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Custodian: 'School District Wouldn't Let Me Honor My Husband'

Michelle DeLaVergne, of Westhampton, said she could not get permission to take a day off for a pancreatic cancer walk.

When Michelle DeLaVergne's husband, Donald, died of pancreatic cancer in July 2011 after a five-year battle, she and her two daughters, Alexus and Miranda decided they wanted to do something to honor his memory while also helping to fight the disease. They settled on raising money through a pancreatic cancer walk, sponsored by the Lustgarden Foundation.

Oct. 14 marked the second time the family would participate in the walk, only DeLaVergne wasn't there — she said her employer, the Hampton Bays School District, wouldn't allow her to switch her regular 8-hour shift to Saturday so she could participate in the walk on Sunday. 

"My heart just hurts," said DeLaVergne, a five-year-custodian with the district, who said she can't understand why the district was so supportive during her husband's cancer battle and during the last walk, but not this time.

Asked for a comment, Superintendent Lars Clemensen said it is the district's policy not to discuss personnel issues.*

DeLaVergne said she verbally requested a shift swap on Oct. 2. Then, on Oct. 11 she received a counseling memo from her supervisor, reading, "This is a counseling memo due to your inappropriate conduct during a recent custodial meeting. At the end of the meeting, you asked if you could switch your scheduled day to Saturday to Sunday. Your Head Custodian asked for you to put in writing. In front of the entire staff, you said, 'it doesn't matter if you approve it or not, I will just call in sick.'"

DeLaVergne, however, ended up not calling in sick.

"I am just so hurt. I'm trying to raise money for a cure, yet I am penalized with this horrible counseling memo. I wasn't taking a day off to party. It was for a good cause," said DeLaVergne, adding that when requesting to switch days, staff have never been required to submit a written request, only for use of vacation days. 

So, on Sunday, DeLaVergne said she reported to her post at the middle school, while her daughters walked, raising $4,500 for the Lustgarden Foundation and then visited their father's grave.

"I couldn't stop crying," said DeLaVergne, "but I know my husband knew I was there in spirit."

*After publication, Clemsensen added, "While the district does not comment on personnel matters, it does disagree with the employee’s representation of the facts in this situation."

