Suffern Central School District: Child Out of School for 13 Days Due to Bullying leads to Allegations of Deputy Superintendent and Principal Engaged in an Improper Relationship
by Robert Geiger
Suffern, NY – It has been 13 days since, a 5th grader at R.P Connor Elementary has attended classes, due to bullying and an alleged lack of action by the Suffern Central School District. The bullying came to a head, when several classmates told the child to commit suicide and how to do it. The child called his parents from the school to report what happened, rather than receiving a phone call from the principal, Kelly Dowd. “The principal did not even care enough to call us herself, so they had my child make the phone call,” said the child’s father. The principal’s response was that this was not bullying. When she was asked if a DASA form, required by the state was completed, her response was “The situation was addressed and fully resolved.” This, without speaking to the student or the student’s parents. The problem was that it was not resolved for the child.
In an effort to refute the Principal’s actions, the parent addressed the school board, the Superintendent, and Deputy Superintendent, on multiple occasions to inquire about the ongoing situation, however received no action, response, or follow up. To seek resolve, the parents sought assistance from the principal’s immediate supervisor and Director of Human Resources, Stephen Walker, who refused to address the situation. Then evidence surfaced from a third party to the parent after a school board meeting that the Deputy Superintendent (Walker) cohabitates with Principal Dowd. The parents addressed the school board about this lack of oversight of the school’s Principal given this relationship and called into question the accountability of the Principal and school district leadership.
The parent has since heard back from the school district’s legal counsel who stated, “… the alleged improper relationship between the (Deputy) Superintendent and the other administrator is simply incorrect” despite video evidence of Walker residing at Dowd’s house which was delivered to the school board several days ago. The child’s father questions how legal counsel could derive that conclusion when the district’s legal counsel has not seen the evidence. “This makes me think that the district administrators have already started to circle the wagons and will attempt to sweep this under the rug”, said the child’s father.
The child’s parents have been trying to get their child back into a safe environment at school, however, the School District has created a quagmire in reference a doctor’s orders in reference for him to be cleared to return to school. The child’s parents state that the child’s doctor had required the school to create a safety plan, as per the Suffern Central School District Policy 0115, before the child would be cleared to return to school. The principal, Kelly Dowd, and school administration state that the child needs to be cleared by the doctor before they will start to create a safety plan. “This is a game of a dog chasing it’s tail and has resulted in my child being deprived of their lawful education,” said the child’s mother.
It began last year in the 2016-2017 school year. R.P. Connor Elementary Principal, Dowd, a former East Ramapo School District Administrator, was hired in 2016 to replace the retiring principal. The parents say that things were handled very differently with the new principal compared to previous years.
As their child was subjected to bullying, there were no DASA (Dignity for All Students) forms completed by Ms. Dowd, to their knowledge, as required by the state in cases of bullying. There were cases of physical bullying which lead to physical injuries treated by a doctor, with no acknowledgement of bullying. The situation over the last school year led to over 100 emails in total. Dowd is the building DASA Coordinator and Stephen Walker, the Deputy Superintendent who is also in charge of Human Resources, is also the District’s DASA Coordinator.
They claim that the situation had deteriorated towards the end of last school year, requiring them to reach out to Suffern Central School District’s Superintendent. After a week of emailing and calling, the district’s response was, “if you have a concern, complaint, or compliment, I encourage you to share with the people closest to the aforementioned. Furthermore, our policies address situations wherein the issue has gone unresolved.” Because of this response, the parents attempted to reach out to Deputy Superintendent Walker, which was met with no such meeting, and eventually resulted in completely ignored emails for a request to meet. Subsequent requests for a meeting have been ignored as well.
What complicates the issues is that according to the district’s policy, if a parent has an issue with a teacher, they go to the principal. If they have an issue with the principal they go to the Deputy Superintendent.
The parents were completely in awe of the lack of response or action from the school district. They believed that there might some reason why there is no checks and balances from the administration in reference to the principal. So, they decided to investigate.
PARENTS ORDERED LOCKED OUT OF SCSD OFFICES FOR TRYING TO FILE FOIL REQUESTS
Last year, the parents attempted to submit FOIL (Freedom of Information Letters) to the school district in regard to incidents that concerned their child. They stated they were locked out of the administration building for over an hour and a half by orders of Stephen Walker, the Deputy Superintendent, when he found out that the FOILs were regarding Kelly Dowd, the school principal. This was reported to the Committee on Open Government, and their decision included the school acted improperly, further stating that they have never seen anything like this before. The FOIL requests, once filed, were fruitful though. There was an email thread where after the parents had emailed Dowd, she forwarded the email to Walker, asking him if she should be worried. Walker reassured her that she should not be worried. The FOILs also showed, how she would tell teachers not to respond to the parent’s emails, creating a very hostile environment.
Further investigation, videos and photographs revealed on three separate occasions, Stephen Walker, the Deputy Superintendent, spent the night and left in the morning from principal Kelly Dowd’s residence, in Mahwah, New Jersey. This occurred three times within a two-week period. On all three occasions, it was during the work week, where both parties would leave and go to work.
On one of the occasions, Stephen Walker, called out sick from attending the Suffern Central School Board meeting, where they were voting on his contract extension and a raise, where his salary would raise to $192,132 a year, a $30,000 raise. On all three occasions Stephen Walker left for work at approximately 9:10, which is believed to be 10 minutes later than he was expected to be at work.
The significance of Deputy Superintendent Stephen Walker spending the evening and leaving Principal Dowd’s residence in the morning three times, is that this is the burden of proof that the Suffern Central School District uses in order to prove the residence of a student suspected to live outside the school district. The school district hires private investigators to document a suspected student enters a residence in the evening and then leaves the next morning, after three times they consider the address as their residence. According to burden of proof that the Suffern School Central District uses to prove residency, they would have to accept that Stephen Walker is residing with Kelly Dowd.
The parents stated that he brought his evidence to the several members of the school board on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017. They were presented with indisputable video and photo evidence. The parents stated that there were many issues that now needed to be discussed with the Suffern Central School District administration. The parents believe that the exposure to the district on multiple levels, is very concerning.
They accuse the Deputy Superintendent of nonfeasance because of the compromising position he put himself in with a subordinate. They also feel as though the principal felt emboldened knowing that the Deputy Superintendent would handle issues for her. According to the Suffern Central School District’s website, Stephen Walker is responsible for Human Resources for the district.
“For a Deputy Superintendent to be involved with a principal that is his direct subordinate and that he pushed to have hired, is appalling!”, said the child’s father. “To think that my child has been mistreated and it not to be addressed because these two are playing house, is inexcusable and indefensible.” He stated that he is still awaiting a response as to how the school district is going to handle this.
In the meantime, both Walker and Dowd and are still currently working while their son just got placed in a new school within the district and will start on October 25th, 2017, after the family’s lawyers had to fight for the placement.