New Rochelle Special Education Director Files False and Misleading Claims with U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In response to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”), Director of Special and Alternative Education Yvette Goorevitch wrote a letter, dated June 18, 2012, to Erin Gimbel, Compliance Team Leader of the OCR handling the investigation into the complaint.

YvetteGoorevitchIn the letter, Goorevitch makes a series of misleading and, in some cases, material false statements to the OCR: Goorevitch Letter to Office of Civil Rights

The OCR complaint was filed by Richard Feltenstein, the father of Jennifer Feltenstein, one of two students left behind during a fire evacuation in January 2013. The OCR complaint was filed more than 8 months before the fire. Talk of the Sound obtained all records on file with the OCR through a Freedom of Information request.

The OCR complaint a series of issues involving access at New Rochelle High School including access to the Planetarium, the Linda E. Kelly Auditorium and Evacuation Chairs.

Talk of the Sound has reported extensively on the irregularities surrounding the ADA compliance project undertaken in order to claim (falsely) that the access ramps to the Planetarium had been made ADA compliant under a $200,000 (illegal) no-bid contract so will focus on the Evacuation Chairs and the Linda E. Kelly Auditorium.

Talk of the Sound has also reported on the failure of the District to evacuate two wheel-chair enabled students, Michael Martinez and Jennifer Feltenstein after which Goorevitch made a series of false and misleading statements including claims about Evacuation Chairs the District purchased after Jennifer self-advocated, expressed her fear that she would be trapped on an upper floor in the event of fire.

In her response to the OCR, Goorevitch makes a series of false and misleading statements about evacuation chairs, fire inspections and designated holding rooms:

Attachment# 20 is a description of the Evacuation Chairs and the Purchase Order for the Evacuation Chairs which were purchased to ensure emergency evacuation for stairway descent when elevators cannot be used. The building was inspected in Fall 2011 by the New
Rochelle Fire Department. The inspection included the designated holding rooms.

Evacuation Chairs were purchased to “ensure emergency evacuation for stairway descent when elevators cannot be used” but they were not received until August of 2012 and not unpacked from their crates until February, 2013, after the January 2013 fire where Feltenstein and Martinez were left behind. The letter to the OCR is dated June, 2012.

The New Rochelle Fire Department may have inspected rooms at the school but not what Goorevitch labels “designated holding rooms”. New Rochelle Fire Chief Louis DiMeglio told Talk of the Sound, and later, investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice, that the New Rochelle Fire Department was never made aware of any “designated holding rooms” at the high school nor would they have agreed to any such thing because it is a violation of New York State law not to evacuate handicapped people during an emergency so having rooms designated for the purpose of not removing people from the building in an emergency would have been rejected had the department been notified.

LiftGoorevitch saves her most elaborate fabrications for last — making a series of false and misleading statements about an Accessible Lift for Mobility Impaired Individuals and misplaced keys to the Lift:

Jennifer Feltenstein was enrolled in the Performing and Visual Arts Education (“PAVE”) program as vocalist for four years until her graduation in 2013.

Richard Feltenstein was horrified when, as a 9th grader, in her first concert performing with the other vocalists in PAVE, Jennifer Feltenstein did not appear with her classmates on stage but rather was stationed on the floor, off to the side of the stage, by herself. When Feltenstein complained, he says he was told that the fuses were blown on the lift and it did not work. Over the next several years, Feltenstein would be told one story after another but each year it would be the same thing — the PAVE singers on the stage with Jennifer in her wheelchair off to the side, singing alone. Three years went by, with repeated complaints by her father, until the day came when Jennifer was finally enabled to join her classmates on stage.

In her response to the OCR, Goorevitch portrayed the issue this way:

The Linda E. Kelly Auditorium is fully accessible from House 4 and is reflected in Attachment #1 . In addition. the stage has an Accessible Lift for Mobility Impaired Individuals. Attachment# 13 indicates the lift’s key box, the lift’s entrance from the ground floor, and the exit onto the stage. Please note there are four (4) keys available and are left with the Director of Performing Arts, Day Custodian, Night Custodian, and in the Key Box.

The stage in the Linda E. Kelly Auditorium is accessible to individuals with mobility impairments, the lift is not broken. On May 14, 2012 at approximately 7:15 pm, I received a phone call from Mr. Feltenstein advising me that Jennifer was performing in a concert in the Linda E. Kelly Auditorium which had begun at 7:00pm. He further reported that the lift was broken and Jennifer was participating in front of the stage. Upon further investigation, I learned that the lift was not broken. the key had been located and Jennifer participated
in the rest of the concert on the stage. Additional keys have since been made.

According to Richard Feltenstein, he was told on the night of May 14, 2012 that the reason his daughter was once again not on stage with the other PAVE vocalists was that the lift was “broken”. He was not wrong; he reported was what he was told.

Goorevitch claims that the issue was a misplaced key –which hardly explains why it was not until her junior year that Jennifer Feltenstein was finally able to perform on stage with her classmates — but that the misplaced key was located and Jennifer performed on the stage for the remainder of the concert.

Jennifer did perform on stage that night but it had nothing to do with a missing key.

Each year, Richard Feltenstein complained that his daughter was not on stage. Each year he was offered a different excuse — always some variation of how the lift was not operable. And each year he would point out that the front of the stage could be lowered or raised to form an “orchestra pit”. Feltenstein repeatedly asked why the stage could not be lowered so that Jennifer could roll onto the stage which could then be raised so she could roll onto the stage.

Each year Feltenstein says he was given excuses as to why that could not be done. He persisted at each concert and, finally, this relatively simple and obvious solution was implemented.