The other day Bob Marrone asked me on WVOX about the impetus behind creating this web site. As I was preparing to read the content of the following email exchange (below) to the school board that night I avoided getting into any details on the air as that might have given the BoE time to prepare some covers story for the information contained in the letter.
For the past six years I have been repeatedly lied to by school officials who have sought to cover up the repeated failures of department heads and staff to do their job with regard to my oldest son who has since graduated from New Rochelle High School and gone to college. With him safely out of the school system I am more comfortable beginning to reveal the full extent of the lies, deceit, abuse, incompetence and retaliation that I have experience in the New Rochelle School District over those years. In fact, I have thousands of pages of transcripts and records which I intend to publish over the coming months. The picture they will paint of the New Rochelle School District is not a flattering one, to say the least.
I have held on to these documents and patiently gathered more and gotten various school officials on record waiting for the day when I felt I had the size audience that would insure that all of New Rochelle would come to know the full extent of the corruption that has infected our school district. Readers so far have gotten a taste — misappropriated trucks and vans, arrests by the DA’s office for grand larceny and falsifying billing records, no-show jobs, sexual harassment, possession and distribution of child pornography. I will take my time rolling out what I have been gathering over these past few years but rest assured…you ain’t seen nothing yet.
This is not to say there are not many fine teachers, administrators, staff — and even a few board members. In all fairness to them my three other kids have had excellent experiences in New Rochelle. Unfortunately it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch and New Rochelle has some extremely rotten apples. In fact, there are quite a few criminals working for the school district including senior officials who are paid large sums of money by our school system. It is my hope that as the full story comes to light it will start to dawn on members of the Board of Education that they have been played for fools by corrupt individuals who will say and do anything — include break the law — to maintain their incomes, benefits, pensions and power.
My reward for speaking the truth and challenging the corrupt administration of the New Rochelle School District is to have been treated as pariah. The district has retaliated against my son and my wife, a teacher working for the district, and taken extreme measures against me personally including hiring a private investigator to search my background, having people call my neighbors and business colleagues and clients to ask questions about my finances, banning me from school grounds, prohibiting administrators from speaking with me and even went so far as to call the web hosting provider of Talk of the Sound to “demand” that my web site be taken down because it was critical of school officials.
Welcome to public education cosa nostra style!
As one former school official put it: New Rochelle is run by a pack of “liars, crooks and thieves”. I concur. I also know that few in New Rochelle will want to believe the full nature of the abuse that has occurred in New Rochelle. Facts, however, are a stubborn thing. As readers will come to see, the records speak for themselves.
To begin to understand any of this it will be well to start with a letter sent by the State of New York Department of Education to the New Rochelle School District in August of 2008. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak has repeatedly denied to me and to members of the school board that any such letter exists, in effect calling me a liar. I first learned of the letter’s existence in March 2009 as the result of some serendipity involving Saul B. Cohen, a board member of the New York State Board of Regents, who happened to live about a mile from my house. As a Regent, Mr. Cohen is one of the most powerful and important people in the field of education in the State of New York and his word is generally considered good within New York State.
As the exchange clearly shows, Mr. Cohen informs me that a letter was sent from an investigator at NYSED to the principal of New Rochelle High School. As a parent, I am lawfully entitled to a copy of the letter. The letter was in response to my letter two months earlier requesting an investigation into why there were TWO different copies of my son’s answer sheet with different answers, different handwriting and most importantly the wrong score. It has been my contention to the district and the state that my son’s test score was intentionally scored incorrectly in order to cause him to fail his Chemistry Honors class three years ago.
My son’s chemistry teacher, Marissa Raniolo, was upset with the outcome of a resolution meeting in which, due to her failure to do her job, my son was to be allowed by the district to to get an alternative grade in chemistry. She believed that if she caused my son to fail her class it would undo a deal between Don Conetta, the principal of New Rochelle High School, Yvette Goorevitch, Director of Special Education, and myself. Her actions did, in fact, cause the deal to unravel and as a result I was required to spend nine months in litigation with the District. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak paid lawyers over $150,000 to tie me up in hearings for almost a year. Most such hearing take place in a single morning. My son’s hearing took place over 14 full-day sessions, the entire process took nearly year and produced hundreds of pages of exhibits and over two thousands pages of testimony.
