Published: April 28, 2014
By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
A second teacher is suing the Rye school district — and several school board members individually — for putting her on administrative reassignment following allegations of improper coaching more than a year ago, The Journal News has learned.
Dana Coppola, a third-grade teacher at Milton Elementary School, is joining Osborn Elementary School teacher Carin Mehler’s lawsuit, filed last month.
The teachers are suing the district for $4 million, $1 million each in compensatory and punitive damages.
In the amended lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, Coppola asks the district to return her to her classroom.
Coppola and Mehler, along with two other teachers, were placed on administrative leave for testing irregularities during the state assessment tests in April.
Shannon Gold, a fourth-grade teacher at Milton, resigned from the district in January. Gail Topol, a third-grade teacher at Osborn, returned to the classroom in February after paying a fine of $2,500 and converting 27 days of her administrative reassignment to a paid suspension.
According to the lawsuit, the district has budgeted for the employment of another teacher to teach Coppola’s class during the 2014-15 school year.
“Despite repeated public demands either that charges be brought forward or the matter be put to rest, the individual defendant board members have refused to act,” says Coppola’s suit. “I believe that keeping me in this limbo status for a period of up to three years is being done in order to either coerce my resignation or coerce me to admit a wrongful act, which I will not do.”
She has taught at the district for 14 years.
The district changed its protocol on proctoring state assessments this year by disallowing teachers to oversee their own classes.
Arthur Schwartz, the attorney who represents both Mehler and Coppola, blamed the school board for the delay.
“The school board continues to act irresponsibly, wasting taxpayer money and confusing the students about what is right and wrong. The lessons being learned here by students is that teachers aren’t entitled to their day in court, and that they are powerless to respond to allegations of bad behavior,” he said. “We are trying to teach that the government, in a democracy, cannot coerce people into admitting wrongdoing. My own kids, who are 8 and 10, understand that. The children of Rye will learn that, too.”
Earlier this month, several teachers addressed the board and spoke in support of the reassigned teachers.The school district, which is continuing its investigation, has been criticized for the delay in resolution by parents and the Rye Teachers Association.
Jamie Zung, president of the teachers union, told The Journal News that schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez had been reaching out to parents of Mehler’s students, asking if they would allow their children to be interviewed as recently as last month.