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Joseph Laria, Glen Cove superintendent, addresses resignation from job

Joseph Laria, 70, said in a phone interview

Joseph Laria, 70, said in a phone interview that he regrets his decision to let a 16-year-old student drive his Lexus in the administrative parking lot near Glen Cove High School last week. He acknowledged using "poor judgment." (Nov. 13, 2008) Credit: Freelance Photo by Howard Schnapp

The former superintendent of Glen Cove city schools said yesterday he abruptly left his post so he wouldn't be a distraction as the district faces allegations of cheating on state tests.

Joseph Laria, 70, resigned one day after he let a student drive his car in a parking lot.

In a phone interview, Laria said he regrets his decision to let the 16-year-old student drive his Lexus in the administrative parking lot near Glen Cove High School last week. He acknowledged using "poor judgment."

School board president Joel Sunshine, in a special meeting last night, announced the findings of the district's internal investigation into the matter. He said everyone connected with the incident has been interviewed and their stories are consistent.

"There is nothing here guys," Sunshine said. "There was no great crime committed."

The board said it would take no further action.

"There is nothing left to do," Sunshine said. "Would you like us to fire somebody who already quit?"

But a handful of residents said they were dissatisfied with the investigation because it was conducted in house by Laria's former colleagues.

"There was something not right here," said Karen Ferguson, union president. She called the incident "bizarre."

Laria said he approached a group of students and was chatting with them when one teen asked if he could drive the car. The superintendent obliged, and rode in the passenger seat while two other students rode in back. The student driving had a learner's permit.

"I always try to build their morale and self-esteem and have them feel better about themselves," Laria said. "In life, no good deed goes unpunished."

While some critics described the incident as a joy ride, Laria said it was a slow jaunt around a quiet parking lot within view of the school.

"We got in the car and I said, 'Here is what you are going to do: Back out of the space and go around the perimeter of the parking lot,' " he said. "He did that at about 10 miles an hour. In about a minute or so, he was back in my space."

But the trip outraged some teachers, including those who witnessed it.

Laria, who began his career in 1964 as a science teacher in Brooklyn, resigned May 9, just weeks before his scheduled retirement. The board did not ask him to resign, Laria said.

"I did not want a bogus issue of poor judgment to become the focus" during the probe into the alleged test cheating, he said. "Some individuals were trying to change the focus from the investigation to me."

The district faces allegations of teachers improperly coaching students on state tests at two elementary schools.

There is also an allegation of grade-changing on two 2012 Regents exams at the high school.

The Nassau County district attorney's office is investigating.

Laria said he's perceived by some in the district as not doing enough to defend those caught up in the scandal. He respects and admires the district's teachers, he said, but he is also responsible for reporting any alleged malfeasance -- which he did in this case.

"I have no choice," he said.

Assistant Superintendent Louis Zocchia is acting superintendent through June 30.

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