RYE, N.Y. -- A Rye teacher suspended last year after she was accused of coaching students on state exams has filed a lawsuit against the school district, as well as several administrators and members of the Board of Education.
Carin Mehler was one of four teachers placed on administrative reassignment last May amid an investigation into testing irregularities on the state exams taken in April. Mehler is a tenured fourth-grade teacher at Osborn Elementary School, and has taught at the district since 1999.
The lawsuit names as defendants the district, Schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez, Assistant Superintendent Mary Ann Evangelist, Osborn Principal Angela Gacia, Board of Education attorney Gus Mountanos and all current members of the Board of Education, with the exception of Edward Fox.
The lawsuit states that the district has hurt Mehler's reputation by placing her on administrative reassignment while bringing no charges against her. It states that she has been assigned to perform "busy work" alone in a "rubber room" for months, and that she has been warned to stay away from the Osborn School building, where her daughter is a student. It says that she has had to ask permission to attend events related to her daughter, and that permission has generally been denied.
The lawsuit also alleges that she has been "bullied" by Mountanos.
"He has orchestrated the entire suspension period, working with Alvarez, the Principal and the other Board defendants to maintain (Mehler) in limbo status," the lawsuit reads.
Mehler is seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $1 million from each individual defendant, as well as punitive damages in the amount of $1 million from each of the defendants. She is also seeking an apology from the district for "intentionally maligning her professional reputation and good name" and an admission that the district has no evidence against her. Mehler is seeking a jury trial in the case.
The Board of Education voted to defend the case at a special meeting held Tuesday morning, April 1. According to district spokesperson Karina Stabile, the district's insurance provider, the New York School Insurance Reciprocal, has reviewed the case and will provide defense and indemnification for the district and all individuals named in the lawsuit.
"In other words, there is little, if any, prospective financial liability to the district as a result of this lawsuit, as it is now the responsibility of the insurance carrier," Stabile said in a statement. She added, "The District's perspective is that the claims set forth are without merit and are designed to coerce the District to ignore the allegations and return the teacher to the classroom. The District has acted in full compliance with state law and/or regulations throughout the teacher investigation matter and, as the public is aware, progress on this matter has been evidenced through the two settlements reached earlier this year."
Of the other three teachers accused by the district of inappropriately coaching students, only one, Gail Topol, a third-grade teacher at Osborn, has returned to the classroom. Shannon Gold, a fourth-grade teacher at Milton School, resigned in January and Dana Coppola, a third-grade teacher at Milton, remains on administrative reassignment.