The issues arising from the release of emails that contained questionable language from Board Vice President Terence Hale spilled over into the final Mineola School District public meeting on June 20. Hale will resign from his position on July 2.
Laurain and Steven Jones, parents of a student involved in a food-choking incident in the Jackson Avenue School on Jan. 25, lambasted the board for denying their request for a meeting, according to a petition provided to the Mineola American by trustee Irene Parrino. She filed a petition with the state education commissioner to remove Hale from his seat. That will become moot after next Tuesday, when Hale officially steps down.
Hale, who announced the resignation on June 6, affirmed that he will not withdraw his resignation. Parrino bluntly indicated she would not withdraw her petition because she did not trust his intentions.
“This recent incident will not derail the Board of Ed’s mission. I won’t allow it,” said Hale. “I’m stepping down and that’s why I will not rescind my resignation. I’m done Irene. I’m done.”
Steven Jones, a volunteer EMT in East Williston, started the public comment period. He just wanted an apology. “I offer no words of praise, nor am I here on any witch-hunt,” Steven said. “When you take an oath to be on this board, you’re a held to a high standard.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t find anything funny about my kid almost dying in school.”
Hale called out to Jones as he left the podium, expressing his concern. The two embraced and exchanged words, with the father seeming to accept Hale’s gesture.
“I think it’s atrocious for this to come out and to make such idiotic statements about the possible death of a child,” Jones said.
His wife, Laurain, was not as accepting. She and Linda Ramos, mother of the 9-year-old boy who saved the Jones’ child from choking on food, sent a four-page letter about the incident, after the board responded to their request by asking for more details. The letter gave a blow-by-blow description from the parents’ point of view, raising complaints against a lunch aide who allegedly reprimanded the two children for getting up from their seats when the lights were off (a sign to stay in your seat).
“His lips turned blue, his face was purple,” Laurain said, pounding on the podium. “There was no air. This is not a joke. There were three adults in the room. None of them saw it. A 9-year-old saved his life.”
Lunchroom procedures, and the possible discipline of the aide, were the main focus of the letter. Jones said her son came home from school recently saying lights were off again after the students had food. She feels that if the board had granted her and Ramos a meeting, the issue never would have escalated into the current imbroglio with its negative repercussions for families and the district.
“People that I have known for years have stopped talking to me,” Jones said. “But can’t stop talking about me.”
She concluded: “I can’t believe that as a parent, as a seasoned board member, on any level did you think [those emails were] appropriate? I don’t want to believe it, but you said [those things] and worse than that, you wrote [them].” There was silence. No one wanted to follow her, and the public comment period was closed.
Praise For Hale
At the outset of the meeting, Hale’s fellow board members (save Parrino) commended his service to the district.
“Being a school board trustee is like being on a crazy roller coaster,” trustee Christine Napolitano stated. “You thoroughly enjoy the moments when you see the children in your community enjoying success and know you’ve been a part of making that opportunity happen. But the stress it can cause? Well let’s just say I’ve had a few sleepless nights. Through it all, Terry has been a rock.”
Trustee Artie Barnett likened Hale’s situation to It’s A Wonderful Life. He gave Hale a 1921 edition of Tom Sawyer, a book the film’s main character receives at the end of the picture.
“Had Terry Hale not sat on this board, the Mineola School District may as well have been the Pottersville School District, or even worse ‘Herneola,’” Barnett said, referencing former trustee John McGrath’s argument to merge Mineola with the Herricks School District in 2010. “Terry never sought praise or reward for his service.”
District Superintendent Michael Nagler, offering his first public comments since issues surfaced, thanked outgoing members Hale and Parrino, saying, “I remind people [the board] is a volunteer position. I get paid to be abused, they don’t.”
“It’s upsetting to me the way this year is ending,” Nagler said. “We put a lot of work into putting a positive force in the school district and all of these people contributed to that. I hope the direction of our conversation focuses on those things. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Board President William Hornberger served with Hale for the last five years. The two basically ran on the same ticket in 2010, when five residents vied for two open seats. The duo, dubbed “Hale/Hornberger,” won in a landslide.
“You didn’t become a volunteer to get my accolades,” he said to Hale. “You did it for your passion and love.”
Two For One Seat
According to Hornberger, two residents had inquired about the open seat as of press time. June 25 was the deadline to submit letters of interest.
Board reps corresponded with applicants in emails and Hornberger reiterated his stance on interviewing all candidates. Incoming trustee Patricia Navarra will be allowed to sit in on the interviews, but not have a binding vote, Hornberger said. She beat out Parrino for the open trustee seat in May.
“I haven’t wavered in that opinion,” he said of vetting candidates.
The board will interview candidates at a special meeting on June 27 at 7 p.m. at the Willis Avenue School.