The source of the dispute? My son has a learning disability. The district provided a list of classroom accommodations to help him cope with his disability. The list has the force of federal law and failure to provide the accommodations on the list is a civil rights violation. For reasons which remain a mystery even to school officials, Ms. Raniolo simply refused repeated requests to provide the accommodations for my son. Specifically, he was entitled to preferential seating, extra time on tests and to complete in-class assignments and entitled a copy of class notes/powerpoint presentations. The effort required of the teacher to provide these accommodations is de minimis yet she refused. Why? I have never really understood but the result has been three years of wrangling with the school district which has fought me every step of the way at a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For my son, this was the fourth year in a row that he was forced to contend with special education staff who failed to properly inform teachers of the accommodations and services my son was to be provided by the district and teachers, once properly informed, simply refused to provide the list of accommodations even though these accommodations required little or no effort on their part. Whatever their reason for refusing to provide accommodations to my son, once my wife and I complained about it, the matter became a “turf war” with the teacher, the union and the administration circling the wagons to “protect” the union member at the expense of the child.
The district ultimately settled the case and agreed to allow my son to retake the Chemistry exam with the understanding that the grade on the test would become the grade for the entire class. Unfortunately, more than a year passed and he had to basically re-learn Chemistry over this summer vacation. He gave up his summer job and we cancelled family vacation plans so we could stay home with him while he studied.
It was in preparing for the exam that the existence of two different answer sheets first came to light. It is a rather obvious violation of Regents Exam protocol and indicates that over a dozen aspects of the Regents test protocol were not followed. This single incident involved four different district employees who all violated NYSED policies and procedures. In fact, these are crimes including fraud and creating false records.
When I learned in May 2008 that my son had actually passed the test and the course and that the entire nine month hearing process was unnecessary I was, needless to say, very unhappy. I wanted the district to come up with a way to give him a grade that fair to him and did not require that he spent the summer re-learning Chemistry.
In May of 2008 I informed Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak about the matter and that the District was in breach of our stipulation agreement because, in fact, the hearing and resulting agreement were all predicated on a falsehood — that my son had failed Chemistry Honors when he had not. When the District refused to take action I filed a complaint with New York State a month later but never got a response from the State. It was only through the exchange with Regent Cohen that I learned that the State had sent a response. It was only then that I learned that not only had the state investigator concurred that there has been improprieties but that the District admitted there had been a problem.
To put this in full context, it was my frustration with the behavior of school staff and administrators seeking to cover for them and in particular this matter involving the Chemistry test which spurred me to start attending board meeting, begin to speak during the public comment period and…start this web site. All this on the heels of years of prior, similar malfeasance on the part of school officials seeking to cover up other errors by other teachers.
It has now been 16 months since the District received the letter. Any parent is entitled to any school record that references their child. They are required by law to turn over that letter. Even now Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak continues to tell school board members that no such letter exists.
I suppose it is just fine with Board members that Mr. Organisciak calls me a liar up and down. I wonder how Mr. Cohen will feel about Mr. Organisciak calling him a liar?
The exchange follows:
From: Saul B. Cohen
Subject: Re: NRHS Regents Exam Improprieties
Date: March 19, 2009 4:38:55 PM EDT
To: Robert Cox
Dear Mr. Cox,
In response to your letter I met with David Abrams, Director of Assessment for the New York State Dept. of Education. Mr. Abrams showed me the file relating to your son Owen’s case. The file includes your 6-11-08 letter to Mr. T. Schoeck of the NYSED testing office, as well as the 8-25-08 letter from Meg Overocker, NYSED Examination Specialist to the Principal of New Rochelle High School.
