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The academic credentials of a new Buffalo Board of Education member are in dispute, with D'Youville College officials contesting the claim of Ralph Hernandez that he earned a master's degree from the school.

"We do not have a record indicating that the student has obtained a master's degree from our institution," D. John Bray, D'Youville's director of public relations, said in a letter to The Buffalo News.

That letter was in response to a July 17 story about Hernandez, in which the board's West District representative said he earned a master's degree in health services administration earlier this year.

D'Youville officials acknowledged that Hernandez was pursuing a master's degree and was allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies but said he did not complete his degree requirements.

The officials said they feel a responsibility to set the record straight but are prohibited by federal privacy laws from discussing the board member's academic record in greater detail.

Hernandez said Thursday that he already earned his master's degree and will likely pursue the issue with D'Youville officials. "My position is that I have the necessary paperwork to earn my degree," he said.

Hernandez said he learned nine or 10 days before graduation that he had failed to take one required course. He said he was not previously aware of that requirement because "I was never given proper student advisement."

Hernandez said he discussed the matter prior to graduation with John J. Donohue, D'Youville's vice president for academic affairs, and that Donohue agreed to waive the course requirement and allow him to graduate.

Although he did not receive an actual diploma, Hernandez said he simply assumed the necessary paperwork had not been completed.

Hernandez attributed the dispute to an apparent misunderstanding. "If the college would prefer that I don't say I have a master's degree from D'Youville College, I'll be happy to abide by that," he added.

Donohue declined to comment on any discussions he had with Hernandez, citing the restraints of federal law.

On a separate issue, Hernandez, who is seeking a three-year moratorium on the establishment of new district-sponsored charter schools, acknowledged that he explored the possibility last year of helping organize a charter school in Buffalo's Hispanic community.

Hernandez said he met once with Peter Murphy, vice president of the New York Charter Schools Resource Center, to gather information on charter schools, but decided against the idea.

"I didn't get anywhere near the point of saying it was an issue I wanted to pursue," Hernandez said. "My position was largely to educate myself. I asked him a million questions because that's the way I am. My decision was: This is not good for Buffalo."

Murphy said they met at a Niagara Street restaurant last August at Hernandez's request. He said Hernandez at first seemed to be "a fairly enthusiastic charter supporter" and "expressed very keen interest" in pursuing a charter school on Buffalo's West Side.

Murphy said Hernandez did not contact him again after that initial meeting and that it is not unusual for people to explore and then drop the idea of founding a charter school.

"But when I heard he was running for the board and that he was anti-charter, I said: 'Wait a minute. Didn't I meet this guy?' " Murphy said. "I never before had an instance where someone expressed that kind of interest and ended up on an anti-charter slate."

Hernandez won the West District seat as a write-in candidate last May and had the endorsement of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which strongly opposes a plan to establish a broad network of district-sponsored charter schools.

At his first full business meeting on the board, Hernandez earlier this month circulated a five-page proposal seeking a moratorium on new district-sponsored charter schools.


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