Rosemary Johnson, the deputy superintendent for business and operations at the Manhasset School District, used the routine Aug. 3 Board of Education meeting’s public comment section to urge the board to keep on Superintendent Dr. Vincent Butera, who has been on leave since May following a sexual harassment scandal that she alleges was exacerbated by “bad actors.”
Prior to coming to Manhasset in 2017, Johnson said, Butera had earned his “stellar reputation” with an “unblemished career spanning three decades.”
“Dr. Butera embarked on a mission to firmly ground the Manhasset Public Schools in the 21st century,” Johnson said. “Based on his mantra of continuous improvement and focus on the goal of creating the highest performing and the most caring district in New York State.”
But this mission of his was interrupted when the Manhasset Press article published in May revealed allegations of sexual harassment from a former Shelter Rock Elementary School teacher.
The teacher had written to the Board of Education back in September of 2020 detailing her experience with the superintendent, which included more than six alleged cases of sexual harassment and stalking by Butera over the span of two years. According to Johnson, “unknown parties” had circulated this letter, as well as the subsequent findings of the investigation into the matter.
“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.”
From there, she alleged that Butera would make an effort to hug her and show up at her classroom often. It came to the point that her coworkers would allegedly warn her if they saw him in the building.
The board, upon receiving the letter, hired independent counsel on Sept. 23, 2020 to do an investigation, as the allegations violate the district’s sexual harassment policy including “unwelcome physical contact or closeness that is sexually suggestive, sexually degrading or derogatory, or sexually intimidating such as unwelcome touching of another’s body parts, cornering or blocking an individual, standing too close, spanking, punching, following, stalking, frontal body hugs.”
The Independent Counsel Elizabeth Ledkovsky on Nov. 30, 2020 wrote to the former teacher that Butera had, indeed, violated the district’s sexual harassment policy. “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.”
Johnson said there is no dispute that these events occurred.
“There is, however, a dispute regarding Dr. Butera’s intent versus the perception of the complainant,” Johnson said. “The subjects of the complainants letter to the Board of Education was also circulated by unknown parties, and the investigators findings were published in the Manhasset Press, as well as multiple media outlets. The result of this inexplicable action and questionable timing was, in my opinion, that the complaint and the nature of the investigators findings… were twisted completely out of proportion. And I can not discount the deliberate actions several bad actors, with thoughts of retribution for decisions made and with intent to do Dr. Butera and the district harm.”
She believes those “bad actors” succeeded in their “mal intent.”
“As leaders in this community, I implore you to exhibit courageous leadership that Dr. Butera has demonstrated during his four years here,” Johnson said to the board, asking that the board stick to its original decision of keeping the findings private and maintaining Butera as school superintendent. The board, she said, should work with him to “maintain his reputation.”
“Any other outcome would be an injustice to Manhasset,” Johnson said. “And to those bad actors, you know who you are. May God help you.”
Johnson was not the only one coming to defense of Butera during the meeting, as community residents spoke up during public comment.
“I think that the board did exactly the right thing,” Coleen Hyland, a Manhasset resident, said during public comment. “You did your investigation, you hired outside council, you followed what outside council recommended you to do.”
But it’s not fair to “ruin someone’s life,” Hyland added, when the board knows of specific details. While she stands in support of the board’s decisions, she is hoping the board will bring Butera back. “This could be your husband, your sons, my sons, anybodies,” Hyland said.
—Additional reporting by Marco Schaden
Past Manhasset Press stories about Superintendent Vincent Butera’s sexual harassment scandal: