Residents confront Bellport school board

Bellport superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. at the Bellport

Bellport superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. at the Bellport board of education meeting held at Bellport Middle School. (Feb. 15, 2011) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Some 400 residents in the South Country Central School District concerned about a scandal over alleged grade-fixing that has engulfed Bellport High School told school officials Wednesday night to take action or step aside.

"Our children are fighting in the hallways over this issue," Rocco DeVito, 52, a parent of two students in the district, told the board. "Without admitting guilt or feigning innocence, step down and let the healing process in this community begin. The division in this community must end."

Superintendent Joe Cipp Jr. was accused late last year by a fired employee of pressuring underlings to change football star Ryan Sloan's grades so that the student could get an athletic scholarship. Cipp, who sat with nine board members Wednesday night, has denied the allegations.


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Asked for a comment, Cipp handed a reporter a statement: "I will not comment until the review is complete. Once again, I will state that I never changed a grade for a student or told anyone to change a grade. I will have more to say after I complete my own fact finding mission."

The board hired an outside party to conduct an investigation of the claims. A preliminary report by a lawyer hired by the district indicated that Cipp "must have been involved or must have known what was going on."

Board members say they are waiting for the final report before they take action. Several parents asked board members to resign.

Board president Victor Correa asked residents to be patient.

"We want to deal with this issue," he said. "Once that report is handed to us, this board will act."

Lawrence Hoff, 50 of East Patchogue, said he's concerned about what he calls a "hostile and intimidating environment" at the district, one in which he believes those who speak out are punished. He has two children there.

Jeanne Rojas, 42, said she wants to see the school district's dignity restored.

"I want the board to take responsibility for its inaction," said Rojas, who lives in Bellport and has three children at South Country.

Anne Hayes, 61, of Bellport, had two children pass through the district. She said she's concerned about the quality of education at South Country, particularly character education.

"The adults here have failed to set a proper example for the students," she said.

The superintendent should have known about the alleged grade fixing, she said. She said he and other administrators who may have been aware of or participated in the alleged grade fixing should be terminated.

Sloan, the Syracuse University freshman at the center of the scandal, has said he improved his grades on his own through hard work.

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