Dear Resident,

As many of you know, these are very difficult times for our school community. We were deeply saddened by the recent news of a personal tragedy that has devastated one of our Finley Middle School families and left us all grieving. We assure you that children are being counseled with the utmost sensitivity and care. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family as we all try to get through this together.

Glen Cove is a tight-knit community that has always had the best interests of its children at heart. This Board of Education prides itself on being as transparent as possible with all of our stakeholders. We have taken great efforts to build trust with the community through this transparency and it is our hope that recent developments and media reports concerning our schools do not break this trust.

We’re certain most of you have heard about the investigation into alleged improprieties during the administration of the New York State grade 3, 4 and 5 ELA and math assessments conducted at Connolly and Landing elementary schools last spring. It goes without saying that we were disappointed to hear the initial information this past fall, and that the improprieties appeared to go beyond one student and one teacher. It was particularly problematic, as the allegations suggest that children were denied educational services that they would have received had their test results been free of teacher assistance.

We immediately sought legal counsel, and upon their advice, we hired independent outside counsel (with no ties or stake in the district) to investigate these allegations, to determine whether they were legitimate, and to determine their scope. Based upon the advice of counsel and input from the New York State Education Department (NYSED), this was the best course of action for our District, as well as the children we educate.

From day one, this investigation has been professionally led by outside legal counsel. Following the initial investigation, District counsel met with teacher representatives and the involved teachers. Subsequent to these meetings, District counsel has had extensive discussions with the affected teachers’ attorneys. NYSED has also provided approval, oversight and participation into the process and has sat in on all interviews with students, staff and administrators. We assure you that this process is being carried out in an expeditious yet delicate and fair manner, and that the rights of all those involved are being upheld and the privacy of children is being protected.

The Board of Education’s paramount interest in this investigation is crystal clear: the best interests of our students and a search for the truth. Toward that end, we simply want the truth to come out through this process. We have been advised that, under state law, if the independent counsel’s report results in the Superintendent of Schools bringing charges against one or more of our employees, the Board of Education will be the arbiter of whether there is probable cause for these charges.

Perhaps you can now understand why, under state law, the Board of Education is limited in its ability to share with the public specific details about the evidence against individual employees of the District. This is done to protect the employees’ constitutional rights and to ensure the investigation is not compromised.

In order to strike this difficult balance between providing our constituents with information while preserving the state-mandated process, we invited our District’s counsel to the April 8 Board meeting to speak to the community and share as much information as legally possible about the investigation and the process. We are sure it was frustrating for you to hear or read about this, as there really wasn’t a great deal our attorney could share, but it was important for us to let our community know that we have heard their concerns.

Since the investigation began in November 2012, several teachers and administrators and dozens of students have been interviewed. Despite what some have irresponsibly stated publicly, all of the students’ parents had to provide permission before their children could be interviewed. Any parent who asked if they could attend was told that they could be present if they wished to. Several parents did come. No parent objected to the interview and a very small number sat in. The interviews were conducted by professionals who are experienced in communicating in an age-appropriate manner with these adolescents.

It has been widely debated in educational circles – and even in this community at Board meetings – whether children are being over-tested in New York State and whether these standardized tests really make a difference in preparing them for the future. Regardless of how any of us feel about any of this, it is our obligation as a Board of Education to ensure that the school district prepares children to perform to the best of their abilities on these exams while upholding the highest level of integrity in administering them.

Since then, a new charge has come to light, an allegation that one or more administrators changed a Regents grade for a student at the high school. This allegation was brought to the Central Administration and the Board of Education through other employees of the District. Our duty in this unrelated instance was also clear: to investigate the matter objectively to ensure that the truth is brought to light. Again, we sought legal counsel and are complying with their suggested procedures. The District Attorney has also announced her own investigation into these allegations, and our legal counsel is working with her office and responding to her subpoena.
 
Many of our community members have expressed their concerns – some drawing their own conclusions – about the origin of these investigations and surmising that the process has been unfair. We even heard the term “witch hunt.”

Just like you, we hear what’s being said in the community and we feel that it is time for us to set the record straight. Make no mistake – these investigations are warranted based on legitimate, detailed concerns expressed by particular parents of young students, as well as other employees of our District. These investigations are being conducted by independent counsel who has no stake in the outcome other than obtaining evidence to determine the truth about what happened in each instance.  

These investigations were started in the first place only because individual parents or employees came forward with what appeared to be legitimate complaints that warranted investigation, not a “witch hunt” or “hidden agenda.” The ultimate determination as to whether the complaints are credible will be made by the Board of Education, and only upon substantial and credible evidence. If the evidence is not there, we will not recommend charges against those employees. On the other hand, if there is credible evidence of significant wrongdoing – particularly if improper acts hurt the best interests of our students – we will find that probable cause exists for charges to be brought against those particular employees. Those hearings themselves will not be public, though the outcome will be. We are taking these great lengths to ensure that we “get it right,” not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because NYSED is monitoring our process and decisions. If we do not handle this process correctly, NYSED retains the right to do so themselves, and that would not be in the best interests of the Glen Cove City School District.

When we each volunteered to serve our community on this Board, we had no idea that we would be faced with this time-consuming and disheartening task. Nevertheless, we accept the responsibility that faces each of us, and we do so with the absolute intent to make the fairest determinations that we possibly can, in the best interests of the District, its employees, its taxpayers and, most importantly, its children.

Thank you for your patience, your understanding and your ongoing support of the school system.

Sincerely,

The Glen Cove Board of Education