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Member asks state to review claims against McKinley

A Buffalo Board of Education member has asked the state to investigate allegations from a former McKinley High School teacher that the school gave special treatment to basketball and football players, gave students advance notice of an essay question on a Regents exam and provided computers and cameras to local churches.

The former teacher, who did not provide his or her name, also alleges that relatives of school personnel were hired as substitute teachers but actually answered phones, made copies and ran errands for Principal Crystal Barton.

Board member Ralph Hernandez asked the state Education Department for "review, consideration and advice" on the three-page letter, which he received last month and forwarded to Albany last week.

"The magnitude and degree of detail of the allegations . . . causes me to give this letter greater credibility than I would normally attach to an anonymous communication," Hernandez said in a letter to State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills.

State education officials are reviewing the letter to determine if it warrants further consideration, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for Mills.

"Ordinarily, anonymous letters don't have the same weight as signed letters from identifiable people," Dunn said. However, he said, the fact that it was forwarded by Hernandez with a request for guidance gives the matter extra weight.

School district officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The letter alleges that:

* Members of McKinley's basketball and football teams -- coached by James Daye -- were placed in special-education classes so they got assistance to keep their grades up and remain eligible to play sports. As a result, students who would have legitimately qualified for special-education services didn't receive them.

* Almost every student in an 11th-grade English class last June "wrote the same answer" to an essay question on a Regents exam, even to the point of citing the same works of literature. "The only way such a thing could have happened is if the teacher had the question in advance and presented it to her class as a practice essay," the former teacher said.

* Relatives of school personnel were brought in daily as substitute teachers but actually handled clerical duties, "hung out in the office" and "checked up on teachers."

* Computer and video equipment "disappeared" from McKinley and ended up at local churches. In addition, the letter alleges, cases of church hymnals were purchased through the library, and "religious instruction" was held each morning in one classroom.

Hernandez said that he attempted to include copies of the letter in information packets delivered to his eight fellow board members but that the letters were taken out of the packets by Superintendent James A. Williams.

"This is a glaring example of the superintendent's arrogance and disrespect for the board," Hernandez said. He said he will raise the issue of the information packets at a Board of Education meeting this evening.


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