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Glen Cove school chief Joseph Laria abruptly resigns

Joseph Laria, the superintendent of the Glen Cove

Joseph Laria, the superintendent of the Glen Cove School District -- which is under scrutiny because of an alleged cheating scandal -- abruptly resigned. (Feb. 15, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The superintendent of the Glen Cove School District -- which is under scrutiny because of an alleged cheating scandal -- abruptly resigned Thursday, seven weeks before he planned to retire.

The board accepted Joseph Laria's resignation at a special meeting Thursday night. Asked by phone Thursday afternoon about what prompted his departure, Laria said only, "I can't say at this time."

The resignation came a day after Laria allowed a 16-year-old student to drive his car with two other students in the backseat, a source said. Teachers who saw the incident were outraged, sources said.

A 17-year-old Glen Cove High School junior said he observed the incident Wednesday morning. He declined to be identified, but his legal guardian permitted him to talk.

Sitting in math class and looking out the window, he saw Laria and three students get in the superintendent's Lexus -- with one of the students behind the wheel. They rode around the parking lot for about 10 minutes, he said.

A spokeswoman said the district "acknowledges and is disappointed" by the incident. She declined to provide details.

Several parents who attended last night's meeting demanded an investigation.

"There has been some serious damage done to our community and ultimately to our children," Zefy Christopoulos said of the district's continuing problems. "We really have to heal."

Trustee Barrie Dratch called for a probe into Laria's conduct, telling the three dozen people assembled, "I promise you that this won't go uninvestigated."

Board president Joel Sunshine, citing legal restrictions, said he could not address the allegations against Laria. The board received an email from the superintendent Thursday morning and called an emergency meeting to act on his request to resign, Sunshine said.

Laria was appointed interim superintendent of schools in spring 2010. He was unanimously appointed superintendent halfway through the 2010-11 school year.

The board said in a statement that Laria "expressed deep regret for his departure, and assures us that he will remain available to assist as necessary during the leadership transition period."

Assistant Superintendent Louis Zocchia was appointed acting superintendent through June 30. The board had earlier selected Maria Rianna to serve as its next superintendent, starting July 1.

Laria's resignation comes at a difficult time for the district.

Allegations of teachers improperly coaching students on state tests at two elementary schools have expanded to alleged grade-changing on two 2012 Regents exams at the high school. The Nassau County district attorney's office is investigating.

Sources in the district told Newsday last month that any professional misconduct could potentially result in penalties ranging from reprimand to suspension without pay to firing after an impartial hearing mandated by state education law.

The district, which received subpoenas seeking information about alleged improper test coaching by teachers at the Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools last spring, vowed to "cooperate fully" with any investigation.

In another surprise development Thursday, the district announced that Glen Cove High School Principal Joseph Hinton was being replaced.

Hinton has been "absent" and will remain so for the duration of the school year because of an undisclosed illness, officials said.

He has not been publicly linked to any improper activity, but sources close to the case have said the probe into alleged changing of Regents exam grades involves at least two administrators -- a principal and an assistant principal.

Roseann Cirnigliaro, the former principal at Port Jefferson High School, was named the high school's acting principal.

With Joie Tyrrell and John Hildebrand

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