NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Here we go again.
Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, the New Rochelle Board of Education has once again hired an employee who could not pass a basic background check — suggesting that no employment background check was done or that school officials knew of her sordid past and hired her anyway.
In a District with a a strong and active Special Education PTA, whose leaders often find their way into school board seats and a Special Education Director who recently won a state-wide award as Special Education Administrator of the year, the hiring of Kavita Gupta, given her background, is shocking. Joseph Williams, recently promoted to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, making over $200,000 a year, has some explaining to do.
Talk of the Sound launched an investigation last spring after learning that Gupta, who had been working as a consultant to the District, was hired as a direct employee, an interim teaching position paying $75,000 a year as a math teacher at New Rochelle High School. A Freedom of Information request was filed June 23rd. As has been the case for many years, all such requests are flagged and sent to the Superintendent of Schools, the School Board President and Vice President, the District’s law firm and other officials. Soon after this particular FOIL request was made, Gutpa worked her last day in New Rochelle. Readers can draw their own conclusions as to the timing of her departure days after our FOIL request.
Kavita Gupta’s disgraceful tenure as Principal of the Brooklyn School of Global Finance Principal (PS K688, District 16) was widely reported in 2012 and readily available to anyone willing to enter “Kavita Gupta New York” into a Google search. Of course, the District would have access to her disciplinary records in New York City as well.
On June 24, 2011, the Special Commissioner of Investigations made the first of two referrals to the Office of Special Investigations of the New York City Department of Education. The first referral centered on Gupta unilaterally taking away required services and support for Special Education students and then ordering her Special Education staff to alter legal documents to align with her illegal actions. On July 18, 2011, OSI received a second referral from SCI that Gupta threatened to give her special education teachers letters to their respective personnel files if they refused to change student IEPs. An Investigative Report on allegations against Gupta was completed on February 10, 2012. Talk of the Sound has obtained a redacted version of the Investigative Report.
The report found that Gupta improperly eliminated special education services mandated under federal law for classified students, unilaterally placed those student in a more-restrictive environment without holding a required meeting of the Committee on Special Education, without obtaining parental consent and then ordered her special education staff to retroactively alter student IEPs to be consistent with the changes she made.
After an extensive investigation, the OSI substantiated claims that Gupta did not provide special needs students with IEP-required services, that she eliminated all self-contained and Special Education Teacher Support Services (“SETSS”) classrooms, moved effected students from those settings to Collaborative Team Teaching (“CTT”) classes, that she did so in full knowledge that these students were ill-suited to this environment, that those students had IEPs whose requirements could not be met in a CTT setting, and that, in fact, those students struggled academically throughout the school year.
The OSI found that the preponderance of evidence demonstrated that Gupta ordered her staff to change student IEPs to reflect that all students were receiving CTT services without consideration of whether CTT services met the child’s “present level of academic achievement and functional performance”. Also, that Gupta ordered her staff to bypass formal procedures required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) , to rewrite student IEP’s solely to account for a CTT setting, and threatened teachers with disciplinary letters to file if they refused to comply with her illegal demands.
Her motivation was money — the report cites one witness saying that Gupta moved students into CTT classes because the school would receive “double the money” for these students.
Collaborative Team Teaching, also known as Integrated Co-Teaching (“ICT”) ensures that students with disabilities are educated alongside age-appropriate peers in a general education classroom. What used to be called “mainstreaming” and is now called “inclusion”. CTT classes consist of one general education teacher and one special education teacher. One of the main criticisms of mainstreaming/inclusion is that schools would dump special need students into regular classrooms to save money, overwhelming teaching staff, taking away attention from other students and reducing or eliminating services and accommodations for special needs students. This is precisely was Gupta was found to have done by investigators.
Despite her denials, OSI also substantiated allegations that Gupta conditionally awarded a Satisfactory rating to one teacher and rescinded discontinuances (terminations) in two other cases, the condition being the teachers found work elsewhere — teachers who would not go along with Gupta’s illegal orders.
Gupta was fined $10,000, demoted to Assistant Principal, and transferred to a different school. She ended up at the Performing Arts and Technology High School in East New York, making $101,000 as a junior administrator, for two years. She then went to work at The Fotune Society and left there prior to May 2015.
Despite her deplorable track record, in 2015, Gupta was given a “School District Leadership Residency” at New Rochelle High School. According to Gupta’s resume, she collaborated with Principal Reggie Richardson and his team to create a year-long professional development plan focused on the introduction of new technology, including a credit recovery system and an internal data system to capture student progress and achievement, she collaborated with faculty and staff to create an Alumni Association with the goal of creating and sustaining community with former alumni and increasing fundraising to support school activities and she served as leader on a special committee of New Rochelle’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
Gupta was extended an offer by HR Director Joseph Williams as an interim math teacher at New Rochelle High School, at Step 8 with an annual salary of $74,626, on February 26, 2016 with an effective date of February 29, 2016, ending on June 30, 2016. Talk of the Sound filed a Freedom of Information request concerning Gupta on June 23rd and Gupta’s last day working for the District came one week later.
Once again, the New Rochelle Board of Education has hired a person that should not have made it through the initial screening round. Past experience has shown that when this sort of dubious hiring takes place in New Rochelle, it is because the person is being brought in by a member of the friends and family network. The question becomes: what did they know and when did they know it? Had anyone bothered to simply Google her name, they would have found news accounts from 2012 that would have clearly indicated her unsuitability for a position with the New Rochelle Board of Education.
Among the lowlights from the OSI Investigative Report:
- A teacher reported that Gupta had ask for changes to IEPs to “reflect that students were enrolled in a Collaborative Team Teaching setting when they were not.”
- Gupta eliminated all special programs aside from CTT classes and so failed to provide students with services mandated in their IEP’s.
