On May 20th a group of seniors from Suffern High School embarked on a trip to lower Manhattan to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The cost of two buses to transport the students, teachers and First Responders was donated; the highly successful Suffern Police Department D.A.R.E. Program donated $600 to purchase scarves for the students to commemorate the trip and a deal was negotiated that provided tickets at half price.
The students, many of whom hadn’t been born when 9/11 occurred, were provided with a memorable experiential learning opportunity in the form of first-hand accounts from two First Responders who participated in the rescue and recovery efforts in the days and weeks following the largest terrorist attack in the history of the United States.
By all accounts it was a rewarding educational experience for all in attendance. The First Responder’s accounts of what occurred during the aftermath connected students with the harsh realities faced by the nation as First Responders were charged first with conducting a rescue operation that quickly turned into a somber effort focused on recovering their fallen brethren.
Ten days after the field trip, Stephen Marx, Grievance Chair of the Suffern Education Association, filed a grievance against the Suffern Central School District Administration and/or the Board of Education.
The grievance, a copy of which was provided by an SEA member, claims among other things that:
•“There was a serious and alarming security breach perpetrated by the District at a recent off site school sponsored event.”
•“Members of the SEA on the field trip were placed in a dangerous situation by the SCSD Administration and/or Board of Education when non-district chaperones were invited to participate for the District without the proper clearances.”
•“Students on the trip were placed in a dangerous situation when the District allowed uncleared parents/community members to ride a SCSD school bus full of children and participate in a field trip with minors.”
The grievance continues by referencing District Policies 4531 and 4532.
Policy 4531 covers Field Trips and Excursions and among other things, states that “all requests for day field trips must be submitted to the appropriate Building Principal at least thirty (30) days prior to the trip date. The thirty (30) day requirement may be waived by the Superintendent.”. The field trip in question had been discussed and planned months in advance and in fact Dr. Adams had expressed an interest in and was planning to attend this field trip.
Policy 4532 deals with Adult School Volunteers. In part it requires adult volunteers to fill out a form where they disclose any felony convictions and provide two non-family references who can verify that the volunteer is “of good moral character.” Although Marx falsely claims that the First Responders were chaperones, they did not in fact act in this capacity and were not directly supervising students. They were on hand to provide personal accounts of their experiences on 9/11 and during the aftermath.
According to District policy, they should have been required to fill out a disclosure form.
Inquiries were made and although some parents seem to recall having filled out forms when they acted as chaperones for overnight trips, nobody recalled having to disclose any felony convictions or being required to provide two references. Apparently this form, which doesn’t appear to be available on the District website and which nobody seems to be able to recall having to have filled out in the past, was not presented to the two First Responders in question.
Both First Responders who volunteered to go on the trip have children who are students in the District, both are or have been involved in youth sports in which their children participate, neither of them have a felony conviction, one of them still puts his life on the line for others each day and yet according to the Suffern Education Association, the inclusion of these two parent volunteers/First Responders put adult union members and students in a “dangerous situation” because the volunteers were “uncleared.”
The Union Has Never Before Filed a Grievance Regarding this Policy
A FOIL request was submitted asking for copies of any grievances filed by the union regarding First Responders, parent volunteers, elected officials etc. having not filled out this form and being “cleared” by building administrators. The FOIL revealed that the union has filed no such grievance at all over over the last 20 years nor have they ever even a sought any documentation regarding class trips or parent volunteer forms, but for some inexplicable reason Marx chose to file a grievance only after two First Responders donated their time to share their experiences with students.
The grievance names the SCSD administration and the Board of Education. It also specifically singles out past SCSD Board President Dr. Amany Dgheim who attended the outing as a guest but who provided her own transportation to and from the outing.
Policy 4532 states “Persons wishing to volunteer must contact the Building Principal or other individual designated by the Building Principal and must complete a volunteer application form.”
The policy does not state that the District administration or the Board of Education is charged with enforcing this policy nor can a Building Principal designate the District administration or the Board of Education to fulfill this obligation and yet Mr. Marx again for some inexplicable reason, did not choose to file a grievance against the principal of his own building.
Further investigation revealed that although required, the volunteer application form is generally not provided at other schools in the District and yet according to sources, the SEA has not yet filed grievances against any Building Principals thus far or ever.
At the Suffern Central School District Board meeting on June 25th, Stephen Marx, who has a history of calling out during Board meetings, ignoring public comment rules and making misleading statements addressed the board. A complete transcript of his comments is provided below. Marx falsely claimed that the Board “leaked” confidential material relating to the SEA Grievance procedures. The truth of the matter is that his own union members provided the information confidentially out of their disgust at the fact that their union would file a complaint about First Responders at all. Union members providing information requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation by their own union.