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Chris October 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I find it thoroughly ridiculous that she was not allowed to switch. All she wanted to do was switch which day she was working so she could go to a sponsored, cancer fighting event. The least they could have done is give her a good reason, but no they just say she can't. The fact that they even had to consider whether or not to let her is appalling indeed. They then had the nerve to imply that she was lying. Really? Why would she lie about such a thing? Why even say that? That's a low blow. I feel the real issue here is a lack of human sympathy. Even the school system is controlled by money now, and it's having an affect on everyone. I'm disgusted by this whole situation. The school should be doing a better job at keeping their employees content.
Mackenzie October 16, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Thats just disgraceful that the school allowed this to happen, it shouldn't have even been a question on whether or not the days could be switched for something like this.
Sonny DiStefano October 16, 2012 at 10:26 PM
It seems to me, the only thing she had to do is put in a formal request and she 'refused' to do it. Instead in a confrontational way, she basically told the boss to pound salt, I'll call in sick. And in front of other co-workers to boot. Had I been the boss, I would have given her only one answer, "You call in sick and I see you marching, I will start disciplinary procedures and possible dismissal." The tragic loss of a loved one two years ago does not entitle you to disrespect your superiors or anyone else you work with.
Ralebird October 16, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Is the policy to request schedule changes in writing? Did she request a schedule change in writing? Was she insubordinate in front of others? Sometimes people just make their own lives more difficult unnecessarily.
Miranda October 16, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Excuse me, Mr DiStefano, please listen. First of all, are you aware of anything that happened in the meeting? Were you there? Or did you just hear things from the boss? Now with all due respect sir, you cannot jump to conclusions like this. First of all, she did put in the request formally in. She is not bringing in her family issues with work, she was just explaining that she had an extremely good reason to be allowed to switch her days for work. That should be allowed. What if it was you? Like what if you just lost your wife to cancer? And you had a cancer walk to go to in order to support her and raise money so other people don't go through what you did. And you weren't allowed to go due to work? You would not be happy at all. And I know for a fact that my mother would never disrespect anybody, just by you saying that is disrespecting her which is very rude. This whole thing is out of disrespect honestly. You do not know what happened, maybe you should consider talking to the other people that were there in the meeting, instead of just taking judgments from the boss. And actually, her husband died last year, not two years ago, but what does it matter? One year, two years, five years, ten years? A loved one us still lost. And if you work at the school, you would know that there is no written request for switching days. So my mother asked politely and with respect.
in the know October 16, 2012 at 10:52 PM
having known ms. delevergne on a personal level and having been a friend for a number of years i know the compassion and love that the good lord has bestowed in the heart of ms. delevergne. i have spent much time with the family and ms. delevergne herself. i have seen the tears and sorrow many times and can say that this request was asked out of her passion in support of her late husband and her compassion for all people who struggle through this kind of experience. her empathy for people who go through this knows no boundaries. if more people had the heart of ms.delevergne the world would be a much more astounding place to exist. mr.clemensen has much responsibility as superintendent of schools and towards the children, but what about the staff that works on a daily basis with the children. all work to maintain health, cleanliness and other safety standards to ensure the well being of the children. a day off or switched on a weekend while school is not in session would not have been an atrocity and to think that staff is thought of so little makes us wonder to what extent the daily ordeals of the children and the maximum benefit for them are in question.
pauline October 16, 2012 at 11:39 PM
In response to Sonny DiStefano I dont recall you being at the meeting i was there and did not see you there . Ms Delavergne was allowed walk last year and switch her days with out any problem.
Andrew champion October 16, 2012 at 11:50 PM
This is so wrong she has every right to go on thi s walk and who does not let her go has no compassion for anyone
Zac Ellenhorn October 16, 2012 at 11:56 PM
I can't believe this, maybe it was not right for her to say it doesn't even matter in a meeting but that is no excuse to not let her participate in a walk in honor of her husband. This honestly disgusts me and the school should be embarrassed about all of this.
Linda Boyce October 17, 2012 at 12:07 AM
She should of called in sick. And tell the person (probably her boss). You don't march in a walk. It's not a parade! Ugh Great job the girls did raising money for a awesome cause!
Howard October 17, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Sometimes as a boss you need to take a step back and look at the situation. Would it have been so difficult to give the day off and note that emotions ran high and as a leader your able to be understanding and make an exception. Living by the book doesn't always work. Take your employee on the side and show some compassion. Learn what has occurred. G-d bless Michelle and her daughters!