- Gupta manipulated teacher ratings and discontinuances (terminations) to get rid of people she did not like by either offering to give “Satisfactory” ratings to teachers or withdraw “Discontinuances” if teachers agreed to find work elsewhere.
- At a meeting on July 8, 2011, Gupta told her teaching staff that, effective immediately, the only services that would be offered to students with special education needs were CTT classes irrespective of whatever services were denoted on their IEPs.
- Gupta instructed her special education staff to send letters to the students’ parents notifying them of the change to CTT and requesting that special education staff so their children’s IEPs could be revised to reflect the change.
- Investigators obtained an email exchange between Gupta and a school psychological dated October 6, 2010, confirming this directive to eliminate all special education programs except CTT.
- During that same month, Gupta “yelled” at her special education staff for failing to change the student’s IEPs.
- When teachers tried to explain to Gupta that they could not change IEPs without parental input, and, moreover, could not move students from a “less restrictive environment” to a “more restrictive environment” without parental input, without a formal reevaluation of the student’s educational needs, Gupta ignore those concerns, told teachers “sell the CTT plan”.
- Gupta demanded that all IEPs be changed by October 31, 2010 to reflect that students were currently receiving CTT services and authorized her staff to make these changes, absent CSE meeting), based on “verbal consent” from the parent.
- Because it is illegal, grounds for termination, and a violation of the student’s civil rights to unilaterally change an IEP without first holding a CSE meeting and obtaining parental consent, teachers requested that Gupta provide a letter mandating the changes she wanted made. Despite repeated promises to do so throughout the school year, Gupta did not produce such a letter until the end of June 2011. The letter was backdated to make it appear it had been written much earlier.
- While Gupta continued to demand the IEPs be changed, all students had already been removed from Special Education Teacher Support Services classrooms and placed in CTT classrooms.
- In a meeting in March 2011, Gupta claimed that she had sent a letter to parents of students requiring SETSS services that their children had been moved into CTT classes. Investigators determined that Gupta never sent any such letters.
- In May 2011, Gupta told her staff that if outstanding IEPs were not changed, she would have someone from the Division of School Support and Instruction Team step in and make the changes despite their concerns.
- On June 15, 2011, Gupta threatened her staff that if they did not make changes to the outstanding IEPs they would all received letters to their personnel files.
- When pressed by staff, Gupta claimed (falsely) that the school did not have the resources to have a “self-contained” option in addition to CTT classes.
- The school’s guidance counselor, who was present at many of the meetings with parents stated that some parents did not understand why the school was making the shift but mostly “went along with it”. The counselor stated that many IEPs were not changed until the end of the school year because special education staff had misgivings about Gupta’s orders.
- One witness told an investigator that during the school year, Gupta told a teacher to electronically update IEPs online without parental involvement but the teacher refused because “entering any such changes (in IEP Direct) without parental involvement was ‘illegal’”.
- Another witness told an investigator that Gupta told her special education staff that they did not change the IEPs “they could ‘find some other place’ of employment”.
- Gupta was indifferent when special education teachers reported that students were struggling academically as the result of the change to CTT.
- The school’s Assistant Principal told investigators that Gupta repeatedly instructed her staff to change the IEP’s without parental involvement. The AP acknowledged that K688 was “out of compliance with federal mandates”.
- Personnel at the school who did not go along with Gupta’s demands to unilaterally declassify students – a crime – were threatened with Unsatisfactory reviews, letters to their file or termination.
- Kathryn Barbuto, teacher, UFT Chapter Chair, K688 told an investigator that following a staff meeting in October 2010 in which the change from self-contained to CTT was addressed, she spoke privately with one Gupta’s “coaches” from New Visions, who specifically stated “The change was made to make us money” and that K688 would “get double the money if the kids are in CTT as opposed to self-contained”
- Barbuto stated that she has several conversions with Gupta in an effort to explain the differences between SETSS and CTT but that Gupta “never seemed to grasp” that the change she was ordering was “impermissible”.
- Barbuto stated that special education teachers refused to change IEPs unless given a letter from Gupta mandating they make the change. Despite promises throughout the year to do so, Gupta did not provide such a letter until the end of June (after all the changes had been made) and that the letter was backdated to make it appear it had been “written much earlier”.
- Gupta admitted to OSI that upon arriving at K688 as Principal she “reviewed the IEPs of all current and incoming students to assess their educational need”. despite her lack of qualifications to do so. A review of personnel records indicates that Gupta has no Special Education certification from the New York State Education Department, no academic background in Special Education and no other qualification to assess the educational needs of special education students.
- Gupta told OSI that “upon reviewing all of the IEPs, she determined that “the students would be best served in a CTT setting.” She stated that she instructed her staff to send letters to parents of the affected students, requesting a meeting to discuss these changes but that if a parent did not respond or was unable attend a meeting, the special education teachers could obtain “verbal consent” to the changes to the IEP over the telephone.
- Gupta claimed (falsely) that none of the students IEP’s required the students receive “full time SETSS”, that an IEP only described a “continuum of services” which a student should receive but “did not list any specific requirements” to providing CTT instead of SETSS met the requirements of the IEP. Gupta claimed the changes were made at the recommendation of New Visions Network staff. New Visions Staff denied making any such recommendation or even being aware of the elimination of special education programs in the summer of 2010.
- In a a second OSI interview, Gupta acknowledged to investigators that a advisor from New Visions Network whom she could not identify did tell her that changes to the IEPs were to be made by first holding an IEP meeting and discussing the proposed changes with the student’s parents, and then authorizing a new IEP following receipt of the parent’s signature. Gupta affirmed that no changes to the IEPs could be made with parental approval and that schools are federally mandated to provide all of the services listed on the student’s IEP.