After months of speculation about his absence, Charles Soriano, the principal of East Hampton Middle School, finally returned to work on Monday morning.
He had been out on extended medical leave since early November.
“It feels great and I’m so excited to be back,” Dr. Soriano said, when reached by telephone Tuesday morning. “Tom and I have been in contact all along, and so far, it’s been an easy and smooth transition,” he said, referring to Thomas Lamorgese, who had been the interim principal since mid-November.
Dr. Lamorgese retired from the district in 2011 after serving as principal of both the middle school and John M. Marshall Elementary School. Friday was his last day.
Friday evening, Richard J. Burns, the district superintendent, sent out an e-mail to teachers and staff at the middle school, informing them that Dr. Soriano would return on Monday. But despite alerting teachers and staff, his return caught many parents and students by surprise.
“I heard from another parent that he was back on Monday,” said Ashley Blackburn, who teaches kindergarten at the Amagansett School. Her son attends seventh grade at the middle school. When she drove her son to school the next day, she saw him “standing out front and waving to the kids, which I hadn’t seen before.”
East Hampton Middle School has cycled through three principals in as many years, and through Dr. Soriano’s prolonged absence parents had grown increasingly reliant on e-mails that often function as their primary — and only — conduit of information during a school year some described as chaotic and unstable. Many are hoping that along with Dr. Soriano’s return, the school might regain its footing.
“Everything seems to be fine. Everything seems to be running well,” said Jody Kalafut, a former vice president of the school’s PTA.
On Nov. 11, Dr. Soriano sent a note to the school’s Google group, which includes middle school parents, teachers, and staff, updating them on the status of his health. In it, he said that “my doctors have determined that my debilitating cardiac and neurological symptoms are caused by Lyme disease, which is now being treated aggressively with I.V. drip antibiotics.”
Dr. Soriano was originally expected to return following the Martin Luther King holiday earlier this month. Nearly two weeks ago, he sent out an e-mail to staff and parents alerting them of his need to extend his medical leave until Jan. 25, saying that he looked forward to returning “as soon as my doctor gives me the green light.”
This week, Dr. Soriano further clarified the reason behind his extended absence. “I was treated for nine weeks for Lyme with strong antibiotics,” he said. Then, “two independent infectious disease specialists that work on Lyme determined that I never had Lyme. Those antibiotics made me very ill and why I was feeling sick wasn’t being addressed. I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting better.”
“More follow-up with doctors is still required,” he said, “but they strongly believe I have an orthostatic intolerance. It can cause an increase in heart rate and it affects my blood pressure and I can get symptoms.”
Following his new diagnosis, Dr. Soriano said that he is now taking a beta blocker, a prescription medication that helps to regulate and control an individual’s heart rate.
“It’s more common than people think,” he said. “I feel good.”
At the Jan. 22 East Hampton School Board meeting, several parents were befuddled that the issue of the middle school’s leadership failed to appear on the agenda. A late-added resolution to the superintendent’s report, which had not appeared on the original agenda, later received the board’s unanimous approval.
The approved resolution authorized Mr. Burns to “undertake a review of the matter of the status of the middle school principalship in relation to establishing and assuring that the necessary continuity of leadership can be established for the remaining 2012-2013 school year.” Mr. Burns is to report back to the board at the next meeting, on Tuesday, with his recommendations.