Official Silence, Social Media Controversy Greets Report that School Board President Distributed Alcohol at New Rochelle Middle School

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo has not responded to repeated requests for comment and answers to questions raised by a Talk of the Sound report last week that New Rochelle Board of Education President Amy Moselhi distributed bottles alcohol to District employees at Albert Leonard Middle School. Moselhi has gone radio silent. That has not stood in the way of critics and supporters of Feijóo and Moselhi from rushing to the social media battlements to attack or defend Moselhi’s actions.

Underlying the online disagreements that have broken out on Facebook is not just a matter of board policies, state law and past practice but a conflict about whether members of the New Rochelle school community, from School Administrators and Board Members, to PTA Leadership to Community Activists, are committed to the ideals they claim to uphold.

And while some of the arguments can be answered by citing written laws and policies, others are grounded in appeals to emotionalism, a series of seemingly unrelated considerations and a debate over what constitutes ”news” in New Rochelle.

Our report that the Board President brought a dozen bottles of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, into Albert Leonard Middle School last month as holiday gifts has exposed a broader issue of the distribution and even consumption of alcohol in schools that goes beyond members of the New Rochelle Board of Education and includes members of the New Rochelle Parent-Teacher Association Council and District employees.

New Rochelle High School PTA President Elect Kamili Bell-Hill solicited 20 ”slots” of gifts of Wines and Spirits as a part of a PTA-organized gift-giving drive for District employees in December. NRHS PTA President Luiz Nunez signed up to deliver bottles of tequila. Also involved were Albert Leonard Middle School PTA President Melissa Riebe and ALMS PTA Co-President Elect Kristin Bamberger, among others.

Trinity PTA President Mary Monzon called the story about Moselhi brining alcohol into a school the result of a revenge tactic.

“This is ridiculous. These are holiday gifts.” said Maryann Paterra-Cantone. “If this is to be deemed such a terrible offense I can’t imagine what will become of the NRHS staff appreciation luncheon organizers and receivers of all those gifts.”

“Seriously. I think this is ridiculous way to blow up the spirit of giving during the holidays. We have so many bigger problems to be focused on. This is not one of them.”

“And other schools that have luncheons are doing the same,” added Donna Salerno, a teacher at Ward Elementary School. ”Just ridiculous to focus on. How about the more concerning issues (sic) students.”

Others who have been critical of Moselhi and Feijóo in the past were quick to disagree.

“This is just the latest example of a Board of Education that is completely out of control,” said NAACP New Rochelle Branch President Minister Mark McLean. “In the past few years our school board has cultivated an environment in which policies and even state laws are now irrelevant.”

“This is the reason why we now have a board President that is apparently incapable of realizing that bringing a dozen bottles of alcohol to a middle school, in violation of New York State law and board policy, is very harmful to our children and our once great school district.”

Gina Ruggiero of the New Rochelle High School Football Parents Association agreed.

“As a concerned parent I find it extremely alarming Dr Feijóo has not addressed why Board President Moselhi has not been subject to the same scrutiny as others when she broke Board Policy and State law.” said Ruggiero. “Where is their transparency now?”

“Feijóo has been so quick to pull the trigger on everyone else how is it she did not act immediately on Moselhi?” asked Bishop Fetson Leak. “Rules have to be applicable to everyone.”

“This is not going to blow over,” Leak said. “Moselhi doesn’t get to break the rules and not be held accountable. The people that make the rules are breaking the rules.”

“Where is the reprimand toward Amy?” he said.

Barnard School Teaching Assistant Lucia Goncalves called concerns that a Board President brought alcohol into a school “absurd” and “insane”.

“Consumption is one thing but exchanging gifts is another,” said Goncalves. “I call this BS.”

Kimberly Watson Russo called the concerns “absurd”. “This article is a waste of time,” said Kayondi Howard. New Rochelle Library Board Member Sarah Langlois dismissed concerns that a School Board Member brought alcohol into a New Rochelle school.

Some justified Moselhi bringing alcohol into a middle school on the grounds that it is a common practice. “I’ve done it. I’d guess hundreds, if not thousands, have done it too,” said John Vegara.

Others saw it as a karma.

Former New Rochelle Athletic Director Mario Scarano questioned why Moselhi and Feijóo went after DiRienzo for not following board policy but have no problem with Moselhi violating Board Policy.

”This is what happens when everyone wants to go by the book, ” said Craig Crovatto, an apparent reference to the recent controversy over former New Rochelle head football coach Louis Dirienzo. ”Now its coming back to bite them.”

