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June 26, 2013

Probers: Casale Lied About Scandal Timeline


By Rick Murphy

Springs School principal Eric Casale told Springs School board members a whopper when he tried to explain away a cheating scandal that ended his career in New York City.

Casale was also less than truthful in a letter to the community dated on May 19 in response to allegations published in this newspaper.

Casale claimed he notified his superintendent as soon as allegations of a cheating scandal at his former school surfaced. However, minutes of an investigation by the NYC Board of Education obtained by The Independent and interviews with insiders directly contradict the time line of events he furnished.

Casale was implicated in a cheating scandal when he was principal at PS-91 in the Bronx. He has since been barred from working in the NYC school system after an in depth investigation by the NYC Board of Education in 2005 concluded he repeatedly lied to investigators about his knowledge of a cheating scandal that took place in 2004, covered it up, and destroyed evidence. In fact, testimony gathered by the Chancellor's office of Special Investigations reveals Casale engaged in a lengthy cover-up to keep higher ups from learning about the extent of the scandal.

"A single allegation against me was substantiated by the investigator based largely on the testimony of two staff members: that I had failed to report my knowledge of the testing allegation to the Director of Testing. Of course, I did report it – to my Superintendent of Schools," Casale wrote in his letter, posted on the Springs School website.

However, according to the report, Dorales Ruales, the region One Local Superintendent and Casale's direct superior, testified that she initially was made aware of the allegations not by Casale but by the Chancellor's Strategic Response Group in early March 2005. The Chancellor's office had received two complaints about cheating at PS-91. Ruales was instructed by her superior to go to Casale and "ascertain information."

Staffers and parents at the school told investigators they went outside the PS-91 chain of command because the cheating scandal was being squashed in house. The complaints reached the Board of Education, the Chancellor's Office and even the mayor's office.

Casale and the teacher accused of giving test answers on state-mandated math tests to students, Barbara Lee, "provided written statements denying the allegations of test tampering," Ruales told investigators.

Casale, although he told Springs School Board members that he contacted his superintendent about the cheating allegations, told a different tale to city investigators in February, 2005. "Mr. Casale stated Mrs. Ruales informed him of an anonymous letter alleging test cheating."

Interviews with several employees at PS-91 said it was widely known Casale knew of the allegations a year earlier then he claims he did.

Ness Matos, an investigator with the Chancellor's Office of Special Investigations, said although Casale claimed, "no students, staff, or parents complained to him about the test cheating allegation," Casale's testimony was directly refuted by Mary Ann Fisher, a teacher, and Carol Pierce, an Assistant Principal, among others.

As previously reported, Casale, only 31, came to PS-91 with an agenda to raise test scores. Ruales hired him, one source said.

Lee, a math teacher, came on to the school with him and the two were "thick as thieves," one person with intimate knowledge of the situation at the school said.

Casale related that he "faced a great deal of pushback for my initiatives, a sadly common experience in the NYC public schools."

But insiders said Casale favored the younger teachers – that he socialized with them, including nights out at bars, and that it was this type of behavior that rankled the veteran staffers.

Students in a fifth grade math class complained Lee helped some of them by giving them answers to a standardized math test. Two of the students wrote out statements that Lee encouraged them to cheat. Casale tried to get rid of the statements rather than turn them over to superiors, as is required by law, and at one point ordered an underling to destroy them.

Eventually whistleblowers, tiring of Casale's cover-up, sent the statements to the Commissioner of Education and the mayor's office. An investigation was finally opened months after the alleged cheating occurred.

Investigators subsequently questioned several students, and one said Lee assured the class that Casale said it was permissible for Lee to help some of the students with the test.

Fisher administered the test with Lee acting as a proctor, on May 4, 2004. Fischer testified she "observed Mrs. Lee approach two or three students who did not raise their hands for assistance." Fisher said Lee pointed to several answers and the students then changed them.

Fisher notified Shelly Debin, another Assistant Principal, and informed her that she did not want Lee in the classroom for the remaining two days of testing. Lee was reassigned as hall monitor immediately, with Casale's approval.

Pierce testified that Fisher told her of Lee's actions and on May 6, 2004, she reported it to Debin and Casale. Both Debin and Casale denied they were informed about the cheating at that time, and investigators concluded both lied.

There is overwhelming evidence that Casale tried to keep the matter in house and bury the accusations. He had promoted Lee to assistant principal – at a huge salary increase - and the pair had come on the scene together and were friendly.

There were allegations that the process used to promote administrators, called a C-30, was tampered with in Lee's case to assure she would get the position. Carlos Velez, the principal of a neighboring school, was on the committee formed to choose the new assistant principal. He gave Lee a rating of 35, the highest grade given to any of the applicants by any of the seven committee members. Her other grades were, 18,15,20,25,20,15, and 15. Velez testified that Casale asked him to be on the committee.

Nevertheless Conquest Marva was ranked the most qualified candidate ahead of Lee. Casale chose Lee nonetheless, a move that prompted investigators to question him about it.

At this point in late winter, 2005, investigators were bearing down on Casale, and it was clear he was going to face serious charges, serious enough to possibly end his career.

