Stories & Grievances
Advocacy and Whistleblowing Can be Dangerous and Life-Changing Actions; Don't Pursue Either Without Forethought
Betsy Combier President, The E-Accountability Foundation Founder, parentadvocates.org
Dear Advocates, parents, Attorneys and visitors:
I am a parent and also a journalist who has founded The E-Accountability Foundation and the new website parentadvocates.org
I am also the parent advocate for my now 19-year old daughter , who has special needs and was denied an appropriate education by the New York City public school system.
Her story is on my website, and I would like to tell you about my federal lawsuit that followed. I believe that the unwillingness of New York City's Mayor and Chancellor to admit wrong-doing, and the harassment that always follows whistleblowing, has created the situation that I and my family are in right now. There are lessons for everyone.
On December 30, 2003, I filed a lawsuit in US District Court, Second Circuit, as a parent and legal representative (I have Power of Attorney, signed and notarized by her), and I claim that she did not get an appropriate, free public school education due to what Stuyvesant High School did to her (ripped up her IEP, wrote a new one de-certifying her without my knowing, secretly signed their name on the parent line, and then her senior year threw her out into the street, all without my knowledge or consent, despite my being on the telephone and in the school almost every day). I claim that I was denied my rights as a parent to help my daughter due to the NYC DOE wanting to "punish" me for exposing the theft going on at Booker T. Washington MS 54, where I was PTA President before the DOE decided they had to get rid of me.
I was, when my oldest daughter entered the middle school in 8th grade, (three of my four daughters attended this school) not aware that the school was segregated, and that the Principal did not put the full-time full inclusion special education children on the roster of the school so that they did not have to be tested and therefore lower the scores for the school. Also, upon information I have obtained from the staff of the school, he and the Superintendent Patricia Romandetto with the help of the DOE Parent Engagement Officer DJ Sheppard and several members of the DOE – including Ms. Birdie Blake Reid and her nephew Jamal Young - could take the money that the 11 full inclusion children were to be given for special services.
More on Ms. Blake-Reid: THIEF KEEPS CITY JOB If Flatbush resident Birdie Blake-Reid worked for a business and were caught stealing thousands of dollars from it, she would be fired on the spot. But she worked for the Board of Education, now the Department of Education, where such behavior is punished by a slap on the wrist and a transfer to another desk. Blake-Reid habitually directed her subordinates to work on projects for her church and private children's organization on city time and city equipment. She also had them run personal errands for her.
When one of them fell behind on his real work because he was doing Blake-Reid's chores, she authorized overtime for him to catch up. She had her employees make photocopies, stuff envelopes, create brochures, even type a college application for one of her children. This went on for at least four years, by Blake-Reid's own admission.
But rather than being hauled off to jail, she agreed to pay an $8,000 fine and was moved to another department position. In what, the Office of Theft and Corruption? Board of Education spokesman David Chai failed to return two calls to explain why the department does not promptly terminate employees who steal from it. (We did hear that Blake-Reid didn't survive the recent round of layoffs by the new chancellor, though her dismissal came months after she admitted to being corrupt.)
We also asked Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes why criminal charges weren't brought. Hynes's spokesman told us the matter was never referred to him.
We still do not know where this money is, but we do know that the 11 children not put onto the roster of Booker T. Washington did not get it and did not get their federally mandated services. Their IEPs were all missing. The Principal, Mr. Larry Lynch, told the CSE Chair for District 3, that he refused to give these kids their benefits and services, because he would not allow money to be taken out of his school budget for them (August 2003).
I was elected PTA Co-President in May, 1999, (PTA President 2000 and then again May, 2001) and only became aware that something was wrong when our huge, record-breaking check from our 1-day fundraiser at Barnes & Noble, ($13,783.77) was given by the Principal Mr. Larry Lynch to the District Superintendent Patricia Romandetto, in February, 2000, and we never saw it again. My daughter had just entered Stuyvesant High School, and I started asking questions such as "Where is our Barnes & Noble check?", and "Why aren't my daughter and the NOVA kids in full-inclusion getting their special education benefits?" I asked and wrote NYS Assemblyman Steve Sanders (also Chair of the Education Committee) whose Education Director Ayo Harrington virtually threw me and another parent, Johnnie-Mae, out of her office for asking for assistance in finding out where the money was at Booker T. The report of this meeting is on my website.
