years since the Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde mass shootings, Long Island school districts have spent tens of millions securing buildings and strengthening safety plans. Many focused on visitor management technologies, surveillance cameras, hardened vestibules and hiring additional security. The Great Neck school district’s safety plan posted online before this school year shows:

  • High school students and staffers are required to display their ID badges and tap in and out when accessing the building.
  • State-certified security guards are employed on campus around the clock, using video surveillance via closed-circuit cameras to watch the premises.
  • A security audit of all school buildings was conducted by the Nassau County Police Department and a private security consulting firm.
  • Visitors must enter each building one at a time through a closed vestibule to be interviewed by a security guard before gaining entrance to the school.



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