School administrator being investigated for alleged violence against staff member is allowed back to work in district, sparking protests | #schoolsaftey

Assistant Superintendent Lori Koerner, who was reassigned to her home earlier this month following a complaint by a Riverhead Central School District staff member about a physical altercation in the district office, is working on district property again.

The district’s decision to allow her to return to school grounds has sparked multiple complaints by district staff, as well as the president of the district’s civil service employees union.

Koerner has been temporarily assigned to work in an office at the district’s transportation facility on Edwards Avenue, pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident at the district office, which occurred on Sept. 22.

She is barred from the district’s central administration offices at 814 Harrison Avenue, where her regular office is located and where the Sept. 22 incident took place, but is permitted to be present on all other school properties as the investigation continues.

The Board of Education on Oct. 10 appointed a special counsel to investigate the complaint, filed by the district superintendent’s confidential secretary, Rodney Parrish.

Employee complaint filed with police: Koerner ‘charged around her desk, grabbed him on the shoulders with both of her hands… and pushed him backwards

School district officials have declined to discuss specifics of the complaint, but in a report filed by Parrish with Riverhead Police on Oct. 6, he accused Koerner of grabbing him by both shoulders with both hands and pushing him backwards. Parrish said he was standing in the doorway to Koerner’s office on Sept. 22 at about 9:15 a.m. when Koerner “got out of her seat, charged around her desk, then grabbed him on the shoulders with both of her hands, turning him and pushed him backwards,” according to the police report.

Koerner has not returned calls seeking comment.

School district staff began complaining to district officials about Koerner being allowed back on school grounds before the investigation is completed. The Civil Service Employees Association unit president told staff members she has demanded answers about why the district has allowed her to return to work on district property before the investigation is concluded, according to copies of an email thread provided to RiverheadLOCAL.

In a separate email, the district clerk wrote to the Board of Education yesterday on behalf of and at the request of central administration staff members, expressing “utter disbelief” about Koerner’s return.

Employees react: ‘We do not feel safe to have her back’

“The investigation regarding Dr. Koerner physically pushing a subordinate has not yet been completed, and yet she, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, is back in a building working with other employees, making contact with colleagues as if nothing has happened,” District Clerk Lisa Rheaume wrote in the email to school board members.

“Someone with her title should be held accountable for her actions and held to a higher standard. Her actions set a tone to the district in entirety and that is not okay. If someone in her position can get away with putting her hands on a colleague, then what stops other employees and/or students from doing the same thing without any repercussions,” Rheaume wrote.

“We do not feel safe to have her back in the District Office and we are certain that employees in PPS and/or Transportation will not feel safe either,” she said.

Rheaume included comments made by “some of the District Office employees.” They were not attributed to individual staff members. They all expressed outrage both at Koerner’s alleged behavior and at the district allowing her back on school grounds before the investigation is completed and a report delivered to the Board of Education. Some faulted district administrators and the school board for being “hypocritical.”

“As I walk into work the screen on the wall shows that October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness month,” wrote one employee. “In my opinion it seems clear as to your decision which shows no regards to us at the district office and none of you have concerns about trying to prevent bullying here.”

Board of Education President Colin Palmer replied to the group in an email this morning, advising Rheaume and the other signatories of the email that the board “does not and will not comment on any pending investigations and/or related personnel decisions.”

In an interview this afternoon, Palmer confirmed the content of his email, a copy of which was sent to RiverheadLOCAL by a source earlier today.

“Pending the outcome of the investigation, Dr. Koerner will be performing all of her job responsibilities and discharging all of her duties from an alternative work location in the District to ensure that the District’s Human Resources and Elementary Education Departments can continue to operate,” Palmer wrote. “It is expected that staff will be cooperative and professional with Dr. Koerner during this time period.”

Palmer said Interim Superintendent William Galati recommended allowing Koerner to return to school grounds, with the exception of the central offices, and school board members agreed. He said the acting superintendent and board believe her presence is necessary to fulfill the functions and duties of her position.

Galati, the district’s executive director for secondary education, grants and student outcomes, was appointed interim superintendent at special school board meeting Oct. 5.

At the Oct. 5 meeting, the board agreed to a leave of absence through Oct. 23 for Superintendent Augustine Tornatore, following a separate incident allegedly involving a verbal dispute with a faculty member, according to several sources within the district. Tornatore could not be reached for comment. Palmer declined to discuss the incident, citing personnel privacy concerns.

The Board of Education on Oct. 10 appointed a separate special counsel to investigate the incident involving Tornatore.

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