Patricia Dibenedetto October 17, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I've known the family for over nine years. Unfortunately, more than half of that time was watching Michelle, Alexus and Miranda live every day with the knowledge that their beloved husband and father was going to pass away. I was with the family last year at the Lustgarten Pancreatic Cancer Walk, a few months after Don's passing. I'm proud to say that I was with Alexus, Miranda and 7000 other people at the walk on Sunday. I'm proud to say that our group of 7000 raised over $1 million dollars for pancreatic cancer research. I'm saddened to know that Michelle was not able to join us. I'm even more saddened to know that the same folks who 'allowed' her to walk last year refused to 'allow' her to walk again this year. I'm praying that there will be a cure for pancreatic cancer this year so that Michelle does not have to miss the walk in 2013...
Linda Boyce October 17, 2012 at 12:54 AM
You tell him!
Kasey Zeidner October 17, 2012 at 01:03 AM
The school should be most embarrassed and disgusted with themselves. having been close to this family i can tell you that Michelle has been a very loyal worker for many years, she never called in sick or asked for days off unless it was deemed absolutely necessary. During Mr. DeLaVergnes 5 year battle with pancreatic cancer she seemed to have full support from her employers so what happened? I find this appalling that someone who has worked at the same place for a certain amount of time given her predicament was denied to have her day switched. Im sure she did everything in her power that was asked of her. She wasn't asking for a day off to go on a vacation and she didn't falsely call in sick, she wanted to honor one of the most influential and important person in her life, her late husband. I find it an utmost outrage that she wasn't granted this request
in the know October 17, 2012 at 01:28 AM
well sonny d. as everyone is entitled to their opinion so am i. and you are definitely not a delight. if ignorance is bliss, you are one happy ( but blind ) individual.
Denise October 17, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I am surprised by the lack of compassion that a school who are suppose to support any cause would not grant her time off.. It was one day and it was for a cause that she strongly believes in. It was to raise money for this horrible disease that one day we may find a cure. If the school treats their employees this way what are they teaching the students. There was no reason they couldn't have given her the day off. It sadness me being a cancer patient that people can be so heartless. I do pray for the individual that wouldn't give her the time off and hope they are never in that situation. Just remember god don't like ugly. I have known the family most of my life and she is a truly amazing woman, mother and to not have any compassion for her is horrible to say the least.
Morgan Meyer October 17, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Miranda i am so sorry! I think that was extremely awful! I wish there was something that i could have done. That was heartless and extremely wrong!! I am so sorry!! <3
Morgan Meyer October 17, 2012 at 02:00 AM
I am so sorry Alexus!! That was so wrong! I cant believe people could be so heartless! I am so so so sorry!! It is ridiculous that anyone would say no to that you have to be like pure crazy to do something like that!
Morgan Meyer October 17, 2012 at 02:02 AM
She could have called in sick but dont you think the school should have just let her get off that day and switch her hours i mean come on.
Ralebird October 17, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Well, we don't know, do we? We don't know anything about other staffing those days. We don't know anything about events at the school Saturday or Saturday night that would have to be cleaned up afterwards on Sunday. We just don't know if this was a business decision or a personal one - it makes a difference.
Jay October 17, 2012 at 07:39 AM
Outrageous! Refusing to let her take a day off from work so that she can honor her who she obviously cared very deeply for? Absolutely absurd. Michelle, you have my full support.
Heather October 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Our world needs more compassion and empathy for people struggling with loss. No matter how much time passes, losing a loved one leaves a hole in your heart forever. Michelle needed to be with her daughters that day.
Jim Walsh October 17, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Michelle is a caring and loving mother, friend and co worker. She spent 5 years caring for her sick husband. Getting him the best treatment possible by driving him back and forth to New York City until the day he died in her arms. I find it despicable that her fellow custodian didn't give her the ok to switch days over the weekend, so she could participate in the P.C. walk and pitiful that their supervisors didn't interject. Someone should have reacted to this insensitivity. Its outstanding how Michelle has never had job related problems in the past so why now penalize her? I know sh'es a hard worker who is well respected by the teachers and co-workers. I also know Michelle is truthful and not a liar like the superintendent implied. There should have been a conclusive investigation before that allegation. Also, I participated in the P.C. walk. I have other family members that volunteer, my sister for instance works full time for cable vision. She is in charge of organizing all the fundraising events for the lustgarden foundations here and throughout the country. She and her fellow administrative cable vision who know Michelle through her 7 years of participating in lustgarden events donating lots of time and plenty of her own money were very saddened to hear the coarse hampton bays school took on this sensitive matter. suffice to say we were 7000 strong and raised over 1million dollars. Thanks Michelle for your generous donation. Their were many that wish you were there.