Nicole Morrow Woodley, a member of The Collective, said “everyone says ‘we’ wanted this so here you go”. Where “we” appears to be those who supported the hardline stance of Feijóo and Moselhi in bringing in a team of lawyers to investigate DiRienzo and now do not want a hardline taken by Feijóo against Moselhi for violating Board policy.

Darren Feldman decried what he sees as a false moral equivalency between Coach D possibly putting a student’s health at risk and Moselhi giving away bottles of Prosecco to District employees at Christmas.

Still others are reconsidering their views on the matter.

”No alcohol gifts for teachers from board members?” said Beth Feldman. ”Lesson learned.”

“I wouldn’t have thought twice about giving a bottle of wine to a colleague during the holidays,” said Regina Simoes, a retired District employee. “I will now.”

Some engaged in strawman arguments and hyperbole.

“Was this given as Christmas gifts? Will a letter go out to the community about her reassignment? Inquiring minds want to know. This seems slightly ridiculous.” said Morrow Woodley who bemoaned a lack of “discernment” in reducing situations to “black and white” with no thought or “intellect”.

“Just look it up and follow a rule,” said Nicole Morrow Woodley dismissively.

“I’ve seen countless staff taking cigarette breaks right outside of school. Are we to believe that they all stashed their stash in a bush, then retrieved it to have a smoke? Then re-stashed it when they went back inside? Or are we going to start posting names and photos of these “no tobacco” rule breakers?” said John Vergara.

Some people wanted to modify the Board Policy on alcohol in the schools or to waive enforcement altogether.

“Maybe just use some common sense and follow the spirit of the rule, which is that tobacco, drugs, and alcohol are not to be used (consumed) on school grounds by anyone,” said Vegara.

Others have cast doubts on the original report.

“Is the picture in the article showing that the bottle was sent in the box next to it?” said Debbie Schwartz Young. “Can anyone prove Amy (Moselhi) actually sent the alcohol?”

Many expressed concerns about selective enforcement.

“Pretty sad that our school board President would pass out alcohol as gifts following the extremely concerning circumstances that led to the resignation of coach D,” said Susanne Pasqua Kuligowski. “Zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs is the only appropriate policy in a school district.’

“Selective enforcement of a school district policy on alcohol seems to me to be a very serious problem,” said Deirdre Celestino.

The question centers on whether it is a big deal if a School Board President violates School Board Policy and New York State law and in doing so induces District employees to violate School Board Policy. This especially when you have a classic “good for the goose is good for the gander” situation. Throughout the Coach D controversy, which began over an alcohol-related incident, Amy Moselhi was quite vocal on the need for the board to fulfill its “fiduciary obligations” through a “thorough, diligent and comprehensive” investigation into Lou DiRienzo’s alleged violations of Board Policy. Now that she is the one with alleged violations of Board Policy she has refused to explain her actions.

There are people saying that even if what Moselhi did was wrong it is a minor issue and does not compare to the Coach D situation.

Perhaps but that would be to ignore intent. Coach D was suddenly confronted by an unexpected situation and allegedly violated Board Policy. Moselhi created a situation, going out of her way to violate Board Policy by purchasing a dozen bottles of alcohol then gift-wrapping them and addressing them and delivering them to a school in a premeditated act.

Then there is the optics: on December 3rd, 2019, Moselhi signed a separation agreement with DiRienzo rooted in an alcohol-related incident then just days later she was blithely handing out alcohol at a middle school.

Some people have argued that the Board policy is stupid or silly or does not apply to adults or does not apply to holidays or gifts.

This thinking appears to reflect the idea that the New Rochelle Board of Education has made up a policy in a vacuum and could and should amend their policy to carve out an exception to allow parents to give alcoholic beverages as gifts to District employees.

This flies in the face of what is common knowledge, that like every other school district in the country, schools in New Rochelle are a Drug and Alcohol Free Campus and Work Environment. Schools are not just buildings where children are educated but where people work so workplace laws apply.

New Rochelle schools are governed by the Federal Drug Free Act of 1988, the State of New York Policy on Alcohol and Controlled Substances in the work place, the State of New York Beverage Control Act, not to mention School Board Policy and the Code of Conduct.

Board Policy 5165 states “no person may use, possess, sell or distribute alcohol…on school grounds or at school sponsored events.”

Board Policy 1530 states “the following acts committed on School District property or within the jurisdiction of the School District, whether performed singly or in concert with others, shall be violations of these rules and regulations: (12) Possession, sale, or use of any drug or controlled substance, including alcohol which is in violation of any state or federal law or possession of any related paraphernalia.

