Beacon Schools to Students: You’re Safe Here

Also, district responds to lawsuit over spending records

By Jeff Simms

Beacon schools interim Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi is planning to post a letter online affirming the district’s commitment to the safety and inclusion of all students — a move made at least indirectly in response to reports of an uptick in discriminatory behavior nationwide in recent weeks.

Citing a letter issued by state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, a Beacon parent urged Quartironi and school board members during the board’s Nov. 21 meeting to draft a letter of their own.

Elia’s letter, sent Nov. 18 to school officials statewide, alluded to a number of incidents of bullying and harassment reported in communities across New York recently. It noted that state lawmakers in 2012 adopted a Dignity for All Students Act that requires public schools to provide students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment and bullying, including on school property, inside buses and at school functions.

The law, according to Elia, requires districts to develop codes of conduct that prohibit harassment, bullying (including cyberbullying) and discrimination against students by other students or school employees, as well as provisions for responding to such incidents.

The Beacon district has a 45-page code of conduct that can be found on its website that contains information on students’ rights and responsibilities, disciplinary rules and instructions for reporting violations of the code.

The Beacon resident who requested the district issue its own statement, Deborah Davidovits, said after the board meeting that she’s heard from other parents about discriminatory behavior but hoped Quartironi’s letter would discourage it from spreading.

“Overall, the climate in our schools is excellent,” Davidovits said. “My point is I want to keep it that way. There’s no harm in sending a message of reassurance out to our families.”

The New York City and Red Hook school systems, as well as the Dutchess Day School and the Randolph School in Wappingers Falls, have issued similar statements.

In other business, school board President Anthony White read a statement in response to a lawsuit filed against the district by the Reclaim New York Center for Government Reform and Accountability, a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization whose principal officer until August of this year was Stephen K. Bannon, the newly named chief White House strategist of President-elect Donald Trump.

Reclaim says the district failed to respond to Freedom of Information Law requests for its spending records. The group sought data from 3,400-plus government entities as part of an online “transparency database” it says will give residents insight into how their tax dollars are spent.

About 83 percent of the governments in the Hudson Valley have provided the requested information so far, said Doug Kellogg, Reclaim’s communications director.

Reclaim issued a report earlier this year on the cost of living in the Hudson Valley, focusing on what the group characterized as an excessive overall tax burden.

Beacon school officials on Nov. 16 provided Reclaim with the expenditure information, White said.

“It is with regret that the board, as well as the district administration, acknowledges that this was an oversight,” he said, adding that the district has reviewed its procedure for responding to FOIL requests and “will strive to implement them in a timely and responsive manner” moving forward.

Kellogg said on Nov. 22 that although the Beacon schools have “had a much better attitude” than most of the entities Reclaim has filed suit against, the lawsuit is still ongoing. Reclaim is reviewing the data it received from the Beacon schools, he said.

In all, the group has sued 11 governments/school districts in New York over FOIL issues.

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