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Buffalo principal in forgery allegations may face charges

The parent who has accused a Buffalo public school principal of forging her name to various school documents said she intends to file criminal charges this week on the grounds of forgery, falsification of documents and identity theft.

Timekia Jones, a parent leader and teacher’s aide at Harvey Austin School 97, said she felt compelled to pursue charges against Principal Brigette Gillespie after she said retaliatory action was taken against her last week for reporting the falsification of her signature.

She and District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel Radford III also accused other district administrators of downplaying and covering up the matter.

“It needs to stop,” Jones said.

Her work schedule was abruptly changed by Gillespie last Monday after Jones said she refused to retract allegations about the forgery of her signature on her school’s state-required improvement plans, as well as other documents related to the spending of federal Title I poverty money.

The change to her schedule made it impossible for Jones to participate in scheduled parent-teacher meetings, school-based management team discussions and other meetings that require parent participation, she said.

“We should have the right to have a say-so in our kids’ education,” said Jones, who has two daughters with special needs attending School 97.

The signature of a parent representative is required on school documents to prove to the state that the school involved all stakeholders in the development of school improvement and spending plans.

“We don’t know if these plans were developed with any integrity, which may be why they fail year after year, because they’re being put together without any parent input,” said Radford, president of the parents group.

Jones said she learned early this month that someone else had signed her name to these documents without her knowledge.

When she confronted Gillespie about one of the documents, however, she said Gillespie initially denied any wrongdoing.

“I asked her, ‘Who signed my name?’ She said, ‘You signed your name, Ms. Jones.’ She said, ‘You were there.’ I said, ‘No, I was not.’ At the time the signature was being forged, I was at the hospital having surgery.”

Jones said Saturday she was having a biopsy done at Buffalo General Medical Center.

Gillespie then admitted, “We signed your name,” Jones recalled.

The principal did not state that she signed Jones’ name, but told her that, as principal, she took responsibility for her name being signed without her knowledge.

On Oct. 18, Jones said, Gillespie summoned her to her office and asked Jones to sign a document stating that she had given the principal permission to sign her name to a school improvement plan document but had forgotten.

Jones said she refused, even though Gillespie complained about being “in the hot seat,” and warned that Jones might be transferred to another school. Gillespie’s supervisor, Cassandra Wright, then spoke with Jones by conference call to see if there was “a misunderstanding,” but Jones said she repeated that her name had been forged without her knowledge.

Last Monday, Wright and human resources administrator Darren Brown met with Gillespie and Jones at School 97. At that meeting, Jones said, Wright presented her the same document Gillespie had presented the week before, asking Jones to affirm that she had given the principal permission to sign her name.

Jones said she again refused, then handed the administrators a written affidavit attesting to her version of events. Later that afternoon, Jones said, Gillespie changed her schedule.

Superintendent Pamela Brown previously stated that she has ordered an investigation into the matter.

On Saturday, district spokeswoman Elena Cala said Wright denies that she asked Jones to sign anything, but that she did point out that Jones was working a schedule appropriate for a parent facilitator but not appropriate for a teacher’s aide.

Wright also stated that Jones’ schedule will be changed back to what it originally was and that Jones will not miss any parent meetings. Wright is also upset that her character is being besmirched, Cala said.

“It’s unwarranted,” Cala said. “She’s done everything by the book. She’s followed absolute, proper protocol for the situation.”

Radford said he worked with Wright and others last week to try to get Jones’ former schedule restored, but even though promises were made to have her schedule revert back to the way it was, that had not been done as of Friday.

Jones previously had a good working relationship with the principal and did not wish to have herself or the principal publicly named when the forgery allegations first came to light. She said she changed her mind, however, when it became clear that the principal and her supervisors were bent on “covering up” the matter. She also said she wants an outside investigation conducted because she suspects that her name has been signed to documents without her knowledge for years.

“I’m not just speaking up for me,” she said. “I’m speaking up for all the other parents in the district. It’s not right for them to do that. We should be a part of the decision making. We should be a part of the planning. Nobody knows our children better than we do.”

Jones sent a letter Saturday to William J. Hochul Jr., U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, asking if Gillespie could be criminally accused of filing false documents and identity theft.

Jones also intends to file a forgery complaint with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office this week.

Meanwhile, Radford said the Parents Coordinating Council will be calling for investigations by state and federal officials regarding “acts and omissions” by the district regarding the procurement and use of millions in federal aid.

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