RYE, N.Y. -- One of the Rye teachers accused of testing improprieties will be returning to the classroom amid allegations of a conflict of interest on the part of the Board of Education president.
In May, the district reassigned four elementary school teachers - Gail Topol and Carin Mehler at Osborn School and Shannon Gold and Dana Coppola at Milton School - as part of an investigation into allegations that the teachers provided improper coaching to students on state standardized tests.
Since then, the four have been prohibited from teaching while the district investigated the claims. The Board of Education accepted the resignation of Gold on Jan. 17, and Monday approved a resolution that would allow Topol to return to the classroom.
Board member Ed Fox abstained from voting on the agreement at a special meeting Monday morning, saying that Board President Laura Slack had a conflict of interest in the case. Topol's lawyer, Kerri Ann Law, is the wife of Rye's newly elected Mayor Joe Sack, who recently appointed Slack's husband to the City Council .
"At a minimum, there is a significant appearance of impropriety in connection with Mrs. Slack's involvement in this matter under the circumstances described, and possibly a violation of board policy and/or law as well," Fox said. "If this agreement is approved under these circumstances, the public will be left to wonder if this was a sweetheart deal or whether the employee was unfairly held hostage at the significant expense to the district until a particular benefit was provided.
"Moreover, other similarly situated employees will wonder if they're being treated differently because they have a different lawyer who cannot deliver a city council seat or some other benefit to a board member, or the board member's family members."
Sack issued a statement Monday, calling Fox's allegations untrue.
"No matter what Mr. Fox's perspective may be regarding the school district's handling of the high profile teacher cases, he is irresponsible to cast such unfounded aspersions on me - not to mention my wife, the members of the school board, and the members of the city council, whom I presume will speak for themselves," Sack said.
Since the investigation began, many parents have spoken out at Board meetings, demanding resolution to the investigations. A petition seeking to reinstate the teachers garnered more than 100 signatures, and letters were sent to the New York State Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John King, asking for an independent investigation of the matter.
Boukje van den Bosch-Smits, a parent whose daughter was in Mehler's class, said after Monday's meeting that she was happy Topol would be returning to the classroom, but she was disappointed that Fox's statements were dismissed by the Board of Education. Bosch-Smits has spoken up many times about the issue, asking that the board find a resolution to the matter.
"I keep standing up because I feel that the way they are treating the teachers is very disrespectful,"
Bosch-Smits said. She said she has not taken a side about whether the teachers are innocent or guilty, but thinks that they should be treated fairly by the district.
The district released a statement Monday saying it would not comment any further on the matter.
Editor's Note: Mehler's sister is an employee of The Daily Voice.