State tests invalidated for suspended teachers’ classes

By LIZ BUTTON

While parents continue to clamor for the Rye City School District to either drop the case or bring charges against the four elementary school teachers accused of improper coaching on state tests in April, the results of the actual tests have been invalidated, according to district officials.

The results of the state achievement tests administered in April have been declared invalid for students of the four elementary school teachers from Osborn School, pictured, and Milton School who were reassigned in May pursuant to an investigation into improper coaching allegations, according to district officials. File photo

The results of the state achievement tests administered in April have been declared invalid for students of the four elementary school teachers from Osborn School, pictured, and Milton School who were reassigned in May pursuant to an investigation into improper coaching allegations, according to district officials. File photo

The four teachers were reassigned in May pursuant to an investigation into allegations connected to their administration of state math and English language arts tests given in April. The district subsequently notified the state Education Department as well as the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

At the Oct. 8 Board of Education meeting, Schools Superinten-dent Dr. Frank Alvarez announced that district personnel were directed by the state Education Department’s Office of State Assessment to “delete all student scores from any district generated documents.”

“For the four classes affected by the testing matter, the state has determined those scores to be invalid,” he said. “The state generated preliminary scores on a secure portal and then retracted them, coding the score as ‘administrative error—no score.’”

The two accused Osborn teachers—Carin Mehler, who teaches fourth grade, and Gail Topol, a third grade teacher—and the two accused Milton teachers—third grade teacher Dana Coppola and Shannon Gold, a fourth grade teacher—remain suspended.

Over the summer, a parent started an online petition to reinstate the teachers which has, so far, garnered 117 signatures while parents have continued to circulate emails amongst themselves, communicate with board members and voice their dissatisfaction at board meetings.

Former Osborn School principal Clarita Zeppie is keeping tabs on the situation at her old school by staying in contact with parents and teachers with whom she worked; she retired last year after eight years as principal.

Zeppie said she was keeping up so she could have answers for people who come to her with concerns about the situation. She said she was appalled as she watched the drama unfold over the last few months.

“These scores should be given to parents as requested,” she said. If the state released the scores, then “it seems to me, if teachers and the district can see them, why not the kids who took the test and their parents?”

One thing nobody seems to know is what will happen if there are no charges brought, she said. If this turns out to be the case, Zeppie wonders if the scores will ever be released.

Zeppie said she has heard from parents associated with those classes that some of the students themselves have complained that the situation is unfair and were confused why they are not able to at least see their score for a test for which they spent five to six months getting ready.

In the end, Zeppie said, the situation is one that got out of hand, but might have been curtailed much earlier.

“Everything went way out of control and now nobody wants to backtrack and say, ‘We got it wrong,’” she told The Rye City Review. “I just think that it is a shame that so many people are suffering over this, including the children, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason. To me, it seems that either you have charges or you don’t six months later.”

At the most recent Board of Education meeting, Osborn parent Boujke Van den Bosch-Smits read a statement on behalf of a group of parents of children in the classes affected: Lisa and Trish Behr, Ted and Joanne Francis, Jacqueline Grace, Kim Harvey, Eric and Aviva Kamander, Caroline Logan and several other parents.

The letter endorsed by those parents stated, “there is no mandate for the state to keep our teachers reassigned,” and while the district insists the case is still under investigation, legal expenses for the case continue to rise.

“We believe our teachers have not broken any laws, changed answers or tampered with official documents and they have not put children in harm’s way, so it makes sense to let these excellent teachers return to their classrooms,” she said.

Van den Bosch-Smits said she and other parents are anxious to know how much more of district taxpayers’ money the district is willing to spend on this case.

The district has a budget for legal costs this year set at $246,000 to pay for the services of a lawyer the district has on retainer, but she and other parents are curious to know how much has actually been spent so far.

Alvarez said that the district is currently significantly under budget in terms of legal costs for the year.

Parents have also expressed concern about the money being spent on leave-replacement teachers for Osborn and Milton schools, Van den Bosch-Smits said.

The one-semester salary total is $136,417 for all four leave-replacement teachers filling in for those teachers who are out on administrative leave due to the investigation, district officials said.

At the meeting on Oct. 8, Alvarez said he will have a recommendation ready for the board on whether to renew those leave replacement contracts in December or January.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com