By Richard Gandon
The Suffern Central School District situation still has many unknowns however we did get some clarification from the statements that some of the board members released on March 8th.
Prior to the events of last week which included petitions being filed to remove the current school board President Dr. Amany Dgheim and the suspension of Superintendent Dr. Douglas Adams, we had been looking into three separate issues within the district. Our investigations so far show that there are some serious unresolved issues. All the pieces haven’t quite come together and we are waiting for FOIL’d information from some agencies.
Statements attributed to some of the current Board of Education members refer to the “safety and well-being of certain students in the Middle School and High School with respect to allegations of wrongful conduct against them by a school district pedagogical employee.”
We have learned that this may not be the first time that this pedagogical employee has allegedly been involved in inappropriate conduct. Within the last two years there were similar allegations made against the same individual. To protect all involved, names will be withheld and on the advice of an attorney, we are going to be intentionally vague in some areas as the investigation is ongoing.
Contrary to popular belief, Board of Education members are not always privy to everything that occurs in a school district. Privacy laws are so strict especially where students are involved that in some instances information cannot be released even to members of the board.
Based upon conversations we have had with attorneys with BOE experience, including one with a great deal of experience handling wrongful conduct issues involving pedagogical employees, the previous members of the Board of Education likely didn’t have knowledge of the previous allegations against the pedagogical employee in question as a direct result of their being on the board. As such, current board members, three of whom are new to the board in the past year, could not have known about these allegations.
Something interesting and perhaps somewhat strange happened within the past year; a possible smoking gun if you will.
Items were pulled off the consent agenda which is perfectly normal. A consent agenda involves a number of items bundled and voted on together in order to expedite a meeting. Generally speaking, all board members are in agreement or will vote the same way for or against on all of the items on the consent agenda. A single vote by all members and all items on the consent agenda either all pass or all fail to pass.
One of the items that was pulled off the consent agenda made perfect sense; two board members had to abstain and rightly so. The second item is the one that raises eyebrows for a number of reasons.
This specific item under what would be considered “normal” circumstances should have already been voted on however it wasn’t included, as written, during a previous vote.
This item also involved the same pedagogical employee previously mentioned.
It also could have easily been included in the aforementioned item that had also been removed from the consent agenda, but it wasn’t. It was completely separate and apart from all other similar items.
And then the Board voted.
Five yays, one nay and one abstention.
Of the five yays, three were from new board members who wouldn’t have known of previous alleged issues because they weren’t on the Board when the allegations were made. Two were from people who were members of the previous Board and who can reasonably be expected to have not known about the alleged previous issues. The nay was from a member of the previous Board and the abstention was also from a member of the previous Board.
It’s conceivable that these two board members were somehow made aware of the previous allegations and voted their conscience.
That they apparently voted their conscience in order to protect the wellbeing of the students in this district is commendable. By the same token, board members who had no previous knowledge of any alleged wrongdoing cannot be held accountable for voting to approve the item in question.
How did these board members who voted against the item in question or abstained know? What did they know? If they knew something might be amiss were they somehow prevented from sharing their concerns with the rest of the board? Those are some of the unanswered questions however, some of our best information regarding these allegations have come from district employees who are disturbed by what has allegedly transpired and who believe that the families and employees of this district deserve better. They don’t support the pedagogical employee in question and are aware of the alleged conduct. The bottom line is that we don’t know why these board members voted this way but it’s likely we should be appreciative.
Based on what we’ve found and including information from reliable sources who have come forward, we have reason to believe that previous alleged wrong doing did occur and that this was reported to the district. The specific information we have received is disturbing, disgraceful and parents would be outraged by it.
What we don’t know is when the report was made, who it was specifically made to and what the outcome of the investigation was.
In the event that there was not enough information or proof of alleged wrongdoing to dismiss the individual in question, it is understandable from a legal perspective although highly unpalatable that they were able remain in their pedagogical position. In essence, allowing the alleged fox onto the farm may have conceivably been something the district had no choice but to accept. Allowing the alleged fox into the henhouse is unforgivable. What were the results of the District’s investigation into the alleged conduct of this pedagogical employee? This is a question that parents deserve an answer to.
FOILs have been filed with a number of agencies, appeals have been written and filed and Article 78 petitions are being prepared with the assistance of the previously mentioned expert. We’ve discovered that complaints have recently been filed that strongly appear to be related to the current allegations. We don’t have specifics however, we do know that an investigation is being conducted outside the school district.
Executive Session information is privileged. Contrary to the opinions of some on social media who seem hellbent on stirring up dissension, there are no formal notes and no recordings to FOIL. The vast majority of those who claim to be “in the know” are not.
There are many unanswered questions but more troubling are the unsubstantiated, nasty allegations being made on social media against board members and the Superintendent.
The digging continues, questions are being asked and investigations are being conducted.
The primary concern should be the safety and wellbeing of the students in this district.
Patience is required as these serious allegations are investigated. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, we should be confident that those responsible will be dealt with accordingly and that New York State Pass-the Trash laws are strictly enforced. There may be no evidence or not enough evidence of wrongdoing. Either way, some will have egg on their faces and apologies will be due.