Blind Brook board mum on details about controversial music teacher
Residents flood Board of Education with emails
Thursday, June 19, 2014 12:00 PM
The only name Blind Brook Board of Education President Nancy Barr mentioned was that of the board's legal counsel when she addressed the audience before opening up public comments at the school board meeting on Monday, June 16. When freshman Samuel Landino stepped up to the podium, he, too, did not name names. In a continuing trend, not a single name was mentioned by parent and PTA co-president Debbie Handler or during 6th grader Evan Dogus's brief statement that followed.
A PHOTO INCLUDED IN A 2010 BLIND BROOK STAFF DIRECTORY.
No one, on either side, ever said what or who exactly they were talking about.
The man on nobody's lips was Gabriel DeAngelo.
The case against him
In March 2010, the school board at the time charged DeAngelo, a tenured teacher in the music department who joined Blind Brook in the 1990s and served as a choral teacher at both the high school and middle school, with conduct unbecoming a teacher, incompetence and misconduct. After two pre-hearing conferences and a series of evidentiary hearings that stretched into 2012, a State Education Department hearing officer found DeAngelo guilty of some, but not all of the charges leveled against him.
For failing to alert parents during a progress report that their students were in danger of failing grades and advertising to the faculty he had an apartment to rent using the district's email system, DeAngelo was found guilty of conduct unbecoming a teacher, incompetence and misconduct. He was found guilty of conduct unbecoming and misconduct for telling a student in class he or she did not have to sing as the student's mother had
called the principal. Because he was absent the day he was supposed to proctor a test and failed to alert the district he would be late to class a different day, he was found guilty of only incompetence.
On all other charges, the hearing officer found him not guilty.
"The appropriate penalty in this case is a fine of two thousand five hundred ($2,500) dollars," the hearing officer wrote in his statement and signed on July 24, 2012. He also instructed the district to reinstate DeAngelo to the position he
held when the charges were filed against him.
In total, the district estimated that the litigation cost Blind Brook about $118,000. In comparison, DeAngelo's salary for the 2012-13 school year was just under that at $116,801.
Reinstated, just not to a classroom
Despite the fact that DeAngelo did not appear in the classroom the following autumn, Superintendent William Stark said the district followed what the hearing officer had to say.
"The definition of someone being returned to their position means they are put back in their tenure area to do work according to those lines," Stark said. Deciding how teachers are allocated is at the discretion of the superintendent, and while Stark said he did not want to go into the details, DeAngelo is currently working on projects related to music education.
According to the district's online directory, DeAngelo is a teacher in the music department but works in the district clerk's officer in the district office.
"As long as you're not asking someone to do something out of their tenure area, you can ask people to do things that take them out of the classroom and we've done that with other teachers," Stark said. "Instruction, professional development-that's really along the same lines."
The Blind Brook grapevine
While no one would go into specifics regarding why DeAngelo's situation warranted closed-door meetings, the school board did meet in executive discussion to discuss the topic in recent weeks. Somehow the word got out to the public and the rumor mill ran away with it.
Parents circulated emails sharing the information as they had it and urging each other to contact the Board of Education. The community certainly did that, sending about 100 emails to the school board in only about a week's time.
"It was like a game of telephone," said Board President Nancy Barr. "Each email that came in had a slightly different fact pattern. Many people admitted they
didn't know what was going on but this was what they heard and others had more personal experience they could speak to."
Further exacerbating the situation was information also circulating that Daniel Boniello, a well-liked music teacher, was considering a job in another district. Boniello, who started at Blind Brook about two and a half years ago, works part-time.
"They're really two separate issues," Barr said. "I think there was a timing issue that made people connect the two."
"It definitely added to the number that wrote in," said board member Jeff Diamond. "Some people were more interested in one or the other and some were interested in both."
Holding a part-time position, Boniello is appointed at the start of each school year and Diamond said the job is still slated for next year.
The board could also offer Boniello a full-time position or he could choose to take a job elsewhere.
"There is nothing official to report at this time," Diamond said.
Public discussion about no one
Handler, the PTA co-president, addressed both topics when she spoke before the school board on June 16.
"In the past week you have had many emails from the parents in this district on two separate, yet unfortunately intertwined, issues," the Rockinghorse Trail resident said. "I know that part of the board's responsibility is to maintain a sound fiscal infrastructure and that is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. However, even more important than the fiscal responsibility is the responsibility you have to each child in this district. The safety and wellbeing of our children must always be the number one, primary concern."
Only two other people, both students, spoke at the meeting, but Handler said the PTA discouraged large numbers of people from turning out as there was not anything officially on the agenda about the topic.
"We as a whole community pride ourselves on having an outstandingly safe environment in which learning can take place," said Landino, who lives on North Ridge Street.
"Therefore it is imperative that the honorable board here rules to maintain their stellar record of having qualified teachers teach at Blind Brook and of even more importance that the student body's safety is upheld," the freshman added.
The board, uncertain that the community would be as careful in their remarks as they were, opted to have legal counsel present at the meeting, something that does not usually happen.
"It would be very difficult for us to maintain the morale throughout the schools if teachers felt they could be subject to open public attacks," explained board member Ryan Goldstein.
"We never know what someone's going to say and we want to ensure the district does not find itself in a situation where it could be held liable or anyone else in the room could be held liable for what's said," Stark said. "It turned out it was not really necessary, but you only know that after the fact."
-Jeff Diamond, Blind Brook board memeber
"I was impressed with the students who spoke, who tried to be very diplomatic and general in their comments," Barr said.
DeAngelo likely to resign in 2015
Two days after that public meeting, the district sent out an email blast alerting the public to a hastily-scheduled meeting on Friday morning at 8 a. m. The board expects to vote on an agreement between DeAngelo and the district.
"I think this was the best outcome for the district," Barr said. "The Board of Education is very committed to doing what's right by the students and we would never do anything that we felt was not in their best interests."
If adopted and ratified, DeAngelo will officially resign from Blind Brook on June 30, 2015.
"He will be with the district in some capacity for another year, but then he's agreed to leave at that point to retire," Diamond said.
"Part of the agreement is that he would have another year because that was something that was important to him," Barr said. "I don't think he'll be in a classroom. I think he'll be doing more curriculum work."
While the school board may want to disclose more details and explain the situation, legally their
hands are tied. "The only way to explain to
people things that may make them feel differently is by disclosing info that we're not allowed to," Goldstein said.
"It's just the way due process works in the public school system, at least in New York," Diamond said. "The public has to trust that the school administrators and the elected board members are taking all of the information and coming up with a reasonable decision on
something like this because we can't share our thinking and it's unfortunate because there's a tendency for people to use a piece of info or a rumor and jump to conclusions and that's the most frustrating part when you can't set it straight."
In Diamond's opinion, no one wins in this situation: not DeAngelo, not the district, not students, not taxpayers. "All he was found guilty for was a hodgepodge of smaller charges and that essentially created this whole situation," Diamond said. "It's a lose all around. The district went to a lot of trouble and expense and time and just-it created a situation without a good resolution for anybody. It's just too bad."
"It's an unfortunate end to an unfortunate story," Diamond added.
Why exactly the school board and administration did what they did will likely never be known. They can't-and won't-discuss their rationale, despite how much they may wish to do just that.
As Diamond said, the only person who possibly could shed some light on the situation is DeAngelo himself. He, however, did not respond to an email from Westmore News.