A 16-year-old was suspended from Great Neck South High School after nine intruders entered in December. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.    Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa-Loarca

New York’s State education commissioner ordered the Great Neck School District to expunge the disciplinary record of a student accused of aiding armed intruders, calling the teenager's months-long suspension “shocking to the conscience.”

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s seven-page ruling, issued last week, also said the student's "escorting of a single non-student under threat of violence pales in comparison to [the school district’s] inability to prevent, or discover, the unauthorized entry of nine non-students into one of its high schools."

The Great Neck South High School student’s father, Elmer Rodriguez, said Monday that he’s happy the commissioner cleared his son’s name, but angry about the school experience his son missed.

Newsday is not naming the student because he is a minor.

“There are moments that happened in the school that he should have been there for with his peers, and he wasn’t there,” Rodriguez said. “Those moments are not coming back.”

Newsday reported in June that nine intruders carrying a switchblade-style knife, pepper spray and a Taser sneaked into Great Neck South High School in December intending to attack a student. No one was injured.

Great Neck school officials suspended Rodriguez's son, 16, for the remainder of the school year for walking an intruder down a hallway. He said he did not know the non-students, acted out of fear and escorted them under a threat of violence.

The student said Monday that he feels vindicated.

“I can’t forget everything that’s happened," he said. "I am very happy with the outcome … and I am so happy that I got the decision that I wanted, but I still have to remember every single day and hour I spent when I was suspended.”  

In a statement issued Monday, Great Neck superintendent Kenneth Bossert declined to comment specifically on the state’s ruling, citing student privacy laws. Bossert, appointed to the district’s top position in June, said the district will comply with the directive.

“I remain committed to investigating the matter in its entirety and reviewing with all parties involved," he said. 

Asked if he's launching a new investigation, Bossert said through a spokeswoman he "will be reviewing that matter with all parties involved to ensure all appropriate corrective actions have been taken."

Rodriguez said he has not heard from the school district since Rosa's ruling. Bossert, in his statement, said only, "Appropriate outreach has been made to review the matter."

Three of the nine intruders, all teenagers from Queens, entered the school early on 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.

Two minors were charged with felony burglary and criminal possession of a weapon — one for possessing a "butterfly knife" and the other for possessing a stun gun, Lake Success Village attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto has said. Police charged the other seven with  trespassing.  All of their cases are sealed because they are minors.

The school's principal, Christopher Gitz, told parents in an email after the incident that Lake Success Village police arrested the teens following a thwarted locker room confrontation after the school day ended. The email did not mention the weapons or that some spent the day in school.

Great Neck launched an internal investigation into the security breach, implemented additional security measures and removed a contract security guard from serving the district,  Great Neck district officials told Newsday in May.

District officials declined to say how the students gained access to the school and did not detail the discipline any other students may have received.

Following the Dec. 16 incident, an independent hearing officer appointed by the district found the student guilty of violating the school’s code of conduct because he did not tell any teachers about the intruders and had walked at least one armed non-student down a hallway under duress.

The student testified that he randomly met the intruders when he sat down to eat lunch in the library just like he does any other day. He testified that he acted out of fear and stayed silent because he worried for his safety and did not think teachers would believe him.

The hearing officer, Richard 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.”

Rosa disagreed.

“I do not find the student’s testimony so inherently implausible that the hearing officer was entitled to reject it out of hand,” she wrote.

Thompson, the hearing officer, did not return telephone messages Monday.

“Ideally, the student would have promptly reported the non-students to an adult,” Rosa added. “But he cannot be punished for failing to meet this ideal — particularly where the record contains a legitimate basis for his reluctance to do so.”

Rosa’s decision, dated July 31, said the school’s code of conduct places the responsibility for building security with the “building principal or designee.”

“Nowhere does it suggest that students are responsible for the security of school buildings — and nor should they be,” she wrote.

After the school board upheld the suspension in February, Rodriguez appealed to the state, with help from Manhattan-based attorney Cynthia Augello.

The state returned the student to school in April — against the written wishes of the district — while considering the appeal. The district initially sent him to its alternative high school, but Rosa overruled that too.

David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center, said Rosa’s decision represented a thoughtful analysis that found fault with the hearing officer’s “rejection of clear evidence supporting the student’s reasonable actions in light of the danger he faced.”

“The Commissioner’s ruling brings some measure of justice and provides further basis for a civil suit against the district based on the unjustified loss of school time and the reputational damage suffered,” he said.

New York’s State education commissioner ordered the Great Neck School District to expunge the disciplinary record of a student accused of aiding armed intruders, calling the teenager's months-long suspension “shocking to the conscience.”

