The original complaint to NYSED was made in June 2008, not “the Summer of 2007” as indicated in the letter. As for the lack of an explanation, the reason is quite simple there is no good explanation and never has been one. The teacher purposely flunked my son out of spite and school officials rallied around her to cover up her reprehensible behavior.
For those not familiar with the context of this letter, let me provide a thumbnail sketch. For those who know the story just skip the rest of this post.
My son was born severely premature and although very intelligent had a number of Learning Disability issues. My wife, Dr. Maria Cox, has worked in the field of special education for 25 years, the last 10 at the New Rochelle school district, has 2 masters and her doctorate from Columbia University and has been on the faculty there for over a decade. You can learn more about me by Googling for “Robert Cox bio”. Given her background, I deferred to her in dealing with various failures of the district to meet my son’s needs but after the problems continued and got worse, I got involved as well. The district routinely violated my son’s civil rights, falsified records and later, during impartial hearings in front of a NYSED impartial officer, made numerous false statements under oath which are documented through transcripts and district records entered into evidence at the hearing (all on file with NYSED).
The specific issue which I have addressed to Mr. Abrams involves Marissa Raniolo my son’s 10th grade Chemistry teacher. For reasons never made clear she adopted a hostile attitude towards my son and specifically the requirement that she provide him rather basic accommodations as described in his “IEP” (preferred seating, extra time to complete assignments, etc). She gratuitously moved him from the front row, center seat he prefers, gave him zeros for in-class assignments which he failed to completed and went so far as to mock his disability in front of the entire class. After many months of attempts at resolution, matters came to a head in June 2007 after I filed a request for an Impartial Hearing. As per State law, a resolution meeting was held at which I was largely a spectator to a discussion between the Principal of New Rochelle High School and the Director of Special Education in which they argued over “getting to resolution” in the case. It was agreed, among other things, that my son’s grade for the entire Chemistry grade would be replaced by his grade on the August 2007 Chemistry Regents Exam. At this point, the teacher, who was present, threw a fit, so much so that the Principal of NRHS told her to “shut up”, something I had never seen before — or since. After some discussion between the principal, the teacher and the head of the science department at NRHS they added a stipulation to the agreement proposed by the Special Education department. They would accept the deal on the condition that my son take the June 2007 Chemistry Regents Exam scheduled for the following week and if, after that test, my son had passed the course they would agree to later replacing the grade. I refused to sign any deal that was contingent on anything, especially the actions of this particular teacher. I proposed instead that as the hearing did not start until July, I would have my son take the June test, with the understanding that if he passed the course there would still be time enough to come to resolution with the contingency no longer in play. Any hope for a deal fell apart, however, when I was informed that my son had gotten a 67 on the test and thus failed the class for the year. Knowing our case was a slam-dunk, I saw no reason to delay going forward with the Impartial Hearing. The Special Education department attempted to salvage the deal but I declined to discuss it further, believing that in a few days time the hearing officer would ORDER the district to remedy the situation. Having an order from the hearing office struck me as much stronger than signing a deal with people I had no reason to trust.
The hearing process usually takes a morning and occasionally a full day. My son’s hearing consisted of 14 hearing dates, often going past 6 PM at night, for 9 months. Days after I conclusively demonstrated that the Director of Special Education made false statements under oath, falsified records, and then used the records to trick the school board into formally approving her actions. the district suddenly flipped their position and agreed to settle the case. That settlement in February 2008 set the stage for my son re-taking the Chemistry exam that summer.
As part of the settlement, the district agreed to provide a private tutor to prepare my son for the exam. The first day the tutor met with my son in May 2008 he asked for a copy of my son’s exam answer sheet so he could evaluate what my son knew and did not know the year before. My son went to the head of the science department to get a copy of the answer sheet; meanwhile my wife was reminded in an email from the department head that she had provided a copy of the exam the year before. My wife found the document provided to her in June 2007 by the head of the science department and gave it to the tutor. My son, unaware that tutor had been given the answer sheet by my wife gave him the answer sheet he obtained that same week. It was in this session that the tutor noticed that there were major discrepancies between the two documents and that the section scores had not been added correctly and that one of the questions was graded wrong on one version and right on the other but that despite this the section scores were identical. Depending on which was correct, my son’s score had been reduced by 10 or 11 raw score points, that he had not gotten a 67 but a 74 or 75 and that he had PASSED the course originally, not failed it that the entire 9 month hearing had been unnecessary (taxpayer might want to know the district has spent over $250,000 on lawyers to fight me on this and other issues).
