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Smithtown schools chief defends handling of fight

Edward Ehmann, superintendent of Smithtown schools, at a

Edward Ehmann, superintendent of Smithtown schools, at a public hearing meeting. (Oct. 27, 2010) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

In a letter posted on its website, the Smithtown school district is defending its handling of a December fight between high school students as “efficient, timely and appropriate.”

One of the students, Gabrielle Petagna, 15, of Hauppauge, said she suffered a concussion and a black eye when she was punched by an estranged friend on Dec. 7 in a bathroom at Smithtown High School West. As many as eight students were disciplined by the school and three were charged by Suffolk police in connection with the incident.

Petagna and her parents have said they were disappointed with the district’s response to the attack.

In the letter, dated Jan. 17, Superintendent Edward Ehmann, above, said students who violate the district’s code of conduct receive “a consequence that is appropriate to the level of the infraction.” He said he could not disclose the punishments for students involved in the incident, citing federal and state student privacy laws.

“It is disturbing to us all when a few students engage in behaviors that are inappropriate,” Ehmann wrote. He said the incident involved “violent physical behavior and bystanders not taking action to stop the fighting.”

Police have said a 15-year-old girl was charged with punching Petagna and that two others were charged with blocking her escape.

An attorney for the Petagna family could not be reached for comment.

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