South Country school board vice-president Kevin M. Kirk during an...

South Country school board vice-president Kevin M. Kirk during an open meeting. (Feb. 15, 2012) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

South Country Central School Board president Victor Correa promised swift action Wednesday night on grade-fixing allegations at Bellport High School after receiving a confidential report on the matter.

"The board assures all members of the community that it will conclude its deliberations quickly and will take all actions that are appropriate and necessary," said Correa, reading from a prepared statement at the start of the board meeting.

The report, which Correa said will not be made public because it involves personnel matters "involving discipline," stems from an independent investigation by a Melville attorney hired by the board. The investigation centered on allegations from former Bellport High School principal Kevin O'Connell, who said Superintendent Joseph Cipp Jr. fired him after he refused to change star football player Ryan Sloan's grades so he could get an athletic scholarship. O'Connell, of Patchogue, has sued the district and is seeking unspecified damages.

Attorney Bronwyn Black, in a preliminary report in January, wrote, "It is clear that Ryan Sloan's grades were improperly changed at the direction of the administration." Newsday obtained a copy of that report, which also was not publicly released.

Black did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Black said her investigation showed that Cipp "must have been involved or must have known what was going on," and the superintendent "created an atmosphere of pressure" to qualify Sloan for a scholarship.

Cipp, the former football coach for 32 years, maintained his innocence in a statement Wednesday. He said the independent report states there is no direct evidence that he told anyone to change grades or eradicate grades. "Nor did I, with a wink or a nod, ever encourage someone to change a student's grades or create an atmosphere where anyone could reasonably believe that I expected or wanted a student's grades to be changed."

Black, in the preliminary report, noted that it was incomplete because it did not include computer-related records that she was seeking.

Sloan won an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University and is on its football team. He and his former guardians have said he improved his high school grades through hard work.


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