Isaac Young Principal Anthony Bongo repeatedly lied to the Westchester County Department of Health during their investigation of a complaint filed by Talk of the Sound after last fall’s incident where Mr. Bongo was observed smoking a cigar on school grounds. Legal experts say he may have perjured himself in signing a statement claiming that he was not smoking a cigar on school grounds, a clear violation of New York State law, New York State Education Department guidelines and City School District of New Rochelle policy.
During an interview as part of the investigation, Bongo told investigator Public Health Sanitarian Ken Laghedo of the Westchester County Health Department, that on occasion he does carry an unlit cigar in his hand while on school grounds but that he never lights the cigar.
Displaying any tobacco product on school grounds is a violation of District policy and regulations issues by the New York State Department of Education. Lighting a cigar is a violation of both NYSED and School District policy as well as a violation of the New York State Clean Indoor Act. By acknowledging that he possessed and displayed a tobacco product on school grounds, Bongo is now on record admitting to violations of NYSED and CSDNR policy. Talk of the Sound has interviewed multiple witnesses who have observed Bongo smoking cigars on school grounds.
Talk of the Sound obtained a copy of the report Bongo signed under the New York State Freedom of Information Law:
According to complainant, Mr. Bongo smokes on school grounds.
At inspection time me with Mr. Bongo (School Principal) explained that smoking is never permitted inside the school facility or under under hangs. At inspection time no smoking observed by any staff member or Principal.
According to Mr. Bongo, sometimes (sic) is early November he had an unlit cigar in his hands in his truck in the parking lot, ever since then he never had a cigar on school grounds.
Observed cigarette butts in downstairs open courtyard. Hand over NO SMOKING signs and NYS Clean Indoor Air Act pamphlet to Mr. Bongo.
Anthony Bongo’s signature appears at the bottom of the report.
Prior to our own investigation last fall, at which time Mr. Bongo was observed smoking a cigar for more than 10 minutes, Talk of the Sound had been reliably informed that Bongo could be found any day of the week near the parking lot in back of the school smoking a cigar between 2:45 PM and 3: 15 PM. On a randomly chosen day, Talk of the Sound went to the school parking late at approximately 2:30 PM and waited. Within 20 minutes, Bongo appeared in the back of the school, talking with a security guard. He was observed lighting the cigar, opening the rear panel of a pick up truck, sitting on the folded-down rear panel and smoking the cigar. He remained there for approximately 10 minutes at which time he realized he was being observed at which point he threw the cigar on the ground and walked away from the truck.
Multiple, sources in the District have confirmed to Talk of the Sound that the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools have received complaints for years about Bongo’s daily ritual of smoking cigars on school grounds. Complaints have been made by other administrators in the District, teachers and staff at Isaac E. Young Middle School and parents. The matter has been discussed by the school board and Bongo had been repeatedly admonished to cease smoking on school grounds. Bongo admitted to investigators that as a result of the report in Talk of the Sound last fall, he received a phone call from Superintendent of Schools Richard Organisciak instructing him to discontinue displaying or lighting cigars on school grounds.
“He’s been told to stop smoking cigars many times,” said one well-placed source who has been party to discussions with Richard Organisciak, “and each time he stops for a few days and then goes right back to it.”
Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak did not respond to our request to comment on the WCHD investigation.
As the principal of Isaac E. Young Middle School, Anthony Bongo is responsible for the most heavily populated building in the District except for New Rochelle High School.
The risks to children from second-hand smoke are well-known:
The Office of the Surgeon General issued a report in January, 2007 which concluded that the risk to children from second-hand smoke is far more dangerous than to adults:
The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke…Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Because their bodies are developing…they are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke
The National Institute of Health has been warning of the dangers to adolescent girls for more than 20 years:
Teenaged girls comprise the largest percentage of new cigarette smokers in the United States today. Factors contributing to smoking initiation include peer pressure, family and social influences, cigarette availability, and cigarette advertising. Because three-quarters of smokers become dependent on cigarettes by age 20, smoking prevention programs aimed at the adolescent population have great potential.
Of course, New Rochelle school officials have recognized the issue of teen-smoking for years as can be seen in this New York Times article from 1997:
Encouraging students to take part in activities meant to help solve problems of their age group is empowerment, said Kelly Johnson, director of the New Rochelle Youth Bureau, who further defined the program as ”preparing young people by giving them the ability to be future leaders.”
He continued, ”When they have some ownership of the programming, they are part of the decision making.” He said he believes that the number of youths who are violent or involved with substance abuse is low in New Rochelle, although he added, ”Substance abuse is a concern throughout the country, especially the rise in marijuana use among young people.” Another of his concerns is the harmful effects of cigarette smoking.
Ironically, the District’s Medical Director Dr. Adrienne Weiss sits on the board of the American Lung Association in New York. Dr. Weiss did not respond to our request to comment on the WCHD investigation.