Debin, who according to testimony helped Casale try and cover up the scandal, was disciplined. "It is our recommendation that she is demoted to her last appointed position . . . proceed with charges under Education Law seeking her termination for her failure to report and her attempt to cover up a serious allegation of misconduct." Lee was supended and eventually lost her license to teach as a result of the cheating scandal at PS-91.

"No further action was taken against me, and no charges of 'cover up' or 'destruction of evidence' were alleged or substantiated against me," Casale wrote. "Mr. Casale submitted his resignation effective June 30, 2005. Mr. Casale did not state the reason for his resignation," investigators reported. Casale neglected to mention he was about to face the same fate as Debin – she was disciplined along with Lee in August, 2005, after Casale had left the employ of New York City.

"The Springs Board of Education knew about this before I began working in the district," Casale wrote in his letter to the Springs community.

Insiders in the Bronx said if Casale was indeed vetted by Springs School officials, he likely directed them to speak to Ruales, his friend and ally. Casale claimed he did not know he was barred from working in NYC until The Independent reported on the matter last month.

"He resigned prior to the release of this report but it seems clear he was aware of the cheating allegation, attempted to cover it up, and destroyed evidence," the investigation concluded.

In late April, Springs School officials quietly asked a vice principal, Katherine Byrnes, to resign. The matter was not publicly revealed until parents complained there were no administrators on board at the school – Casale had been taken to the hospital suffering from chest pains on May 3. The scuttlebutt then was that Casale panicked after a single student reported what might be considered an irregularity in testing protocol, afraid the incident would end up dredging up the scandal at PS-91. And it did – an article from the NY Post written in March 2005 fingering Casale surfaced. The story reported Casale would receive a cash stipend if he raised standardized test scores. Casale has not responded to requests for comment.

  1. print email
    June 26, 2013 | 10:40 AM

    It's sad that Dr. Byrnes was made to resign because of Casale trying to hide his past as a cheater and a liar. Dr. Byrnes was the best thing that has happened to Springs Schools in years. The sacrifices that she made to her family and the amount of time and energy she put forth to making Springs a better place for all of the students has gone to waste.
    The Board should get rid of Casale for not disclosing his past to the Board and then lying about his knowledge and involvemant in the Bronx cheating scandal.
    Springs School would be a better place without him!
    The Board should bring back Dr. Byrnes!! Springs School would be a better place for the students and the community.
    Great investigative work Rick. We all are very thankful for your hard work of informing the community.

    EAST friEND
  2. print email
    East Friend and ugly commentary.
    June 28, 2013 | 02:36 PM

    Eric Casale has been an enormous asset to Springs School.
    Dr. Byrnes was asked to resign because she helped a child cheat, the child apparently knew this was wrong and said something, and the principal acted accordingly. How she can be described as the best thing that happened to the school is beyond me.
    Everything else in the reporting of this story is mis- representation, hearsay or slander and grossly distasteful.
    We have an 11 year old at the school currently and all three of our older daughters graduated from there and went on to thrive at the high school. One is going into her second year in college and the second is going to be a college freshman this fall. The third will be a senior in East Hampton.
    I am very greatly to the Springs School community in general, and to Mr. Casale in particular, for helping us raise our girls and providing them with a strong foundation in academics, sportsmanship and integrity. And I feel certain that if ever they felt strongly enough to make a comment in a newspaper, or anywhere else for that matter, they would have the confidence and strength of character to sign their name.
    Alicia Wiltshire.


    Alicia Wiltshire
  3. print email
    story
    June 28, 2013 | 04:46 PM

    With all due respect, Alicia, please share exactly how you know "Everything else in the reporting of this story is mis- representation, hearsay or slander." Have you talked to anyone in the Bronx? Have you read the 17 page report filed by investigators? Can you explain why Eric Casale has refused to answer pointed questions about why what he has said happened is at odds with the facts and his own sworn testimony? The truth is a lot of us parents want to believe Eric is someone other than he really is. We've been sold out. We've been lied to. it's a charade. if it were slander don't you think Eric would sue? Ha! If they ever get him under oath he'd lose his license to work in the state.

    Proud Pop
  4. print email
    casale lies all the time
    June 29, 2013 | 11:05 AM

    Our Family has been hurt numerous times by Casale's lies and coverups. Proper NYS Ed protocol rarely followed, blatant disregard for the true, blowing off regulations. He is a criminal.

    no more lies
  5. print email
    Casale
    June 29, 2013 | 04:12 PM

    If what you say is true you should go to the newspapers and the Board of Ed and use your name. If you got the letter this week, it's apparent they are trying to cover this up--especially with the school board pres running for the town board! Do you think she really wants the truth to come out?

    Bonac Bill
  6. print email
    Future of the school
    June 29, 2013 | 10:48 PM

    At his best, Casale was/is a petty bureaucrat. At his worst, he's a two-faced huckster. It's time to find administrators, and teachers for that matter, who care about more about children, and the world, than about their own tenure and advancement. Some of the teachers in the lower grades are great (and maybe one or two in the upper), but the place is ruled by test preparation, and aside from the irrepressible energy of young people, is sadly lacking in imagination, vision, or inspiration. It's really a shame.

    roving rambler
  7. print email
    How would you know?
    July 01, 2013 | 08:43 AM

    Alicia, How would you know any of the information you are stating about her resigning? Were you there? Where are you getting your inside information? I'm sure the newspapers would love to speak to your sources.

    EAST friEND
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