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Aug 27, 2015 8:39 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Executive Board Of Sag Harbor's PTSA Resigns After Bonfire Controversy

Sep 1, 2015 1:30 PM

In the midst of what might be called one big misunderstanding about the Sag Harbor School District’s annual homecoming celebration, the entire five-member executive board of the Sag Harbor Parent Teacher Student Association resigned on August 19.

At the center of the PTSA board’s decision was word circulating that the homecoming bonfire on Long Beach had been canceled—based on something Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols had said at an August 17 School Board meeting.

In fact, it had not been canceled, according to former PTSA Treasurer Benito Vila. The bonfire, he said, had just not been discussed yet, as it is only one aspect of the set of annual homecoming traditions that usually take up a full weekend. In addition, the PTSA, which organizes the bonfire, had not yet held its first meeting of the school year.

The rumor generated an extremely harsh response from School Board and community members alike, which is ultimately what caused the executive board’s official resignation. “They started pestering individual PTSA people with phone calls, emails and the like,” Mr. Vila said.

The PTSA had been trying to make this year’s homecoming a safer event for students, in part by planning the types of activities at the school that in the past have been held at Long Beach. They were planning to have events including a dance, roller-skating and fire dancers. More attention was focused on getting alumni to return for homecoming rather than the bonfire, which Mr. Vila called an “accessory” to homecoming.

“We asked for their involvement—it was all just premature. There was no reason for it to be discussed at the meeting,” said former PTSA President Aura Winarick. “We got accused of not including our members and not including everybody in our discussion. The discussion of our event was brought up at a board meeting when no PTSA members were there.”

Mr. Vila said that the meddling of School Board members in the PTSA’s activities was unwarranted, especially at such an early stage in the planning process.

“They are a public group of elected officials that is elected publicly, and they have to answer to the public. We are a private group, just like the Girl Scouts,” Mr. Vila said, emphasizing that the School Board has no authority over them. “The issue isn’t homecoming, it’s the interference.”

Only after their resignation did the PTSA find out that its insurance, like the school district’s insurance, would not cover the bonfire because of the potential dangers and safety issues it poses. Mr. Vila said he was unsure how the insurance had provided coverage in previous years.

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