Some Fear Testifying in Wayne School Case 

Some Fear Testifying in Wayne School Case 
Posted by FoM on January 13, 2000 at 08:18:11 PT
By Scott Fallon, Staff Writer
Source: Bergen Record
Some teachers and administrators fear retribution for speaking out against the district, a court hearing for a suspended Wayne vice principal has revealed.Wednesday, an elementary school principal waiting to take the stand on behalf of Joseph Graceffo, who faces termination by the school board, testified that she received notice about a week ago from the board that "terms and conditions of her employment would be discussed."
The statement, by Pines Lake Principal Mary Jane Tierney, elicited by Graceffo's defense attorney, seemed to imply that she was being discouraged from testifying at the administrative hearing. Tierney, questioned by a school board attorney, said she did not know if the notice had anything to do with her scheduled testimony on Graceffo's behalf.District officials reached after the hearing said their sudden interest in her employment had nothing to do with the Graceffo case.Superintendent Raymond Kwak said that all elementary school principals received the letters -- known as Rice notices -- to attend a board meeting tonight. Sources in the district said school officials are considering the possibility of reassigning principals to different schools."All of our principals received this," Kwak said after the hearing concluded for the day. "We talk about evaluations and different positions. We have two [principal] openings, and we need to decide what to do about them." Still, valid or not, the fear of retaliation resonated throughout Wednesday's hearing. In addition to Tierney's testimony, a teachers' union leader testified that he is concerned about possible retribution by district officials because he took the stand.Graceffo, a Wayne Hills High School vice principal, is charged administratively with failing to order a drug test for 11th-grader Nick Lucatorto last January as a matter of routine after a teacher suspected him of smoking marijuana. Lucatorto died two weeks later from a heroin overdose at an overnight house party.The hearing is scheduled to continue Jan. 31. If the court finds Graceffo violated district policy, the vice principal's fate would be up to the state commissioner of education.In October, Susan Ammerman, a physical education teacher at Wayne Hills, testified that on Jan. 21 she smelled marijuana on Lucatorto and noticed that his pupils were dilated. Ammerman reported her findings to Graceffo. Two school nurses who examined the boy later testified that his eyes were normal and he smelled only of cigarette smoke. Graceffo later phoned Lucatorto's mother to tell her about the incident and decided against ordering a urinalysis.Under the district's drug and alcohol policy, an administrator must order a urinalysis for any student suspected of drug use. Whether any discretion can be used is at the heart of the case. Several school personnel have testified that administrators and teachers did not automatically order a screening when told of possible drug use by a student.Additionally, throughout the hearings, which began in October, the defense has attempted to show that Graceffo was the target of other administrators with whom he had quarreled. Tierney testified Wednesday that Victoria Musetti, the district's student assistance specialist, told her a few years ago that she had compiled a file on past abuses of the drug policy by Graceffo and that she would use it eventually to "get him."In December, Musetti provided some of the strongest testimony against Graceffo when she detailed four instances in the past when Graceffo either did not order a screening for students suspected of drug use or delayed doing so.After Tierney's testimony, Joseph Modica, the grievance chairman for the local teachers' union, testified that other union officials had told him that the Board of Education once criticized administrators for screening too many students and not getting enough positive results."I believe Mr. Graceffo is really being made the scapegoat for this situation," said Modica, a veteran teacher, who added that he was "concerned over the consequences of testifying," against the district.Modica said that almost 95 percent of teachers do not want to make the decision whether to drug test a student. That supported testimony from school nurses in November that teachers and administrators, although suspecting drug use, often waited for the results of a cursory medical exam before requesting that a student be subjected to a urinalysis.Modica said there was an incident when he asked three administrators, including Wayne Hills Principal Gene Sudol, to order a screening for a student who appeared violent. Modica said the student was never screened. In October, Sudol testified that there was a "zero-tolerance" policy when deciding whether to order a drug screening for students suspected of drug use. Newark -- New JerseyPublished: January 13, 2000Copyright  2000 Bergen Record Corp. Related Articles:Hearing Will Go On In Teen Overdose Case - 1/12/2000 Principal's Inaction Upset Teachers - 11/10/99 Says She's Been Ostracized Over Drug Test - 10/23/99 
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