South Country Doings
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View Regina Seltzer's Letter to the BOE
STATEMENT BY THE BOARD OF EDUCATION SOUTH COUNTRY
RE: STUDENT GRADING INVESTIGATION 2/07/12
Some months ago, Kevin O’Connell, a former
employee of the District, filed a Notice of
Claim alleging that he was terminated from his position as High School Principal because he had
refused to change the grades of a student. In response, on September 23, 2011, counsel for the
District conducted a hearing pursuant to Section 50-h of the General Municipal Law. Mr.
O’Connell testified extensively at the hearing. He acknowledged, under oath, that neither the
Superintendent nor any member of Central Administration had ever directed him to change the
grades of a student. Further, he had no personal knowledge that any other staff member had
been ordered to do so. While he claimed to have indirect knowledge that grades had been
changed, he flatly refused to identify anyone or provide any documents to substantiate his claim
in this regard. Lastly, Mr. O’Connell admitted that when he was informed by the Superintendent
at a meeting on or about April 25, 2011 that he would be recommending to the Board that Mr.
O’Connell’s probationary period be terminated, Mr. O’Connell did not raise any issue related to
student grades. Instead, after being told by the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of
the reasons for their recommendation, Mr. O’Connell raised the possibility of a resignation in
lieu of termination. This suggestion was accepted by the Superintendent and Mr. O’Connell
subsequently resigned effective June 30, 2011.
Via correspondence dated October 28, 2011, Mr. O’Connell offered to drop all claims
against the District if it would agree to pay him approximately $50,000.00. Based upon Mr.
O’Connell’s admission that no one had ever directed him to change any student grades, his
refusal to identify anyone who was ordered to do so or had relevant information in this regard,
the Board, working in conjunction with its insurance carrier, refused to pay Mr. O’Connell the
money he was demanding.
Thereafter, Mr. O’Connell delivered to representatives of the New York Post confidential
student records (in violation of State and Federal Law) which he alleged supported his claim that
grades had been altered. It is important to note that Mr. O’Connell never disclosed these records
to the District prior to delivering them to the newspaper.
Upon reading the article that was published by the Post on December 5, 2011, the Board
met in executive session immediately prior to its public meeting on December 7, 2011. At that
time it was determined that the questions raised in the article were sufficient to require the
commencement of a special investigation of the entire matter. As a result, at the outset of the
public meeting, the Board appointed Bronwyn Black, Esq., a former Suffolk County Assistant
District Attorney, to interview such witnesses and review such documents as she deemed
necessary in order to determine whether improper conduct had occurred. The Board further
authorized Ms. Black to retain the services of individuals with expert knowledge of the
computerized grading system in order to assist her in her investigation.
Ms. Black provided the Board with an initial confidential report on January 17, 2012. In
executive session discussion with Ms. Black on January 18, 2012, she was asked by several
Board members whether she believed her investigation was complete with the issuance of the
report. She responded by stating that she had provided the initial report, including her findings
and recommendations, at that time based upon her belief that the Board wanted to address the
relevant issues as soon as possible. However, she was awaiting information from E-school, the
company that provides the student grading software and monitors the District’s program. That
information would disclose who physically changed certain grades. Once obtained, Ms. Black
would evaluate her findings and determine whether further investigation was necessary.
Based upon those statements, the Board authorized Ms. Black to continue her investigation.
On January 31, 2012, we received correspondence from our attorney to the effect that
Ms. Black had received significant information from E-school regarding physical access to the
District’s student grading program. As a result, she had determined that further interviews would
be necessary, both as to individuals previously interviewed and others not yet interviewed. She
believed her investigation would conclude within the next thirty (30) days and indicated that a
further confidential report would follow.
Unfortunately, while we await that report, it has become obvious that Ms. Black’s initial
report has been delivered to the New York Post and perhaps other news organizations. This is
unfortunate. We believe that justice for all participants demands that judgment be reserved until
Ms. Black’s final report is delivered to the Board for its consideration.
The South Country School District Board of
regarding the student grading investigation.
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