Commack BOE trustee resigns in wake of investigation

Commack BOE trustee resigns in wake of investigation

School district releases 80-page report alleging disclosure of confidential information, inappropriate actions

Commack School District's board of education at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Photo from Facebook

A Commack schoolboard  trustee has resigned her seat after the district launched a four-month investigation into her actions.

Pamela Verity submitted a letter of resignation to Commack School District effective July 31, which was unanimously accepted at an Aug. 1 special board of education meeting. She had been the subject of a special investigation for allegedly disclosing confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm.

As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information…”

— Jarrett Behar

“As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information:  confidential information about our children, confidential information about our employees,”  Jarrett Behar, vice president of Commack’s school board, said. “We cannot get to a point where we decide that the ends justify the means. There are rules in place that need to be followed and we have a duty to follow them.”

On April 24, Commack’s board voted 3-to-2 to hire attorney Jeffery Smith to undertake an independent investigation of Verity based on accusations she had disclosed confidential information on multiple occasions and taken actions that were an inappropriate use of her authority.

The school district released Smith’s 80-page report Aug. 2, following Verity’s resignation, that details his interviews with 10 individuals — all board of education members, Superintendent Donald James and four school employees — between May 2 and 18.

“This investigation was spurred by posting of confidential information on Facebook,” reads page 3 of the report.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes.”

— Pamela Verity

In his investigation, Smith said it was alleged that Verity disclosed details of a confidential personnel matter regarding harassment in the workplace on social media. The investigator said the content indicated the board member had been emailing about, texting about it and expressed her opinion in violation of both state law and district policies.

Verity said she admitted to having inadvertently made a public Facebook post on the subject while multitasking but denied it contained detailed information such as specific names.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes,” she said, but denied her actions were intentional or as malicious in intent as she felt was implied.

The report also critically examined conversations Verity had with district employees where alleged confidential information was disclosed or where her actions were considered inappropriate conduct of a trustee, according to the district.

“I wear my board hat all the time, I don’t have any First Amendment rights anymore?” she said. “If it was up to them I would not be allowed to post [on social media], I would not be allowed to support people.”

If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened.”

— Page 19 of investigative report

Verity said as an educational advocate with the Opt Out movement prior to joining the board, she consulted with other school trustees and lawyers for advice on handling situations and how to handle confidential matters. The Commack district, she asserted, has a much stricter definition of what qualifies as confidential information than state law requires or surrounding districts’ policies. 

Commack school officials also said Verity removed documents from Marion Carll Farm without permission. The former board member said she did pack up and take home documents while working on a fundraiser for the site for safekeeping. All were returned to the district, according to Verity. The district admitted to receiving a box of paperwork but says it did not receive a full inventory list of all items removed from the farmhouse as per its request.

“If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened,” Smith wrote on page 19 of the report.

Verity said she doesn’t want to spend her time and energy defending herself from accusations but would rather move forward.

“I thought at first maybe if I speak my truth, this will turn around. It didn’t,” she said. “[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

Community members at the Aug. 1 special meeting questioned how much the four-month investigation had cost the district given the independent investigator was hired at $150 an hour. The total bill was not yet available, according to Behar.

[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

— Pamela Verity

“This procedure and process obviously did come at a cost and we do not take any endeavor where we spend taxpayer money lightly,” he said.

The district has three legal options when it comes to addressing Verity’s seat on the board of education, according to school district attorney Eugene Barnosky. The board’s choices include holding a special election to fill the vacancy within 90 days, appointing an individual to serve or leaving the seat unfilled. Verity was in her second year of a three-year term, due up for re-election in May 2019.

Behar said no decision had been made yet on how best to proceed.

“What happened today is very new,” he said. “We will make a decision, whatever decision we make will be made public. The community is always welcome to give its input.”

Verity said she hopes to continue lobbying for curriculum changes as part of the Opt Out movement against increased state testing and the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

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