Mr. Abrams assured me that they did not ignore your complaint, but did indeed review the test scores, as reported in the 8-25-08. He stated that Mr. Schoeck had informed you that the Department review had been completed, with raw scores of 62 and converted scores of 74. He also informed me that use of two different answer sheets by the school is prohibited by his office, and that the school admitted that there had been a problem with the scoring. However, NYSED’s policy is that the school has the option to accept of reject NYSED’s review.
When I asked him what recourse a parent had under this policy, he recommended that you take up the matter with the School Superintendent, Dr. Richard Organisciak. He added that you could call him directly if you wished further clarification.
I personally feel that the policy of leaving the decision of leaving the decision to the school district, while generally appropriate, does not protect the student should the should the district fail to follow NYSED’s regulations on testing or to respond to a legitimate complaint. This is a policy the needs to be revisited, and I shall request such a review when the new State Education Commissioner takes office.
Thank you for alerting me to the problem. I appreciate your frustrations, and wish Owen the best in his future studies.
Saul B. Cohen
—– Original Message —–
From: “Robert Cox”
To: Saul B. Cohen
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 1:43 PM
Subject: NRHS Regents Exam Improprieties
We have not met. I am a parent from New Rochelle. Among other things I run a local news web site called Talk of the Sound.
You will have to excuse me but until a recent news story mentioning your re-election to the New York State Board of Regent I was unaware that a New Rochelle resident held such an important position. I had pretty much given up going through official channels but figure I will take one more shot here.
The short version is that last May my son was preparing to retake the NYS Chemistry Regents. He was retaking the test because he had failed the course after scoring a 67 on the exam. His tutor asked to see a copy of his original exam in order to prepare him for the August 2008 exam. What we received back from the school was two different versions of the test answer sheet. The answer sheets were clearly marked by different people, both contained the exact same score (67).
The raw score on both tests was the same (52).
The problem — other than there were two different versions of the answer sheet – is that raw score totals were added up incorrectly. Further, one of the questions was marked correct on one exam and incorrect on another so that one of the raw scores was incorrect. Depending on which answer sheet you use, my son had his raw score total improperly reduced by 10 or 11 raw score points. He should have had a 74 or 75 on the exam. This would have given him a passing grade in the class and since it was an honors class his score would have been adjusted up 10% in calculating this grade point average for college.
The impact of all of this is that two years after taking the class he had to work with a tutor, attending night classes and spend over 100 hours last summer preparing to retake the exam. He did and scored a 90.
I reported this to the District which has sought to sweep the matter under the rug. I reported this to the New York State Assessment office which refused to take any action — even to ask to view the two different versions of the exam. I then sought to raise the issue at a school board meeting and was repeatedly prevented from speaking. The board finally agreed to meet in executive session last September. They listened to my request for an independent investigation, said
nothing and has never responded since.
As this test is ostensibly your test, I am bringing it to your attention and hoping that you might be willing to look at the two answer sheets to see more clearly the many ways in which these answer sheets indicated various improprieties.
If you agree that something untoward has happen I can then explain to you WHY someone at New Rochelle High School would have cheated in order to LOWER a student’s test scores. In either case, the guidelines for the handling of Regents exams and test scores is detailed and requires various sign-offs from school officials. It should be quite clear from the answer sheets in my possession that many of the guidelines were not followed and so the sign-offs were improper. In looking into this matter, I am told that the as a matter of routine, teachers at the high school treat the Regents Exams in a cavalier manner.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
NOTE: To protect non-public email addresses the email addresses were redacted from this exchange
The existence of this letter shows that I have been lied to for 16 months by school officials and that they have lied because either they knew they were lying or because Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak was lying to them. In either case, one thing is for sure. Mr. Organsciak has known of this letter all along, lied about it dozens of times to many people including board members and lied to me.
This is not, however, about a letter.
This is about school officials and staff who were willing to punish my son, retaliate against my wife and defame me in order to cover up the bad behavior of one teacher — Marissa Raniolo. These officials should by now realize that I am never, ever going to forget what they put my son through over the several years or the way in which my wife is treated now or all the lies they have spread around town about me.
You had your turn.
Now its mine.