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Nassau DA subpoenas Glen Cove over alleged testing abuses

Landing Elementary School in Glen Cove on April

Landing Elementary School in Glen Cove on April 12, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Glen Cove City School District has been served with subpoenas from the Nassau County district attorney's office probing alleged testing and grading abuses in two elementary schools and the high school.

The subpoenas from District Attorney Kathleen Rice come six months after a parent's complaint raised suspicions of teacher misconduct, and a week after investigations by the district and Nassau BOCES -- both launched in November -- became public knowledge.

Rice on Friday announced her investigation, which could lead to criminal charges.

District sources have told Newsday any professional misconduct could potentially result in penalties ranging from reprimand to suspension without pay to firing, after impartial hearings mandated by state education law.

John Gross, the school district's attorney, confirmed Wednesday that two subpoenas had been received from Rice's office and "the district continues to cooperate fully."

One subpoena seeks information on alleged grade changes on 2012 Regents exams by administrators at Glen Cove High School, district sources said. The other deals with alleged improper test-coaching by teachers at the Margaret A. Connolly and Landing elementary schools in spring 2012, the sources said.

An outline of what happened in the 3,100-student district already has begun to form through interviews with district officials, teacher representatives and others.

Suspicions arose in mid-October, district sources said, after a parent told a teacher at Robert M. Finley Middle School of a sixth-grader who needed extra help in math. The teacher said the student wasn't eligible for that assistance because she had achieved a score of "3" -- indicating proficiency -- on a state math test in spring 2012, sources said.

The parent responded that the student scored well only because a teacher at the Connolly school had helped her during the test, sources added.

District officials then interviewed dozens of other students and discovered what sources alleged was a pattern of youngsters with low scores in the past who boosted their performance through improper coaching by as many as 23 teachers. All questioning of students was done with parents' permission, and the state Education Department was notified, district officials have said.

In November, Glen Cove's board approved a full internal investigation by a private attorney. Meanwhile, the Education Department appointed a Nassau BOCES specialist to conduct a parallel investigation, district sources said. Investigators completed reports totaling hundreds of pages in mid-March.

Superintendent Joseph Laria and other district representatives have said the district's investigation was slowed by school closures after superstorm Sandy and the complexities of the case.

Wednesday, Glen Cove and state officials said a joint investigation was continuing.

Gross said teachers' alleged misconduct included instructing students in topics taken directly from test booklets before exams were administered, as well as helping students come up with correct answers and change wrong answers during testing. "We want it to be known that the allegations are serious," he said.

Joseph Hinton, the Glen Cove High School principal, did not return Newsday's call Wednesday.

Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, which is representing 18 teachers in the case, said Wednesday interviews to find out what happened were conducted with four teachers and that the rest will be contacted. "We remind the community that these are allegations and that one is innocent until proven guilty," he said.

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