By LIZ BUTTON
With classes set to resume, the four elementary school teachers removed from Osborn and Milton classrooms for allegations of improper coaching on state tests will remain administratively reassigned for the 2013-2014 academic year until further notice.
According to multiple sources, the teachers implicated in the testing scandal received letters from the Rye City School District stating that they will remain reassigned to home as the school year gets underway on Sept. 9.
The ousted teachers are Carin Mehler, a fourth grade teacher at Osborn Elementary School, Gail Topol, a third grade teacher at Osborn, a third grade Milton School teacher Dana Coppola, and Shannon Gold, a fourth grade teacher at Milton.
Since May, when the teachers were yanked from their positions pending the resolution of an investigation by the district, parents from Osborn and Milton schools have inundated the Board of Education and district officials with letters, emails and phone calls and took their grievances to a series of heated school board meetings in June.
Arthur Schwartz, a lawyer representing the four accused teachers, said that the summer has been uneventful for the teachers in terms of movement on the case.
“The summer is pretty much status quo because, under state law, the school board isn’t allowed to press charges when school is out of session,” he said. “So the reality is that very little has happened. There was not much we could do,”
But, Schwartz is aware that over the course of the summer, a number of parents told the school board that they will not allow their children to testify before any deciding body at any point in the investigation.
In July, an Osborn parent anonymously started an online petition to reinstate the teachers, which has since been signed by 112 supporters. The petition asks the district to withdraw the allegations to the state Education Department “for want of probable cause.”
Multiple parents also have leveled accusations at Osborn Principal Angela Garcia over how she handled the incident, including the suspicion that she made the decision to remove the teachers, alleging that the action severely disrupted children’s lives. Others have alleged that Garcia was not above board in the way children were questioned immediately after the incident, giving parents vague explanations as to the reason for questioning and taking one student aside without permission from the child’s parents.
District officials have stated that the decision to remove the teachers was made by Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez in collaboration with other district administrators and with the full knowledge of the school board.
When the allegations first arose, the school district alerted the state Education Department and the county district attorney’s office, which, according to DA spokesman Lucian Chalfen, is continuing to review the allegations.
The state Education Department cannot comment on allegations of testing irregularities in specific school districts received unless they are verified through investigation, SED officials said.
Another issue that has complicated the situation upon returning to school is buzz among parents about the number of class sections for incoming fourth graders at Osborn. There is talk that they may possibly be reduced, leading some parents to connect this with the removal of Mehler.
This unconfirmed information first appeared in a blog post accompanying the online petition, in which it is stated that during the 2012-2013 school year, Osborn’s third grade class had six sections, but, this year, entering the fourth grade, the class will possibly be reduced to five sections, sparking the fear that class sizes would be larger.
Making such an assumption is false, according to Board of Education President Laura Slack, who said that all arrangements for the next academic year in terms of teachers and class sections are still under construction and will remain so until the moment the district sends out letters informing students of their class schedules. The arrangements do sometimes result in consolidated classes, Slack said, but that has yet to be determined. Parents are conflating the two issues of the removed teachers and the suspected consolidation of the sections, she said.
In terms of the fourth grade as well as other grades, Slack said district officials are currently looking at every section in the school district and adjusting the totals daily.
“Sometimes we get redirections of classes, class sizes that don’t materialize, and we move one section from one grade to another, while sometimes teachers leave over the summer, new families move to the area, enrolling their children at the last minute, and other specific circumstances change,” Slack said.