Tuckahoe School Superintendent Dean Lucera has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his position following his arrest last month on a felony charge of criminal mischief, the district announced this week.
Tuckahoe School Principal Arlette Sicari will serve as acting superintendent in his absence.
School Board Chairman Dr. Daniel Crough made the announcement in a statement on the district’s website on Monday, writing that Mr. Lucera will be absent “until the matter is resolved.” Mr. Lucera still will be paid, as he is using vacation and personal days, according to District Clerk Linda Springer.
“It allows Mr. Lucera the time to focus on the legal issues at hand, and the school the time and space to focus on the needs of the students,” Dr. Crough stated, explaining that Mr. Lucera’s choice was made “in an effort to diminish the press’s attention to our school and students.
“This is an unfortunate situation for the school and a difficult time for all parties involved,” the chairman continued. “The board is taking this issue very seriously. An essential component of that is not being rash, especially in the setting of such an emotionally charged issue.”
Mr. Lucera, who took over as superintendent in October, was arrested by Southampton Town Police on November 21 and charged with third-degree criminal mischief, a felony, as well as second-degree harassment, a violation, after what police described as a “domestic dispute” with a woman that resulted in a damaged door. The female, identified in court documents as an “estranged girlfriend,” had also alleged in a sworn statement to police that Mr. Lucera had grabbed her face and spit on her during the argument, which took place at her home in Westhampton.
Mr. Lucera’s attorney, Holtsville-based Tor Jacob Worsoe Jr., has confirmed that there was an argument between the couple—he said the woman is his client’s fiancée—but said that no criminal activity had taken place.
Mr. Worsoe also stressed that the criminal mischief offense had been exaggerated, explaining that the door was not damaged to a degree that warranted a felony charge. New York State Penal Law says that a person can face a felony count of third-degree criminal mischief when the cost to repair damage to another person’s property exceeds $250.
Because of that, the attorney said he anticipated the felony charge to be dropped. He said he also suspected that the harassment charge will be dropped as well after the victim speaks with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. “She’s very cooperative. She’s not looking to have him hurt at all,” Mr. Worsoe had said. “She understands that things got out of hand.”
Mr. Worsoe said last week that the victim had agreed to speak to The Press under the condition of anonymity, but neither she nor Mr. Worsoe followed through with the interview.
In his statement, Dr. Crough wrote that he, along with the rest of Tuckahoe’s three-member School Board, has met with Mr. Lucera and the district’s legal counsel, Mary Anne Sadowski of Hauppauge-based Ingerman Smith LLP, to discuss how to move forward. Dr. Crough said the case has been adjourned until December 23, and that the district “will take appropriate action” after that. Ms. Sadowski did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Mr. Lucera’s contract, which expires October 2018, the school board cannot discharge, suspend, discipline or fire him without “just cause,” which is not defined in the contract. The superintendent has the right to a public or private hearing after being served a “particularized written statement of the charges against him.” From there, a hearing officer would review the charges and present a decision to the School Board declaring guilt or innocence. The board would then either accept or reject the officer’s decision, and the superintendent has the right to appeal any decision to the Commissioner of Education.
Mr. Lucera is the former district superintendent of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services. He was tapped by Tuckahoe in September to serve as superintendent, replacing Joseph Chris Dyer, who left his post for a position with the Marion Independent School District in Iowa. Mr. Lucera started about one month before his November 21 arrest, at an annual salary of $185,000.
Dr. Crough acknowledged that while many older students in the district are aware of the situation with their superintendent, the incident has provided the one-school district the opportunity “to adhere to the principles the school is founded on.”
“This school was not built to be a fearful or angry place. It was founded on optimism and has been operated with love for many years,” Dr. Crough wrote. “We will stick to our principles, and Tuckahoe will continue to be a great place to learn.”