Long Island teacher misconduct: Inside Newsday's investigative series on confidential settlements
An investigation into teacher misconduct on Long Island was featured as a Newsday Live Conversation Friday.
Hosted by associate editor Joye Brown, the event featured reporters Jim Baumbach and Joie Tyrrell and investigations editor Keith Herbert discussing how public school districts persuaded more than 100 tenured educators to resign after allegations, withheld their names from the public and approved "confidential" settlements that provided limited or few details.
Viewers learned about the nuts and bolts of the reporting, which began more than three years ago. Newsday published the stories online March 29. Register here to participate.
Investigation found more than 100 educators resigned after facing misconduct allegations
All the digging through records — 5,000 of them — allowed the reporters to show that 103 educators had resigned from school districts on the Island in the last decade. Allegations the educators faced included sexual and physical misconduct with students.
Using New York's public records law, the reporters obtained documents that highlighted how school districts persuaded educators accused of misconduct to quit by continuing to pay their salaries.
Baumbach and Tyrrell also learned that 114 educators negotiated lesser penalties, including unpaid suspensions, paid leaves, counseling, fines and reprimands.
LI school districts shielded most details about alleged teacher wrongdoing
Districts provided Newsday detailed records only in a few dozen cases, usually when a state-appointed hearing officer decided the discipline. Called settlement agreements, the records are signed by the school district and the educator.
But once the district secured the resignation or other discipline, school officials lost motivation to detail what behavior to seek discipline against an educator, experts told Newsday.
So, even though approved by local school boards, the settlement agreements didn't provide parents with reasons for a teacher's discipline.
Payouts to teachers made while discipline cases resolved
The investigation found that money paid to educators represented salary teachers would have received while waiting for a discipline hearing. Districts paid that money on top of what teachers were owed for unused sick and personal time.
Newsday reporters uncovered two settlement agreements that bolstered pension benefits by keeping the teachers on the payroll for years while banning them from contacting students and barring them from school grounds.
Accusations of misconduct against educators included COVID fraud and moonlighting on school district time
Not all the allegations against Long Island teachers involved sexual or physical contact with students.
A Sewanhaka High School math teacher, Tricia Manno, negotiated a settlement where she paid a $20,000 fine after school district officials suspected she had submitted a forged COVID-19 vaccination card in 2021.
Weeks later, a Nassau County grand jury indicted her for felony forgery charges. Manno later admitted the vaccination card was fake and pleaded guilty in August 2021 to a misdemeanor charge.
Manhasset high school math teacher Brandon Cruz admitted in a 2019 agreement that he was officiating NCAA basketball games when he told school district officials he was on sick or family leave.
The district required Cruz to “make restitution to the district for compensation paid [to] him for such absences,” representing $23,112.
Newsday reporters Jim Baumbach and Joie Tyrrell filed hundreds of public records requests with Long Island school districts and the state Department of Education. They gathered and reviewed more than 5,000 pages of records on educators accused of misconduct and found more than 200 instances where confidential settlement agreements were used to discipline a teacher.
Ten cases are highlighted here in a first-of-its kind investigation on Long Island. Newsday found that Island districts persuaded at least 103 tenured educators accused of misconduct in the past decade to resign by continuing to pay their salaries for months and concealing the reasons for their departures.