Independent Counsel: Superintendent Violated Sexual Harassment Policy

Manhasset Secondary School (Photos courtesy of the Manhasset School District)

On Sept. 23, 2020, the Manhasset School District’s Board of Education hired Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert as counsel for an independent investigation after a sexual harassment claim was brought by a former Shelter Rock Elementary School teacher against Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vincent Butera. Two months later, the independent investigation concluded that Butera violated the district’s sexual harassment policy.

The conclusion of the investigation did not disclose any discipline of Butera, but addressed the need for the school district to rewrite their sexual harassment policy, which the board is currently in the process of doing.

Manhasset Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vincent Butera (Photos courtesy of the Manhasset School District)

The Manhasset Press has obtained both the teacher’s letter to the board of education describing the alleged sexual harassment and the independent counsel’s letter to the teacher about the findings of the investigation. Both letters had the names of some individuals redacted.

“Based on my findings, the board has determined that the unwelcome attention you received did violate District Policy 0110,” Independent Counsel Elizabeth Ledkovsky said in a letter to the former teacher on Nov. 30, 2020. “Because this is a personal matter, the board and I are precluded from disclosing the corrective personnel action to be taken with respect to the respondent. However, as a direct result of this investigation, the board has determined it will undertake a comprehensive review of its sexual harassment policy and regulations. The board is committed to developing a more robust sexual harassment training program for all district employees, and to take steps necessary to instill confidence in the efficacy and importance of complaint reporting procedures.”

The letter also states that Ledkovksy interviewed 13 witnesses, the teacher and Butera, as part of the investigation. Ledkovsky could not be reached for comment.

“The harassment started in October of 2018 at my former principal’s retirement party,” the teacher wrote in her letter to the board of education in September 2020. “Dr. Butera cornered me and, in very close proximity, engaged in what was initially a surface-level conversation about work. Any attempt that I made to exit the conversation, he quickly continued to speak with me and I was unable to get away. At one point, [someone] came to rescue me from the conversation and I thought all was over. As soon as [the person] walked away to join others on the dance floor, Dr. Butera was once again right in front of me. Upon my return to school the following Monday, I was met with concerned coworkers about what he was talking to me about and why he was so close to me. I shrugged it off as maybe too much to drink.”

The teacher described more than six allegations of sexual harassment and stalking by Butera over the span of two years in her letter. She currently works at another school district after working in the Manhasset School District from September 2015 to June 2020.

“Nov. 30, 2018, my co-teacher and friend (redacted) passed away from a long battle with cancer,” the teacher stated. “She passed on a Friday, and there was much conversation about how we would handle this incredibly difficult situation with our students. Dr. Butera was in (redacted) classroom with myself and several other teachers and mental health professionals as we consoled the students. At one point, I became overwhelmed with emotion and had to step out. I walked down the hallway to my room, and he met me in the hallway and hugged me, which I felt was a little creepy, but the situation was not normal so I shrugged it off again. About a half-hour later, again he appeared in the hallway, and I was not crying and he came up to hug me again. At this point I was very uncomfortable and did my best to stay away from him for the remainder of his day at Shelter Rock.”

After the Nov. 30, 2018, incident, the teacher alleges “Butera began to show up at Shelter Rock, and specifically any classroom I taught in, in great regularity. My co-teachers at first made a little fun of my new ‘boyfriend’ and then became concerned when he would ask where I was, and stand in the back of the room staring at me during his stay in the classroom. Often times he would show up in [our] grade’s wing, find whatever classroom I was in, stand in the back and stare, and then leave, not seeing any other teacher in that wing. After a few months of this, my coworkers began to warn me via text whenever they saw him in the building, and telling me to go hide somewhere.”

According to the district’s sexual harassment policy, violations include “unwelcome physical contact or closeness that is sexually suggestive, sexually degrading or derogatory, or sexually intimidating such as the unwelcome touching of another’s body parts, cornering or blocking an individual, standing too close, spanking, pinching, following, stalking, frontal body hugs.”

The Manhasset Board of Education has not disclosed the investigation’s findings publicly or stated if Butera received any discipline as a result of the investigation.

On Nov. 1, 2019, the teacher alleges that Butera took photos of her son at a basketball fundraiser game and asked her for her personal email in order to send the photos because the files were too large to be used for the school’s email address. She declined to give her personal email address, stating “He knows very well that large file sizes [are] easily transmitted via our district email.”

In December 2019, the teacher was recognized for a professional achievement. She alleges that Butera showed up to the ceremony in the library to congratulate her and hugged her.

“When my colleague came in for the same achievement, he merely shook her hand,” she said in the letter. “I moved to the outside of the group of people there to take a picture, yet Dr. Butera moved, and put his arm around my waist to take the picture next to me.”

Butera did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations and investigation.

“The Board of Education takes sexual harassment matters very seriously,” the Manhasset Board of Education said in a statement to the Manhasset Press about the investigation into Butera. “When allegations were received several months ago, we promptly retained the services of an independent counsel to conduct a thorough investigation. The board has taken appropriate steps consistent with the recommendations of the independent counsel.”

The board did not answer any follow-up questions from the Manhasset Press.

The school district’s law firm Frazier Feldman was reached several times, but never responded for comment.

“At each point I was increasingly more uncomfortable being around Dr. Butera, and asked for the advice of a lawyer about how to stop this from going any further,” the teacher said at the end of her letter. “She suggested that I log what had happened, with dates, and as specifically as possible so that in the event I felt comfortable coming forward, I had details. It has taken leaving for me to feel comfortable sharing what has gone on in the past two years, in the hopes that I can stop this from happening to anyone else in the future.”


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