A young mother in tears said that her eight-year-old daughter never wanted to return to school during last week's Rye City School District Board of Education meeting.
“Mommy, did I make my teacher go away?” the mother said her daughter asked.
The daughter was one of several students who were questioned about the behavior of their teachers during recent state testing, the mother said. After the children were questioned, the teacher was reassigned, which caused her daughter to feel responsible, guilty and confused, she told the board.
“My daughter doesn’t want to come back to school again. She feels responsible for what happened,” the mother said. Later in the meeting, a father said his child felt the same way.
Rye parents have been writing letters, signing petitions and speaking out in public against the Rye City School District’s reaction to allegations that four elementary school teachers “improperly coached” their students on state assessments this April. While the district will not confirm the names of the reassigned teachers, Osborn School teacher Carin Mehler was mentioned many times by parents who commended her teaching. The Rye Sound Shore Review identified Osborn teacher Gail Topol and Milton teacher Dana Coppola as the other teachers who were reassigned on May 7, the day after someone reported the alleged cheating to the district. The district confirmed a fourth teacher from Milton school was also reassigned since then due to the same allegations. That person’s name has also not been released. All four teachers have been reassigned with pay while the State Department of Education investigates the allegations.
Superintendent Frank Alvarez said no one has been accused but the district is required to report any allegations of improprieties to the State Department of Education. The district also sent a letter detailing the allegations to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office in late May, and they are investigating the matter.
Since the allegations were made, the district has questioned children with their parents present or with parental consent, with the exception of the daughter of the mother who was in tears over the situation at the meeting, according to Alvarez.
Parents questioned why the district had to reassign the teachers with only a month left of school and told detailed stories about how the particular people involved have been great teachers to their children.
A mother who has worked as a school psychologist has worked on gathering signatures on a petition asking for the Osborn teachers to be reinstated by Sept. 9, 2013.
“The teacher saved my son Zachery’s life,” she said.
She and other parents said they heard the teachers would not be doing their children’s placements for next year or their report cards. Alvarez said that was not true and arrangements have been made for the reassigned teachers to complete their students’ report cards and placements. He also denied that anyone told children that their teacher’s were gravely ill, another claim that was made during the last Board of Education meeting.
“We are as troubled as many of you about these allegations and concerned for the disturbance it has had in our schools,” Alvarez said.
When pressed about whether the allegations required the district to remove the teachers from the classroom with about seven weeks of school left in the year, BOE President Laura Slack said she understood the frustration parents felt over the district’s inability to release more information but that school officials are not allowed to answer that question because it was a personnel matter.
“We have great faith in our teachers and we have great faith in our school administrators. We need to allow the investigation to proceed so we can get to the truth,” Alvarez said. “They are only allegations, we are not accusing the teachers of anything.”
The teachers are still reassigned while the investigation continues, according to the district spokesperson.
Also at the meeting, parents complained about the substitute teachers, claiming their students had not been learning anything since their original teachers were reassigned. Alvarez said that was not what he understood to be the case but that they would look into the matter.
*Editor's Note: The article has been changed from its original version to reflect that the DA's office is investigating the allegations.
How do you think the school district has handled these allegations? Was your child affected? Please share your thoughts in the comments.