Every instance of Possession and Distribution of alcohol is a reportable offense under 8 CRR-NY 100.2 (gg) Uniform Violent or Disruptive Incident Reporting (“VADIR”) which requires reporting to SED any incident involving any person on school grounds of “use, possession or sale of alcohol. Illegally using, possessing, or being under the influence of alcohol on school property or at a school function, including having such substance on a person or in a locker, vehicle, or other personal space; illegally selling or distributing alcohol on school property or at a school function; finding alcohol on school property that is not in the possession of any person.”

As to the idea that adults —- parents and employees — are somehow exempt, a VADIR report is required for each violent or disruptive incident and “shall contain the following information concerning each violent or disruptive incident…the number and types of offenders, identified as student, teacher, school safety officer, other school staff, student intruder, visitor, unknown or other”.

New York State law defines School Grounds as “in or on or within any building, structure, school bus as defined in section one hundred forty-two of the vehicle and traffic law, athletic playing field, playground or land contained within the real property boundary line of a public or private elementary, parochial, intermediate, junior high, vocational or high

school.”

The law defines School Function as “a school-sponsored or school-authorized extracurricular event or activity, regardless of where such event or activity takes place, including any event or activity that may take place in another state.”

A parent distributing alcohol to employees on School Grounds or at a School Function is a reportable incident under VADIR as is every instance of an employee accepting alcohol from a parent and every instance of finding alcohol on school property that is not in the possession of any person.

Amy Moselhi distributing a dozen bottles of Prosecco at Albert Leonard MS with 11 accepted and 1 in the Main Office amounts to at least 14 reportable VADIR incidents, perhaps more.

The District accepts all sorts of Federal, State, Private Foundation and Corporate grant money. A good deal of that money is intended to address educational programs in alcohol and substance abuse including anti-opioid programs, anti-vaping programs and more. Those programs typically have requirements that the recipients comply with laws like the Federal Drug Free Act of 1988 and State of New York Laws and Policies on Alcohol and Controlled Substances.

For all of these reasons and many others, the simplistic notion that the 5165 and 1530 can be amended to carve out exceptions that would allow parents to give alcohol to administrators, teachers and staff on school grounds is a failure to appreciate the totality of the laws and policies at the Federal, State and Local level that apply.

A compelling argument can be made that giving/receiving gifts should be governed by the same policies on fundraising —- that gifts should be made in a way that no one knows who did or did not give a gift. The reason for this with fundraising is that children whose families cannot afford to participate are not made to feel left out. In other words, its an equity and diversity issue. Moselhi often lectures the public about equity and diversity but does not practice what she preaches. She seems unconcerned on the impact of her bringing fancy alcoholic gifts into a school where a large percentage of kids have most of their meals provided to them by the District because they are poor or come from a home where drug and alcohol abuse is a disruptive force in their life.

The code of ethics also addressed the bribery/conflict of interest issues inherent in “gifts”.

While Board Policy 4150 establishes a formal “gift” limit of $75 the policy repeatedly emphasizes that the Board does not want gifts of ANY dollar value. For some reason 4150 inappropriately uses the phrase “nominal value” which is a Wall Street term meaning the value shown on the face of a security certificate or currency. What 4150 appears to want to say is a value that is “nominal” which means a gift worth a very small amount of money or purchased for a very low price. In other words, a token.

4150 elaborates on this point, “the Board welcomes and encourages the writing of letters or notes expressing gratitude or appreciation to staff members. Gifts from parents and children that are principally sentimental in nature and of insignificant financial value may be accepted in the spirit in which they are given.”

A couple hundred dollars of imported Italian wine — a 750 ml bottle of Lamarca Prosecco goes for about $18 – is hardly in keeping with the sort of gift the Board encourages under their policy.

The simple fact is this should have never happened. Moselhi showed incredibly poor judgement. She embarrassed her board colleagues and Dr. Feijóo, and put the ALMS Building Leadership, School Security and teaching staff in a corner.

Alcohol, illegal drugs and tobacco are prohibited on school grounds under New York State law and Board Policy. Dr. Feijóo must take all necessary steps to make clear that the zero in zero-tolerance means zero for everyone with no exceptions.

Board President Moselhi and Superintendent Dr. Feijóo have declined to respond to more than a dozen requests for comment over the past week.

Questions left unanswered include:

How exactly did the alcohol get to the school?

How did it get into the school?

it hand-delivered to their classroom?

Is any of the alcohol still in the school?

Was any alcohol consumed in the school?

What disciplinary action has been or will be taken?

What are the legal implications of enforcing the alcohol policy in some cases but in the cases involving Ms. Moselhi and the teachers who accept alcohol from her?

What are the ethical considerations?

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