Cheating in Springs?

School reports testing irregularity to state

    The Springs School District announced Saturday that it had turned over information to the Testing Integrity Unit of the New York State Education Department concerning a possible  testing irregularity related to a recent state assessment.
    A press release the district issued said that the allegation of a possible irregularity concerns one Springs staff member and one student — though the district declined to identify either individual by name.
    For most schools on the East End, state exams were administered during the months of April and May, though dates varied at each school. The Test Security Unit, based in Albany, is responsible for ensuring the security and integrity of New York State assessments.
    “The district immediately turned over this information to its attorney and as per state law, the Testing Integrity Unit of the State Education Department was notified,” read the release. “It is anticipated that the special unit will conduct its own investigation of this matter.”
    “We can’t confirm or deny whether an investigation is going on,” said Antonia Valentine, a spokesperson with the New York State Education Department. Incident reports are first submitted on the Testing Security Unit’s Web site.
    “If/when an investigation results in a final agency action against an educator’s certificate(s) or a school district action regarding a tenured educator’s employment, then certain information will be available under the Freedom of Information Law,” Ms. Valentine wrote in an e-mail.
    She said the education commissioner’s regulations “authorize the Education Department to investigate allegations of poor moral character lodged against certified educators and applicants for certification. Any educator facing charges in accordance with Part 83 regulations is afforded the opportunity for a full due process hearing. At issue when the Department initiates disciplinary charges is whether the certified educator retains the certificate(s) held or [is] issued the certificate(s) applied for.”
    The press release from Springs School said that it is still unknown how long such an investigation would take, though “it is not expected to be a significant period of time.”
     “Disciplinary proceedings at both the school district and state level may result in a range of penalties or outcomes,” Ms. Valentine wrote. “School district discipline may result in formal reprimand, counseling or medical treatment, fine, suspension of employment without pay, or termination. State action may result in revocation, suspension of certification, fine, requirement of continued education or training, or, in the case of an applicant, denial of a certificate.”
     “We have high expectations for our students and our staff and take pride in the integrity they display each and every day,” Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the school board president, said in the release. “This allegation is an isolated incident concerning one staff member and one student, but regardless, we have to ensure that state-mandated testing protocols are completely followed.”
     “Aside from the question about this one particular allegation, we are confident that our recent assessments were delivered appropriately by our professional staff. We will continue to update the community as we learn more about this matter,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said.
     “As our community is aware, we have followed the protocol established by the State Education Department,” Dominic Mucci, the Springs School superintendent, said yesterday. On Monday night, the board indicated it intends to reappoint Mr. Mucci to his current part-time post. As a retiree, he is allowed to serve for an additional year, provided he first secures a waiver from New York State. “As a school district, we have taken the actions we believe necessary to maintain the integrity of the Springs School.”
    At Springs School over the past month, two officials have resigned: Katherine Byrnes, the assistant principal, and David Baird, the head bus driver. The Springs School Board convened an unannounced special meeting on the morning of May 8, at which the board unanimously accepted Dr. Byrne’s resignation, effective May 7. On Monday night, the board voted to accept Mr. Baird’s resignation, effective June 30.
    Due to an editing error, an article in last week’s paper about Dr. Byrnes’s departure from Springs may have led readers to believe that there were 28 special education students at the district where she was previously employed. In fact, that number referred to the special education students at the Springs School. 
    Apart from Dr. Byrne’s abrupt departure, adding to the confusion was the recent absence of Eric Casale, the Springs School principal. May 1 was the last day Dr. Byrnes was seen on campus. The next day, after reportedly complaining of chest pains, Mr. Casale left the school by ambulance and was taken to Southampton Hospital. He returned to his post on Monday morning.
    This is not the first time in his career that Mr. Casale has had to deal with allegations of testing irregularities at a school he has helmed. A 2005 New York Post story reported on a cheating incident that occurred while Mr. Casale was principal of P.S. 91 in the Bronx. In that case, according to the Post, Barbara Lee, a former math coach who had become assistant principal, was accused of helping students cheat during a New York State Regents exam in the spring of 2004.
    The story included allegations that Mr. Casale destroyed student and teacher testimonies related to potential wrongdoing to protect the assistant principal, but a 2010 Post follow-up reported that the city eventually terminated Ms. Lee’s employment following a protracted, and costly, legal battle.
    “There is no connection between what happened here and that article,” Mr. Casale said Tuesday afternoon. “It was taken care of in 2005. The teacher was terminated in 2010 when the investigation concluded.”
    Mr. Casale began his tenure at Springs School in the fall of 2005. “This has been my home for the last eight years,” he said.