A bunch of parents and I attended the June 25th board of education meeting to show our support for Mrs. Mehler and dissatisfaction with the way the district has handled the situation, again.
I was happy that so many people showed up to support Carin. It may have been more people specifically for her class, even though it wasn't as crowded overall. (You can watch all the commentary in the video below.)
Yet the whole thing was sad and disheartening. The parents were all composed and raised relevant concerns about the way the situation was handled as well as many complaints specifically against Principal Garcia. There were many accounts of dishonesty, as well as mentions of her being out of touch with the children and creating a rift with the parents. One parent even mentioned how, having pleaded with the board during the last meeting over how distraught her daughter was about the situation, it was Ms. Zeppie, the previous principal, who reached out to ask how her daughter was doing, recalling how sensitive her daughter was, while Principal Garcia failed to show any concern.
Superintendent Alvarez was mostly defensive, though many of the board members were visibly sympathetic and concerned, and even shocked at some of the statements divulged by Alvarez.
Superintendent Alvarez, who previously refused to answer questions as to whose decision it was to remove the teachers, quickly switched gears when Principal Garcia was accused of being responsible for the decision. He claimed that decision as his own with full support of the board, stating "You can't pin that one on her."
Superintendent Alvarez insisted that, despite any claims to the contrary, as soon as their teachers were reassigned the two Osborn classes were provided with substitute teachers and that their curriculums were uninterrupted. Multiple parents deftly pointed out that there were 20 children claiming the contrary, and that these are the same children who were the basis for the investigation of the allegations of "improper coaching."
Dr. Evangelist, the Assistant Superintendent, corrected accusations pointed at Principal Garcia's questioning of students, stating that she was the one who questioned the students, and that Garcia took notes. Meanwhile Dr. Evangelist is scheduled to retire at the end of the school season.
These were the comments that I prepared:
• The allegations against the two teachers at Rye both came from one parent. One parent with a child in each of the two teacher's classes. One parent who wanted special services for her children and knew that state exam results could impact her ability to do so. She brought her concerns to Principal Garcia.
• As we've heard many times the school has a mandatory requirement to report and investigate any allegations of impropriety. However, they do not have a mandatory requirement to remove teachers from the classrooms based on these allegations. Yet this is what Principal Garcia chose to do.
• [While I never heard that anyone said the teachers were gravely ill,] Principal Garcia repeatedly told the teacher's students that their teachers were sick, leading the children to believe that after many days, their teacher must be very sick. Superintendent Alvarez was led to believe that Principal Garcia read a written statement to class which explained the truth of the situation, yet this was not the case.
• As we heard at the last meeting, Superintendent Alvarez was led to believe by Principal Garcia that the classes were provided with a substitute and the classes were able to maintain their academic curriculum. However, [not making any distinction between substitutes and aids, etc.] the Mrs. Mehler's 4th grade class had a total of six substitutes and it was weeks before any normal academic curriculum was returned to the classroom. Why was Superintendent Alvarez misled?
• By the school's own admission they wrongly questioned a student about testing allegations without the consent of the child's parent.
• When the school did inform the parents, they lied to parents as to the nature and seriousness of the questioning, which led many parents to allow their children to be questioned without their presence. This is a choice that those parents have come to regret.
• When Principal Garcia questioned the children she did not record or officially document the conversations in any way in their entirety. She was able to select the answers which were documented, and there are no witnesses to challenge her interpretation of the questions or responses. So when these children were asked "did your teacher help you with the test?" we have no way of knowing the context of the question. We have no way of knowing whether they were speaking of any “improper coaching,” or simply acknowledging that yes, their teacher has been helping them prepare for these tests for 8 months. We will never know.
• This board has mentioned many times about the mandatory requirements they must follow, and have followed. Surely these requirements exist because this is not the first time something like this has happened. This type of investigation is not new ground for the State Education Department. Yet the nature in which Principal Garcia chose to conduct this investigation has left children feeling that they were responsible for their teacher's removal. She has been proven to be dishonest.
The silver lining is that these kids have learned some valuable life lessons. These 3rd and 4th graders have learned that people lie, even the people that are in positions of authority. They’ve learned that administrations are self serving. They’ve learned that bad things happen to good people.
I just wish they didn't learn that in the 3rd and 4th grades.
If Principal Garcia has indeed been misleading about these things then Principal Garcia should be investigated.
Here's the video from the meeting:
Update: I wrote a letter to Dr. John B. King, Jr., Commissioner of Education for the New York State Education Department.