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s seven-page ruling, issued last week, also said the student's "escorting of a single non-student under threat of violence pales in comparison to [the school district’s] inability to prevent, or discover, the unauthorized entry of nine non-students into one of its high schools."

The Great Neck South High School student’s father, Elmer Rodriguez, said Monday that he’s happy the commissioner cleared his son’s name, but angry about the school experience his son missed.

Newsday is not naming the student because he is a minor.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • New York’s state education commissioner called the suspension of a student accused of aiding armed intruders “shocking to the conscience” and ordered the Great Neck School District to expunge the student's disciplinary record.
  • Great Neck suspended the high school junior for walking a non-student down a hallway. The student, 16, said he did not know the intruders and acted under threat of violence.
  • State Education commissioner Betty Rosa’s seven-page ruling also said that the student's action “pales in comparison to [the school district’s] inability to prevent, or discover, the unauthorized entry of nine non-students into one of its high schools."

“There are moments that happened in the school that he should have been there for with his peers, and he wasn’t there,” Rodriguez said. “Those moments are not coming back.”

Newsday reported in June that nine intruders carrying a switchblade-style knife, pepper spray and a Taser sneaked into Great Neck South High School in December intending to attack a student. No one was injured.

Great Neck school officials suspended Rodriguez's son, 16, for the remainder of the school year for walking an intruder down a hallway. He said he did not know the non-students, acted out of fear and escorted them under a threat of violence.

The student said Monday that he feels vindicated.

“I can’t forget everything that’s happened," he said. "I am very happy with the outcome … and I am so happy that I got the decision that I wanted, but I still have to remember every single day and hour I spent when I was suspended.”  

In a statement issued Monday, Great Neck superintendent Kenneth Bossert declined to comment specifically on the state’s ruling, citing student privacy laws. Bossert, appointed to the district’s top position in June, said the district will comply with the directive.

“I remain committed to investigating the matter in its entirety and reviewing with all parties involved," he said. 

Asked if he's launching a new investigation, Bossert said through a spokeswoman he "will be reviewing that matter with all parties involved to ensure all appropriate corrective actions have been taken."

Rodriguez said he has not heard from the school district since Rosa's ruling. Bossert, in his statement, said only, "Appropriate outreach has been made to review the matter."

Three of the nine intruders, all teenagers from Queens, entered the school early on 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.

Two minors were charged with felony burglary and criminal possession of a weapon — one for possessing a "butterfly knife" and the other for possessing a stun gun, Lake Success Village attorney Andrea Tsoukalas Curto has said. Police charged the other seven with  trespassing.  All of their cases are sealed because they are minors.

The school's principal, Christopher Gitz, told parents in an email after the incident that Lake Success Village police arrested the teens following a thwarted locker room confrontation after the school day ended. The email did not mention the weapons or that some spent the day in school.

Great Neck launched an internal investigation into the security breach, implemented additional security measures and removed a contract security guard from serving the district,  Great Neck district officials told Newsday in May.

District officials declined to say how the students gained access to the school and did not detail the discipline any other students may have received.

Following the Dec. 16 incident, an independent hearing officer appointed by the district found the student guilty of violating the school’s code of conduct because he did not tell any teachers about the intruders and had walked at least one armed non-student down a hallway under duress.

The student testified that he randomly met the intruders when he sat down to eat lunch in the library just like he does any other day. He testified that he acted out of fear and stayed silent because he worried for his safety and did not think teachers would believe him.

The hearing officer, Richard 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.”

Rosa disagreed.

“I do not find the student’s testimony so inherently implausible that the hearing officer was entitled to reject it out of hand,” she wrote.

Thompson, the hearing officer, did not return telephone messages Monday.

“Ideally, the student would have promptly reported the non-students to an adult,” Rosa added. “But he cannot be punished for failing to meet this ideal — particularly where the record contains a legitimate basis for his reluctance to do so.”

Rosa’s decision, dated July 31, said the school’s code of conduct places the responsibility for building security with the “building principal or designee.”

“Nowhere does it suggest that students are responsible for the security of school buildings — and nor should they be,” she wrote.

After the school board upheld the suspension in February, Rodriguez appealed to the state, with help from Manhattan-based attorney Cynthia Augello.

The state returned the student to school in April — against the written wishes of the district — while considering the appeal. The district initially sent him to its alternative high school, but Rosa overruled that too.

David Bloomfield, education law professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center, said Rosa’s decision represented a thoughtful analysis that found fault with the hearing officer’s “rejection of clear evidence supporting the student’s reasonable actions in light of the danger he faced.”

“The Commissioner’s ruling brings some measure of justice and provides further basis for a civil suit against the district based on the unjustified loss of school time and the reputational damage suffered,” he said.

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