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Investigation: Manhasset superintendent violated district's sexual harassment policy

An independent investigation has concluded that Manhasset's schools

An independent investigation revealed that Manhasset’s superintendent, Vincent Butera, violated the district’s sexual harassment policy. Credit: Newsday

An independent investigation has concluded that Manhasset’s schools superintendent violated the district’s sexual harassment policy, following a now-former subordinate’s complaint of unsolicited hugs, too-frequent visits to her classroom and other unwanted attention.

Addressing an unrelated budget meeting Thursday night, streamed via Zoom and YouTube before more than 550 viewers, Superintendent Vincent Butera said he had "reflected deeply" about "my actions and behavior" and felt "profound regret and sadness."

"Despite my intent, the independent counsel did find that my attention was perceived by the complainant as unwelcome and therefore a violation of district policy," Butera said, in remarks lasting 3 minutes and 57 seconds that came after he presented a slideshow about the upcoming school year’s proposed $102.3 million budget.

Following those remarks, the school board president, Pat Aitken, said the investigation began after the complaint in September, and that "appropriate steps were taken consistent with the recommendations of the independent counsel." She did not say what those recommendations were, or whether Butera had been disciplined.

Aitken said the investigation and its conclusions had been kept confidential until becoming public in a leak to The Manhasset Press this week.

Butera has been superintendent of Manhasset’s schools — with about 3,200 students and 300 teachers, according to the U.S. Department of Education — since July 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile. It says he was superintendent for Bayport-Blue Point, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Long Beach and principal in Franklin Square. He was paid $282,516 in 2020, according to The Empire Center's online database.

Newsday has formally requested the investigator's report, which was not made public at the meeting. Reached by phone on Wednesday, trustee and school board member Carlo Prinzo referred a reporter’s inquiry to district lawyer Florence T. Frazer of Garden City, who declined to discuss the matter and refused to say which statute, if any, authorized the district to keep the findings confidential. Butera didn't return a message seeking comment.

In describing what led to the investigation, Butera at the meeting recounted five examples in his telling:

  • At a retirement party with 100 people and a DJ playing loud music, "I came in close proximity to the complainant and had a work-related conversation."
  • "After a courageous fight, a teacher tragically passed away and so many had become overwhelmed with emotion. And I hugged the complainant in an effort to console her, as I did with others that day."
  • "The complainant states that I came into her classroom frequently"; Butera says he regularly observes teachers’ pedagogy.
  • While documenting a basketball fundraiser for the district’s Twitter account, he said he took photos and videos of her child, who was being spotlighted during halftime. "I offered to share the files with the complainant" and sought her private email address because the media "were indeed too large to go over the district’s email system."
  • "Upon reaching a significant professional milestone, the building principal called every teacher to the library, where I along with other administrators and a board member offered a congratulatory hug."

The accuser’s name has not been disclosed. Butera said the matter initially became public when her spouse posted about it on Twitter last year. He delivered his remarks from an office, but returned to the board’s meeting room to listen to the public comments, his hands folded in front of him.

Lauren Kearon, a Manhasset schoolteacher, said the revelations were difficult for her fellow teachers, and a bad example for students.

Stacey Kelly, another speaker, said: "Not firing Dr. Butera for this egregious offense of violating our school’s sexual harassment policy sends the absolute opposite message that we want to send to our youth. It tells the boys that there's no accountability, and it tells the girls that even if they make an allegation that is essentially proven, nothing will happen."

Kaitlyn Clarke, a student, told the board that her peers are disturbed by the allegations, and, "We would really like to move forward with his termination."

Aitken said the district had adjusted its sexual harassment policy, but did not say specifically how the policy had meaningfully changed or how the Butera investigation influenced those changes.

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