I and several other parents went to NY City Council member Eva Moskowitz (Chair of the Education Committee), City Council member Gifford Miller, Chancellor Harold Levy and the entire Board of Education, Deputy Chancellor Burton Sacks, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Deputy Mayors Dennis Walcott, Mark Page and Mark Shaw, the NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, NYC Comptroller William Thompson, JR., Panel For Educational Policy member (and Booker T parent) Jackie Kamin, Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, Chancellor Joel Klein and all Deputy Chancellors, including Carmen Farina, who unfortunately has left many fiscal questions unanswered herself.
Not one person listed above helped me in any way or replied, except to say they had received my information.
My Verified Petition to New York State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills went unanswered until I asked Governor Pataki to intervene, and then Mr. Mills published his erroneous decision dismissing my complaint because, he said, it was moot due to the many months that had passed, and I was removed from the PTA long ago (Decision 14,831), that I had failed to exhaust my administrative remedies (totally false) – he admitted he would not read my addendums – and, that the PTA members voted for my ouster (no notice was sent out to inform anyone, and people who were in the white Delta program were told to show up, fixing the "vote"):
His decision looks to me as if he is part of the coverup of special education funding in New York State.
Sometime between October, 1999 and March, 2002, my daughter's IEP was thrown away by the Guidance office at Stuyvesant High School, and a new one written, with the name "Jay Biegelson" written on the parent/guardian line, accepting on my behalf (I did not know any of this) my daughter's de-certification from special education. The speech/language evaluator wrote that my daughter looked "fine" and the only numbers/tests were the English and math citywide scores for 1997, when my daughter was in 7th grade. At an Impartial Hearing in 2003 Mr. Biegelson testified that he signed his name on the IEP, de-certifying my daughter, because he thought it was the "attendance sheet". Hearing Officer Linda Agostin and Manhattan High School Superintendent's Office Assistant Director for the Committee on Special Education immediately asked the transcription reporter to erase the tape of the Hearing.
I filed a grievance on June 5, 2001, and on June 25, 2001 the NYC Department of Education set up the Review Committee that was to email and write all the people in New York City – including PS 6 Principal Carmen Farina – in order to slander and libel me with any charges that anyone could think of. At the June 25, 2001 Special "General" PTA meeting at which the Review Committee was set up, Principal Larry Lynch called me a liar and a person without integrity, several parents (all of whom were picked by DJ Sheppard to be on the Review Committee) screamed that I did not get along with the Principal and therefore I had to resign, and one parent told everyone else in the room that I was even a child abuser. He was one of the first to get picked by DJ Sheppard for the Review Committee. Libby Mark Newman, lead parent of the MS 54 PTA Review Committee (and the parent who read the 'charges' against me on November 5, 2001) sent the DOE a letter which they forwarded to me saying that I would not resign, therefore they – the parents on the Review Committee – must hurt my children. RC member Anne Pejovich was extremely verbally abusive, even though I had never met her before. Several months later I received by accident her "contract" from the Corporation Counsel, telling her that she could be given immunity and be defended in court by my taxes (paid to the Corporation Counsel), since she was paid to go after me by the Department of Education. Members of the Review Committee were, I've been told, not paid, and none of them worked for the Department of Education but the fact of the matter is, the Corporation Counsel was told that they were, or the Mayor told the Corporation Counsel to defend those who silence whistleblowers. I don't know which. On November 5, 2001 the Superintendent, the District 3 School Board, the DOE and the Review Committee rounded up parents who were "hanging around" to get rid of me (some parents before the meeting were heard saying "I was told to vote somebody out of office, but I don't know who"). And voted my removal from the PTA Executive Board. Then the members of the RC took over all the positions.
In New York City, special education students are not serviced. In fact, the NYC DOE is now somewhat admitting it, as they did in the settlement of three high schools' lawsuits who claimed their kids were "pushed out", and the absurd statement that 12,000 special needs children were evaluated in the month of March (Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina, May 11 2004 at a forum sponsored by the Public Advocate). The "evaluations", which would have necessarily been 520/day at minimum, were thrown into the garbage, literally, in most cases.(see website articles listed above).
After exhausting all my administrative remedies, at the Impartial Hearing and at the State Review level, I filed a complaint in US District Court, Second Circuit, on December 30, 2003 as co-Plaintiff with my daughter. Then when she disappeared I amended the complaint and became to sole Plaintiff in February, as well as Pro Se litigant. I never wanted to be here.
