Public lacks information

Recent revelations about a state Department of Education investigation into grading practices at the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District have, once again, highlighted the need for better disclosure of information to the public.

In a report to the school board, Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville acting Superintendent Thomas Gallagher said seven accusations had been made against the school district, but the state investigation found nothing improper. He said OESJ was accused of letting required courses for graduation be assessed as a pass/fail grade, changing scores lower than a 50, offering online credit recovery courses, giving credit for study hall courses, awarding credit for work-based learning, improperly appointing a Committee on Special Education chairman and allowing makeup course work for students who failed a course but passed the Regents.

Gallagher revealed the investigation into past grading and promotion practices began in November, when former OESJ Superintendent Laura Lawrence raised concerns. It was also in November that a divided OESJ school board placed Lawrence on paid leave for undisclosed reasons. She resigned in April after the school board agreed to pay out the remainder of her contract, about $250,000, plus maintain her health insurance for the next two years.

For the last several months, The Leader-Herald has tried to obtain documents from OESJ and the state Department of Education regarding the state investigation and the circumstances of Lawrence’s departure. The paper was denied access to those documents.

The lack of disclosure continues to place a cloud of suspicion over these events. Gallagher said the state investigation was unrelated to Lawrence’s employment situation, but how can the public be certain that’s true without more disclosure?

State and local officials who reject the newspaper’s information requests on important issues of this nature also do a serious disservice to the public.