“There is a history of retaliation and intimidation from our own leadership,” claimed one teacher, “Some of us cannot afford to come forward but know that we are embarrassed by this petty vindictiveness.”
“To think that the teacher’s union would attack 9/11 First Responders that ran towards the World Trade Center towers to rescue innocent civilians during the worst terrorist attack in US history are a threat to staff and students, is unconscionable and disgusting,” said 20 year NYPD Veteran, 30 year military veteran and 9/11 First Responder Walt Kruk. “They always say that we should NEVER FORGET, however they have truly FORGOTTEN.”
Marx also claimed that their grievance materials and procedures were confidential and suggested that a breach of Executive Session had taken place. What Mr. Marx fails to recognize is that grievances are indeed subject to FOIL laws and the District isn’t responsible for leaks occurring within his own association as his own members provided the documentation.
In his statement to the Board, Marx claims that “Keeping kids first when it comes to safety is something I thought everyone in the District was behind.” His grievance actually first mentions that “Members of the SEA on the field trip were placed in a dangerous situation,,,” before ever mentioning students being placed in a “dangerous situation.” Marx completely failed to mention this fact.
Interestingly enough, the District currently has two male union members out for “alleged” inappropriate conduct with female students. One from the high school is on paid suspension while the other from the Middle School is out on paid administrative leave. Union members have revealed that the SEA wanted the member from the Middle School back in the classroom and he was actually put on student rosters before a massive outcry from parents led to the District backing down. A Title IX investigation was not conducted into this individual despite a report on April 2nd from attorney Elizabeth Ledkovsky who led a Title IX investigation during the winter months that revealed that serious allegations had not been investigated to their conclusion in a different matter. Marx as Union Grievance Chair advocates for these members, while clearly not “keeping kids first.”
But wait, there’s more…
According to those involved, Suffern Education Association President and Suffern High School teacher John Canty was involved in discussions and in the planning of the field trip months in advance and he, himself went on the field trip in question.
As President of the Union, Canty could have easily intervened prior to the trip ever having taken place to ensure that District policy 4532 was enforced in order to protect himself, his union members and students from the “serious and alarming security breach” and “dangerous situation” posed by the First Responders involved. According to sources within the union, there is no record that Canty raised any alarm prior to the trip having taken place and had a complaint been filed and had this complaint been subsequently ignored by the District, this would have been outlined in the grievance.
District Policy 4532 also states “All volunteers are required to act in accordance with district policies, regulations and school rules. Any staff member who supervises volunteers may ask any volunteer who violates district policies, regulations or school rules to leave school grounds, and immediately notify the Building Principal.”
As the senior union official on the field trip, Canty appears to have violated District Policy 4532 by not asking the First Responders to leave as a result of their having violated district policies thus failing to protect students and his own members from the “serious and alarming security breach” and “dangerous situation” cited in the grievance.
It’s not known if Stephen Marx has filed a grievance or formal charges against Mr. Canty for failing to protect SEA members however that is an internal union matter.
We have taken the liberty of informing the Suffern Central School District School Board and the administration of this egregious violation of District Policy 4532 and have demanded a full investigation.
At the June 24th BOE Meeting at the 16:00 minute mark of the video, Marx addressed the Board and made the following statement:
“Confidential material related to the SEA grievance procedures and FOIL requests were leaked to a basement blogger on social media. We have the screenshots and published them in our SEA News Notes last week. I’m sure the Board has already been made aware of this. To quote the blogger “The union is grieving First Responders being on a 9/11 trip and a Board member who advocated for better training for active shooter drills. It was probably discussed in Executive Session. I have sources employed by the District. I wouldn’t say it unless I could prove it.’
Right now there are eight grievances against the District and I’m working on two more before the end of the year.
There are absolutely no grievances regarding anything remotely associated with an active shooter drill or otherwise and the field trip grievance is about student safety and the proper vetting of volunteers and chaperones.
Keeping kids first when it comes to safety is something I thought everyone in the District was behind. Uh, apparently not since the grievance was semantically denied today by Dr. Castaldo in stage two. Uh, on 5/16/2019 there was a special Board of Education meeting focusing on confidentiality concerns. At the 2:09 mark of the meeting the following statement was read:
‘This is a statement on behalf of the Board of Education of the Suffern Central School District. A serious breach of Executive Session confidentiality has been identified and an internal and external investigation shall take place immediately. We cannot discuss this any further tonight. Thank you.’
The SEA would like to know when the internal and external investigation of SEA grievance materials & FOIL requests that were leaked by the Board of Education members and/or District employees will begin. Grievances deal with confidential matters, are handled in Executive Session and by contract are the sole property of my association. We await your statement addressing this ethical and legal matter. Thank you”