I immediately wrote to the district, informed them of the discrepancies and stated my belief that the teacher had purposely lowered my son’s score in order to kill the proposed resolution agreement from June 2007, that the entire hearing would have been unnecessary, and that my son’s transcript was wrong. While the district agreed that the score was wrong they gave a completely false account of the nature of the error. They claimed it was a “conversion” error whereby the rater of the test had gotten the raw score right but had made an error in using the lookup table to convert the raw score to the a final score when the error was failing to add up 4 two digit numbers to calculate the raw score, the conversion of the wrong raw score to the final score was done correctly on both answer sheets but were wrong because the raw score used was wrong. Even more bizarre, the district refused to change my son’s transcript to reflect his actual grade or to discuss simply giving him a 75 for the class based on the June 2007 exam as was permitted under the resolution agreement we came to in February 2008.
It was at this point, in June 2008, that my wife contacted the NYSED Department of Assessment. After she, and then later I, went back and forth with Mr. Thomas Schoeck of that office, it became apparent that Mr. Schoeck was not taking our complaint seriously and simply accepting the district’s false account of what transpired. In pressing for an answer, Mr. Schoeck informed me that he could not communicate a formal reply directly to me but that it would be sent to the district. I was told by NYSED that a letter was sent in August 2008. I asked for a copy of the letter from the district and was repeatedly denied a copy. Thus began more than a year of stonewalling by the district.
In October 2008, the district informed me that NYSED had found no problem with the scoring and that the district considered the matter closed. They refused to acknowledge any letter from NYSED and NYSED kept insisting I talk to the district so I ended up stuck.
In March 2009 I read a newspaper story that a New Rochelle resident, Saul Cohen, was a member of the NYS Board of Regents. Still wanting to see the letter, I contacted Mr. Cohen. He responded by informing me that he had met with Mr. David Abrams and confirmed that there was a letter and provided some of the details. This was good but I was still stuck dealing with the district’s stonewalling, in particular Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Cindy Babcock-Deutsch who seemed to revel in causing me, and my family aggravation.
In July 2009 there was a significant change in the school board — a coup really under which a new leadership was installed. By September it became apparent that the new leadership might be more willing to see that I got a copy of the letter so I tried again. The board, however, still refused to respond to my renewed requests. I received conflicting reports as to why. On the one hand I was told that the Superintendent was telling the board there was never any letter; on the other I was told that the Superintendent had read the letter to the board in October 2008 and the board approved sending the letter I received that month in the hope that I would drop the matter and go away.
In December 2009 I read Mr. Cohen’s letter to the board in which Mr. Cohen confirmed the existence of the letter. I would describe the board as “stunned”. The Superintendent was clearly apoplectic to have been caught out like that
On December 7, 2009 I was given a copy of the letter by the President of the BoE. Reading it, I realized that NYSED had not investigated ANY of my complaints I had made in June 2008. In fact, the letter was not actually a response to my complaint at all. Instead it was a reply to the principal of NRHS asking the test be re-rated. He had sent them them a unilaterally adjusted answer sheet where 10 raw score points had been added back and asked them to re-rerate the test based on the ONE question which was marked both right and wrong on the two answer sheets. The letter sent back was to say the test had been re-rated, that my son’s answer was correct but that they had found another question marked right that was wrong so that the score of 74 presented to NYSED was the correct score.
I informed Mr. Abrams that having seen the letter, I now knew that there had never been ANY sort of investigation or formal response to my complaint and that my complaint still stood, unaddressed, by his NYSED. A few days later he wrote me back and we exchanged the following emails:
On Dec 17, 2009, at 4:39 PM, David Abrams wrote:
Dear Mr. Cox,
Thank you for you inquiry regarding your son, William Owen Cox, and his Chemistry Regents Examination from June 2007.