On Wednesday afternoon July 7, 2004 I received an email from the Corporation Counsel saying to the Judge, Judge George Daniels, that the city-Defendants needed more time, past July 9, to provide their Answer, which, Corporation Counsel assured the Court would be to dispose of my complaint and therefore "avoid unnecessary litigation". I faxed my reply:
The E-Accountability Foundation
315 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10021
July 8, 2004
By Facsimile: (212) 805-6737
The Honorable George B. Daniels
United States District Judge
40 Centre Street, Room 410
Southern District of New York
New York, New York 10007-1581
RE: Combier v. Biegelson et al 03 Civ. 10304 (GBD)
Dear Judge Daniels:
I am the Pro Se Plaintiff in the above-referenced action, and request that you deny the attorney for City-defendants' their request for a two-week extension of time to respond to the Amended Complaint that I filed in US District Court.
You have already very kindly extended the dates for a reply twice, and I have agreed to the extension of the Pre-trial Conference twice as well, to accommodate the city attorney, Mr. Martin Bowe. Mr. Bowe states in his letter that his intent is to "dispose" of his case and therefore avoid "unnecessary litigation". His agency has just admitted, last week, that massive numbers of high school students are being thrown into the streets of New York by the Department of Education just as my complaint states that my daughter was. Also last week there was a fascinating expose in the New York Times (by Mr. Mike Winerip) of the Special Education services that are not being provided by the New York City Department of Education, in clear violation of IDEA and other Federal laws, and I claim in my complaint that this is exactly what defendants did to my daughter. I have the IEP that Stuyvesant "wrote" without telling me, signing their name to the document, de-certifying her, and I have her actual IEP that has stated within that my daughter needed services only a few weeks before Stuyvesant High School's Guidance Department ripped this federal contract up, secretly, and re-wrote it.
Mr. Bowe has not addressed the issue of a contract sent to one of the Defendants, Ms. Pejovich, which was actually sent to me by mistake, saying that the Corporation Counsel could provide her an Attorney as she was a paid employee of the Department of Education while my daughter was forbidden from receiving her services when Ms. Pejovich was NOT an employee at the time. I filed this complaint because I believe, and have many other witnesses that need to provide this Court their own stories, that the extensive concealment of the harm that the Department of Education has put children with special needs must stop.
I have told Mr. Bowe that I am leaving on July 12 for a trip. I intend on attending your scheduled Conference on July 27, 2004, and would not have sufficient time to read any response from Mr. Bowe if he is permitted by the Court to give me his response on July 24, 2004. This is a delay tactic on his part, and I believe that having only two days to read his answer would prejudice my presentation of my case with an argument to start discovery. There has been no discovery in this case, and I respectfully request that we meet on July 27, 2004 as planned, with a return date for the answer from the City-Defendants on July 9, 2004. Alternatively, any extension of the return date for the answer must accompany an extension of the conference date as well, and I may not be in New York City for a major part of August. Therefore, I request that I be given sufficient time to provide this court with timely and relevant documents and/ or oral argument as to why the City's dismissal of this case should not be considered as a matter of Law and justice. The City-Defendants are delaying this Court in the effort to examine the issues I have placed in my above-referenced complaint, and I respectfully ask that this Court not support this continued coverup of the facts in this case. I am ready to proceed.
I am also faxing a copy of the Durable Power of Attorney my daughter signed and had notarized on July 2, 2004. She is now 19 years of age and wants to pursue her education with assistive technology, and wants me to represent her in this complaint against the New York City Department of Education in all matters pertaining to this matter. I am preparing a Motion for compensatory damages as well.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
cc: Martin Bowe (fax, email and first class mail)
100 Church Street
New York, NY 10007 Respectfully,
Plaintiff Pro Se
-and then called Mr. Bowe, only to have him tell me that the Court had granted his request already. He had not, despite what he wrote in his letter, asked me first if he could extend his time to reply for the 3rd time.
I asked him if he knew that the Corporation Counsel had, just two weeks ago, settled the lawsuit about "pushouts" with Advocates For Children, and Mr. Bowe told me that he knew nothing about it, but how would I like to tell him what I would want as a settlement?
I have a good case, I believe, of how badly the NYC DOE is treating kids with disabilities in general, and how they severely hurt my own daughter (I do now have a complete IEP for her). I can also prove that the NYC DOE and the Corporation Counsel illegally set up parents and members of the DOE to slander and libel me, as well as hurt my children (my 3rd daughter came home one day bleeding from Booker T., and Principal Lynch would not give me an accident report; then I FOIL'ed the DOE and received a letter from a member of the Review Committee saying that she had been given the "ok" to hurt my children if I would not resign as PTA President).