By LIZ BUTTON
On the basis of “insufficient evidence,” the Westchester County District Attorney’s office will not bring criminal charges against the four Rye City School District elementary school teachers who were accused of improper coaching on math and English Language Arts state tests in April.
At the moment, all four teachers are still out of the classroom on administrative leave, and the district continues to conduct its own investigation into the claims.
In addition to the State Education Department, the school district notified the district attorney when allegations arose in May against Osborn School teachers Carin Mehler and Gail Topol and Milton teachers Shannon Gold and Dana Coppola.
According to Lucien Chalfen, a spokesperson with the district attorney’s office, the DA’s office, which received the case in May, has declined to press charges due to “insufficient evidence to move forward.” The district attorney sent a letter to the district informing them of this decision last week, Chalfen said.
At this point, any punitive consequences for the teachers will be the purview of the school district, which will handle the situation as it sees fit, he said.
The four teachers have been on administrative leave for five months after a parent came forward in May with accusations that her child had been coached on one of the tests, the first to be judged by state Common Core standards.
In the meantime, parents of the affected students started a grassroots effort to reinstate the teachers, which has been going strong since the allegations came to light.
So far, according to parents from the two classes, none have allowed their child to be questioned, but many were approached by the school district over the summer. The initial questioning of five to six children was conducted immediately after the accusations came to light by first-year principal Angela Garcia and Dr. Mary Evangelist, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the time.
Other parents and community members argue that teachers should not have been given the responsibility of proctoring their own tests. According to Clarita Zeppie, former principal at Osborn School, if she received that information from a parent, she would have called the teacher and spoken with him or her first rather than go to the children immediately upon learning of the situation.
“It’s very hard to question kids. One day runs into another for them,” she said. “If you don’t get the information on the day of the occurrence, chances are you are not going to get reliable information.”
At this point, some district parents are frustrated the teachers have not been charged yet the school district continues to utilize resources to investigate the case. Many believe that, if the school district had any actual evidence the teachers committed wrongdoing, they would have been charged by now.
“It was clear from the beginning that the DA was not going to investigate the teachers,” Osborn parent Eric Kamander said, “because the allegations don’t include anything worthy of the DA’s attention.”
Kamander said he believes the district continued to insist that the DA had been contacted in order to “exaggerate the severity of the allegations,” but the district has maintained that any selected details pertaining to the case, which is a confidential personnel matter, are made available to the public when appropriate, and only when appropriate. Osborn parent Boujke Van den Bosch-Smits, who spoke at the last two Board of Education meetings and acted as a spokesperson for a group of parents at the Oct. 8 televised meeting, said the community should be aware that the district has continued to question students over the summer.
According to a source close to one of the teachers, the four teachers do not even know what the allegations are yet, just as the public has been kept in the dark due to the district’s stance that the testing matter is confidential since it relates to personnel.
When asked last week if the district could reveal any kind of timeline regarding a possible conclusion of the investigation, as the four teachers remain suspended, district public information officer Karina Stable told The Harrison Review, “We’re actively seeking resolution of the matter.”
The district also raised the ire of parents when officials announced this month that scores on the state tests in question had been invalidated by the state, so the district is required to withhold the scores from parents on the basis of that ruling.
Arthur Schwartz, lawyer for teachers Mehler and Coppola, could not be reached for comment as of press time.