Application of Crystal Barton for the removal of Ralph R. Hernandez as a member of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Buffalo, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 15,832
Crystal Barton, a high school principal employed by the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Buffalo (“board”), asked the Commissioner to remove Ralph R. Hernandez from office as a member of the board.
According to the Commissioner’s decision, Hernandez sent a letter "asking that [the Commissioner] initiate an investigation into certain allegations of employee misconduct and/or criminal activity by employees at McKinley High School, where Barton is employed as principal." Hernandez attached an anonymous letter he had received which made numerous allegation of wrongdoing on the part of Barton.
Barton claimed that the letters to the Commissioner amounted to commencement of a disciplinary proceeding against her, and that her rights were violated because the disciplinary proceeding did not comply with Education Law §3020-a.
The Commissioner dismissed Barton’s appeal for a number of technical reasons.
As to anonymous allegations, however, such allegations should not be ignored by an appointing authority. A judgment should be made as to the extent of any investigation required based on "reasonable suspicion." In the Shepard v Ward, 547 NYS2d 57, the Appellate said that suspicious behavior coupled with anonymous tips provided a basis for reasonable suspicion.
In Board of Educ. of City School Dist. of City of New York v. Mills, 250 A.D.2d 122, an anonymous letter was the genesis of disciplinary action taken against a physical education teacher. The letter alleged that the teacher was having an inappropriate relationship with a female student. An initial investigation revealed that educator had, in fact, formed a romantic relationship with the student.
During the course of the investigation the teacher refused to be interviewed by a confidential investigator. He was then subpoenaed to appear to give testimony during a prehearing inquiry concerning his relationship with the student.
In spite of having been granted use immunity, the teacher answered only pedigree and background questions, refusing to answer any questions regarding his relationship with the student. The Commissioner upheld the Hearing Panel's determination regarding the teacher's inappropriate relationship with the student and imposed a three years' suspension without pay as the penalty.
The Commissioner’s decision in the Barton case is posted on the Internet at: