By Anna Young
Infuriated Horace Greeley High School parents demanded to know Tuesday night how Chappaqua school officials could have missed warning signs that former drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel had engaged in inappropriate behavior with students.
Community members who packed the board of education meeting at the high school were angered that students were subjected to Schraufnagel’s behavior over an extended time period. One speaker even called for administrators and board trustees to be fired or resign.
Many parents protested that since 2011, there had been a vast number of complaints made to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lyn McKay, the high school principal and board of education members about Schraufnagel as well as posts on the Chappaqua Moms Facebook page. They said their concerns were ignored.
“I still need to be convinced I can trust this school board,” Horace Greeley parent Sandra Nohavicka told the board. “I don’t want the school to provide my son counseling after what they neglected to take care of.”
Parent Keith Sjogren said he became concerned when his son was frequently kept at school until almost midnight during theater rehearsals. Sjogren questioned the board as to who was running the school late at night and why administrators weren’t aware of the situation.
The board did not respond to Sjogren’s comments.
Another parent whose child was directly affected by the alleged sexual abuse, said Schraufnagel forced students to commit their loyalty to theater and weren’t allowed to take part in other extracurricular activities.
“I wanted to complain so many times to Principal (Robert) Rhodes, but my child begged me not to,” the parent said. “My child felt they desperately needed a letter of recommendation from Schraufnagel in order to succeed.”
Schraufnagel pleaded guilty last month to three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He had been charged last year with seven counts, including a felony, for allegedly engaging in sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. Schraufnagel, who had taught at the school for 12 years, was suspended with pay in June 2015 and resigned last September.
There have also been multiple civil suits filed against him and the district.
McKay said the district was betrayed by Schraufnagel and the allegations were a “devastating blow and shock to the people who knew him.”
She said within the last year officials have conducted a thorough review regarding supervision, regulations and procedures. With the school year already underway, McKay said the district will provide consistent emotional support by bringing in experts to address and advance emotional support for educators, students and parents.
“The well-being of the students will be (at) the forefront of everything we do,” said McKay.
Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, professor and chair of the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, will examine procedures and provide guidance to administrators on how to build a stronger network of support for students, she said.
McKay said the district is relying on Shakeshaft’s assessment to make improvements.
However, Horace Greeley parent Barbara Buxbaum countered that an objective third-party investigation should take place that reports to the community instead of the administration.
With school officials pledging to improve regulations and procedures, community members said the safety of students should have been the priority. On four separate occasions, Nohavicka said she contacted Rhodes with her concerns and was promised he would look into it.
“I saw so many red flags and complained to members of the school board,” Nohavicka said.
Trustee Karen Visser responded that what one parent might consider a red flag another might consider as thinking outside the box.
With Rhodes speaking only on the topics of test results and AP exams at the meeting, there was a call for his resignation.
“When you observe a crime and don’t do anything about it, that makes you an accessory,” said outraged resident Will Wedge. “There should be a special election held to replace the whole school board. Dr. Lyn McKay, the principal and vice principal should all hand in their resignation or be fired.”
While district leaders try to unite the community, some speakers said the lack of urgency to address previous complaints while Schraufnagel was still employed by the district and the board’s refusal to provide information during the investigation has caused more friction.
“This is unacceptable in a community of educated people,” Wedge said. “Somebody has to take responsibility and nobody is.”