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Report: Fox Lane Administrators Botched Bathroom Photos Investigation

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Fox Lane High School

An incriminating independent report into last March’s incidents of bathroom photos and video being taken of special education students at Fox Lane High School drew condemnation from Bedford School District community members Wednesday night.

The 57-page report from Kroll Associates, a Manhattan-based investigative and risk consulting firm retained by the district in June, was made public Tuesday evening by the district. It detailed glaring deficiencies of the school administration’s handling of its investigation, including failure to take any contemporaneous notes and dispensing inaccurate or misleading information to members of the school community. Read report by clicking on the following link:

It also cited the district’s lack of a formal parental notification policy when students are either accused of or victims of misconduct.

Fallout from the mishandled school investigation resulted in Fox Lane High School Principal Dr. Brett Miller being reassigned to the business office effective Thursday, it was announced at Wednesday evening’s board meeting. He will either resign from the district no later than June 30 or leave before then if he has found employment elsewhere. Former Mount Kisco Elementary School and Fox Lane Middle School principal Sue Ostrofsky will take over as interim principal starting Monday.

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Dr. Edward Escobar has been placed on leave “for the foreseeable future,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Glass said.

“The last several months have been incredibly difficult for the Bedford School community and it’s going to take time to rebuild trust and heal,” said Glass, who arrived in the district on July 1 following the retirement of former superintendent Dr. Joel Adelberg. “We are committed to improving through our action, our commitment to the well-being of all of our students. This is a very hard time for everyone in our community.”

Well over 100 people filled the theater at Fox Lane Middle School last Wednesday night, some of whom expressed outrage at the incidents and how the district’s culture of dismissing concerns from families of special education students contributed to the failure. Karen Close, the parent of one of the victimized students, said Fox Lane’s administrative team seemed more focused on lies and avoidance then on taking the proper action.

“My goal is the same as it’s always been, I want no other family ever to have to endure this pain,” Close said while fighting back tears.

Another parent, Paul Harney, said he wasn’t surprised after reading the report because there’s been a lack of accountability for years.

“This heinous incident, this criminal incident that needed to rise to the top to get all of our attention on what is a series of patterns that has gone on for years and that is an inability to really drive oversight, ask the tough questions and the challenge the status quo,” Harney said.

While the report, which had multiple portions redacted to protect the identities of students, commended the high school’s special education staff for quickly reporting the incident to their superiors, it outlined how school administration botched the investigation into the lewd images.

The Mar. 11 incident occurred at about 1:40 p.m. between eighth and ninth periods in a second-floor boys’ bathroom. A student of special education teacher Mary Downes reported to her confidentially that certain students were taking photos and videos of two special education students in the boys’ bathroom, according to the report.

By the following week, after word began circulating in the community that photos might exist, the parents of the victimized students called the school and filed a report with the Bedford Police Department, which launched an investigation.

On Mar. 21, two students admitted in written statements to school personnel that they each took a photo of a special education student in the bathroom the previous year, but no disciplinary action was taken, the reported mentioned. The following day, the parents of the victims were notified but Miller did not mention the two admissions.

During a Mar. 30 Board of Education executive session, a board member asked Adelberg about the incident, the same day a parent posted on social media a $1,000 reward for anyone with information that could help the investigation. It was the first time the board was informed of the incident.

The following morning, after a meeting with school staff, four students, including the two who had written admissions, were suspended the maximum five days pending a superintendent’s hearing. In all, at least four students had their pictures taken.

When the board held another executive session on Apr. 8, Miller again did not advise the board of two of the suspended students’ admissions.

“The relevance of the admissions made on March 21st was that they each independently confirmed the misconduct at the heart of the Whistleblowers report was not mere ‘rumor’ or a ‘vague, ambiguous report’” as school administrators had described it, the Kroll report stated. “The March 21st admissions confirmed the misconduct alleged by the Whistleblower had actually happened.”

The principal also failed to mention the admissions to Adelberg, the former superintendent, in a meeting with him on Mar. 22, the report stated.

The Westchester County District Attorney’s office last summer announced there would be no charges filed against the student perpetrators. Since some of the perpetrators were younger than 16 years old, the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the County Attorney’s office and Family Court, not the district attorney’s office and criminal court.

It was unclear last week whether any of the victims’ families will consider civil litigation. Two families had retained an attorney last spring to ensure the district released the results of the independent inquiry to the public.

As part of its report, Kroll recommended that district personnel receive training on how to conduct effective investigations and how to effectively communicate findings to key constituencies. The report noted that Miller, Escobar, Assistant Principal Jason Spector and two deans conducted the school investigation but no one appeared in charge.

The absence of a formal parental notification policy, which is used by at least 22 Westchester school districts, also contributed to the missteps, the report concluded.

Glass said that steps are already underway to correct the shortcomings in the near future. Training on investigations and communication will be provided by Feb. 1 and the district’s parental notification policy may be ready for board review as soon as this Wednesday’s meeting.

“Let’s mark this incredibly painful moment as a time where we all say we can do better,” Glass said.

Board President Edward Reder, who commended the students and staff that did the right thing, said the report highlights a breakdown in trust, which is unacceptable. That trust must be earned back by meaningful change.

“Nothing we say here tonight can change what occurred, but we can hope that our honest and heartfelt sympathy is heard by the victims and their families,” he said. “We are all horrified by these incidents and how it affected the victims and their families.”

Board member Steven Matlin said one of the reasons why he ran for the board was that the district seemed to be mired in talk but would often fail to follow through.

“Nothing’s going to change if it’s all talk and no action,” Matlin said. “In my opinion, the action’s got to start tonight, and through (Dr. Glass’s) leadership I’m hopeful that we will get there.”

This article has been updated since its original publication.



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