GOSHEN – A 98-page Orange County grand jury report released Thursday is highly critical of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s handling of student athlete attendance and the alteration of their records to allow them to continue to participate in Newburgh Free Academy sports and chronic student absenteeism in general.
The report also takes aim at the administration of the APEX Online Learning program that allows students the ability to recover class credits.
While no criminality was found and District Attorney David Hoovler said the report sheds no negative light on the students, the credibility of the district comes in question.
“I would sum with my personal opinion of the entire investigation,” Hoovler said. “I would end with what the grand jury said, this is a complete, systematic failure from the top down and it needs to be remedied.”
School District spokeswoman Cassie Sklarz said Superintendent Roberto Padilla had no comment because he was reviewing the report.
A statement posted on the district website read: “The board and superintendent are committed to improving student attendance and modifying existing practices to better implement APEX. The board expects to immediately work with district administration, faculty and staff to analyze and review the report and consider changes to protocols, practices and policies as well as the recommendations in the report. The school district actions will be presented at a public workshop meeting.”
The grand jury report recommended that the district hire impartial monitors to oversee the administration of both student attendance and the APEX program.
Hoovler said his office decided to review the complaints against the district because the State Education Department, which had been apprised of the situation, took no action.
There are already behind the scenes rumblings that some school board members may call for Padilla’s resignation because of the improper activities documented in the report.
Hours after the report was made public, NFA coaches received several emails and in one correspondence by girls’ varsity lacrosse coach Matthew Abate wrote that “All of a sudden I have to sit six girls today.”
Athletic Director Edgar Glascott told the coaches he would let them know when students were ineligible to play if they lacked class attendance requirements.
State Senator James Skoufis (D, Woodbury) plans to talk to officials of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District to learn what they are going to do about the grand jury report.
Skoufis said he will consider having his Senate Investigations committee look into it.
“Especially in light of we had the college-rigging scandal that took place a couple of weeks ago, to have something sort of similar here where you have grade-rigging going on to make sure kids can participate in their sports, that’s hitting home and really concerning.”
The senator said while there were no criminal charges, someone must be held accountable.