We did review your complaint when it was made to Tom Schoeck and we did determine that this did not warrant an official investigation from the State. As you pursued your complaint with the school district, they did request that we rescore the examination. Requests for rescoring an examination can only be made by a school district administrator to the State. We did rescore the exam and you have seen the correspondence dated August 28, 2008 to the school regarding the results of that process. The enclosure with that letter is with the school and since the letter is addressed to the principal, Mr. Conetta is responsible for sharing that information with you; I spoke with Mr. Conetta earlier today and he assured me that the information you requested has been shared with you. He also informed us that there was never a second answer sheet generated in the school. (emphasis added)
As to your new request that we conduct a “full investigation,” we believe that the results of the rescoring do not indicate a need to conduct further investigation. You have already been advised that the school had the option of accepting our rescoring results or keeping its original scoring results, but in either case your son ends up with the same score. While we understand your concern, we do not see sufficient evidence of impropriety to support additional investigation.
As to your request to see everything in the file, other than your letter of June 11, 2008 to Mr. Schoeck, a copy of Meg Overocker’s letter, and your e-mails sent to us during the past week, we do not have a file of information.
My understanding is that your son has also graduated from high school, and is now attending university. I hope his college studies are going well and I wish him the best of luck.
Office for Standards, Assessment & Reporting
NYS Education Department
The reason you do not “see sufficient evidence of impropriety” is because you have not seen the two different versions of my son’s answer sheet and that is the point of my email last week. I have sought for 18 months to present the evidence to someone from your office. What I do not understand is why your office is not even willing to LOOK at these documents.
I have in front of me right now 2 different versions of the answer sheets from my son’s 2007 Chemistry Regents Test. If need be I am willing to drive to Albany next week and present them to your or your designee for inspection. As will be instantly clear, there is absolutely no doubt that there are two versions of the answer sheet.
Abrams statement about his discussion with NRHS Principal Donald Conetta is very disturbing. Yes, it is true that the August 2008 letter was shared with me. What Abrams or Conetta failed to mention is that it was shared with me just 10 days earlier, on Dec 7 2009, more than 16 months after it was received by the district. During that entire 16 months the District had repeatedly claimed there was no such letter and only turned it over when they became aware that Mr. Cohen, a man well-known to the New Rochelle BoE, had confirmed its existence to me in writing.
Not only was the principal’s statement false but it would be knowingly false. The administration of the district and the entire board has seen both versions of the answer sheets because I spent a full hour in September 2008 at an executive board meeting going through the many discrepancies in the two documents and all the ways in which they showed how NYSED guidelines had been violated. Upon receiving Abrams email, I offered to drive to Albany with my son and present both versions to him in person. He asked me to scan the second version (the first version was the version used to re-rate the test in 2008) and send it to him. I did that on 12/22.
Since then I have called and email every week, recently asking for and receiving the assistance of State Rep. Amy Paulin’s office.
This particular vein of deceit is just a small part of gold mine of lies, obfuscations and false dealings by school officials in New Rochelle. As I mentioned on the telephone I have obtained thousands of pages of records which document illegal behavior by district employees. What began as an issue regarding the way my son was being treated has morphed into something far larger which goes a long way towards explaining why the district has gotten itself so far out on a limb in attempting to cover up the wrong doing which has occurred with my son’s Chemistry Regents Exam.
As I explained to Paulin’s staff, when they asked why, if my son has already graduated, I continue to demand a full accounting of what happened with my son’s exam in 2007. There is, of course, the simple desire not to let them get away with it. But this has became a far bigger issue. My son was classified as a student with a disability. My wife was, at the time, serving as one of the districts few full-time CSE Chairpersons which is a key decision-making position for special education in the district. She is an expert in the field of Special Education. She is a professor at Columbia, teaching this very subject. My wife and I are both well-educated, articulate, effective advocates for our children. Many of the people involved in this case are people we have known for years, some we have socialized with, all who have known my wife in a professional capacity for a long time. Consider then what this situation says about how New Rochelle treats less well-educated, less-affluent parents. If the son of a CSE Committee Chair for the City School District of New Rochelle is encountering the sort of failures which occurred in our son’s case and the sort of unethical and possibly criminal behavior used to cover up what went on then what possible chance does any other parent have in dealing with New Rochelle’s educational bureaucracy.