Jizelle October 17, 2012 at 10:47 PM
The school should have other things more important than the switch of a work day for an event that truly means alot to this person. Michelle was only trying to honor her husband through this event and for them not to switch a lowsy day is just simply rediculous. This simple request being denied proves how careless people can be. God bless those who supported this cause. I hope and pray that someday cancer will have a cure!
Iris October 17, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Amazing how simple life could be and how difficult some people make it. The school district could have easily approved the switch of a day. Without knowing the full details, it apprent that Michelle's supervisor may have a personal vendetta against her. Dear Supervisor let the anger go, life is to short to be angry for no reason. God Bless!
concerned October 18, 2012 at 12:58 AM
with the overwhelming support of all the people who took the time to respond to this i must respond in kind to ask this question. isn't this a union job? what is the union's stance on this matter? who is running the union? where is the dedication to the people? unions are for protection of the people, where are they hiding? what about all the different administrative personnel? and there were people she works elbow to elbow with everyday present? where were they? the cowardice of all these people is absolutely ridiculous. ms. delevergne and her children are due an enormous apology from the superintendent all the way down. at this point it would be moot but at least a show of compassion to help heal the emotional wounds inflicted on her and her family can be started. leave the political acts to the elected officials. remember, wounds heal but scars remain. i shutter to think if my kids went to this school what would the fate of their educational future be if a superintendent doesn"t even take compassion on the plight of someone who is employed under them. and accusing her of not stating complete fact? why doesn't the real person denying truth please step forward? oh, i forgot, that person is a COWARD! thank you family, friends and other supporters of ms. delevergne. i can tell you that a tear is in the eye of ms. delevergne at the public display of compassion for her and her family. all of you have just made the world a more astonishing place to exist.
Joe Fillatio October 19, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Hey how do you expect a boss to give someone off when she takes 11 months off for a fake job related injury. She has some nerve asking for it. She was never told no anyway all she had to do is summit a letter for the day off. She like to start trouble with other employees. You should ask her about her past with other employee.
Patricia Dibenedetto October 19, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Dear 'Joe' Well...I guess you have all the answers as to why Michelle was not allowed to take the day off. But then again, you did mention about the 'fake' injury...WOW!!! If I could get my boss to sign off on a 'fake' injury that occurred on the job, and if I could a staff of doctors and a hospital to perform surgery on a 'fake' injury, and if I could get a school district to sign off on and pay all of the money associated with the costs of that 'fake' injury....No Joe....this isn't about a 'fake' injury...none whatsoever. The injury was not fake. It was real. You know what was else was real, too, Joe? Seeing Michelle and her girls watch Don suffer for five years.. That's what was real... You know what was real Joe? Over 7000 people,, including myself and family walk on Sunday to raise OVER $1 million dollars for pancreatic cancer research...THAT'S what was real....
Jim Ellis October 19, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Joe Blow, You are obviously misinformed. Not only are your allegations fallacious and grossly erroneous, you have the audacity to insinuate Ms. Delavergne is a fraud and liar. What is it with people who find it necessary to cast aspersions while barely having the ability to form a sentence? In addition to being ignorant of the facts, you Mr. Fillatio, have exposed yourself for what you are – a stooge and malcontent. Try sticking to the content of the article instead of dredging up matters of which have absolutely no relevance. Grind your axe in another forum.
Joanne Dinardo October 20, 2012 at 12:44 AM
In the school district I work in all you have to do is submit a form for a "personal day" at least 14 days in advance...sometimes if it is a family emergency, such as an Ill child or spouse or unexpected death in the family, you can call in to a registry set up for just this purpose and take the day without pre-approval. MOST school district employees are unionized and have similar contractual arrangements. Seems to me there are a few facts missing here....on both sides. Had all the personal, sick and vacation time been used already ...maybe? Maybe the district had already extended some time above and beyond in sympathy....or maybe they are being difficult? Where I work, we each donate a sick day into a bank for anyone that is stricken with serious illness and runs out of days. The district also donates 25 days. Surprised a coworker didn't volunteer to switch with her...I'd like to think I would have as she sounds like a good person My sympathies to the family, as it seems they went through a difficult 5 years

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