December 6, 2013

The seamy underside of school district politics

Screaming in the hallways. Special closed-door sessions, shouting and insults. Gangs storming the superintendent’s office. No, these aren’t students; these are the teachers and administration.

The most recent spate of misbehavior in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District stems from the district’s attempt to dismiss special education teacher Kristin Peterson after an incident on Sept. 23, 2011, involving a student at Meadow Pond Elementary School.

In September, after requests for documents on the case were denied, we sought remedy via New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.

The district responded 30 days later: “The district has reviewed your request for all documentation pertaining to State Education Department Case No. 20,769, employee No. 711. Your request is denied. These documents are not subject to FOIL as they pertain to pending litigation which precludes disclosure of such information.”

No wonder the district didn’t want these documents released; they’re embarrassing.

While Ms. Peterson was exonerated — “there is absolutely nothing in this record that comes close to suggesting that Ms. Peterson was ever a threat to the students she served,” stated the New York State Education Department opinion — during the course of the investigation she became the center of a bitter feud being waged among district personnel.

Reading the education department’s grim report is both fascinating and heart-wrenching. What transpires is an incident with a student that was either misinterpreted or misunderstood; teachers and administrators spreading hearsay; a teacher losing her cool; union officials fanning flames; and a district administration that crossed boundaries of good conduct.

Ms. Peterson ultimately saved her job but was ordered to pay the district $3,000. The fine, to be taken out of her salary, was levied as a result of Ms. Peterson’s “unprofessional, insubordinate and inappropriate conduct” in disparaging her immediate supervisor as well as the superintendent and other district employees.

In an October filing with the federal court, Ms. Peterson’s lawyer, Peter Hoffman, wrote: “the state proceedings ... have not been fully submitted, and I do not expect an opinion for some time.”

At a time when we are putting such an emphasis on bullying prevention, this story somehow resonates — in the worst possible way.

The Katonah-Lewisboro School District is currently about to undertake some of the most wide-reaching demographic changes in decades. This ongoing legal dispute is a distraction all too reminiscent of lose-lose court battles waged by past administrations.


The first thing we hear most mornings when we enter our office in Katonah is the commuter train across the street. It is a sound we hear at least twice an hour throughout the workday. Chances are, for the thousands of commuters in our area, the rhythm of the train is an important part of their lives, whether arising for the 5:10 or 5:35 a.m. or traveling with the family to admire the tree or for a matinee. Statistically, metro-New York City residents commute more than residents of any other community; the U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than 35 percent of workers 16 and older use mass transit.

On Sunday, Dec. 1, the 5:54 a.m. from Poughkeepsie was making its way down the Hudson, hugging the tracks as it headed toward the Spuyten Duyvil station. But passengers sensed the train was speeding, and moments later the train derailed and crashed, killing four and wounding scores more.

Although the accident wasn’t on “our” side of Westchester, the impact and the aftermath affect us all. In the short term, riders from the western part of the county will likely turn to the Harlem line as a way to avoid the transfer at Yonkers for shuttle buses to the New York City subway. In the long term, it will provide service delays for months to come. Worse, the accident raises concerns for all of us who rely on the safety and efficient operation of Metro-North as a fact of our daily lives.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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The official newspaper of the towns of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York



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Bedford Village

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Bedford Hills

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  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


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  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

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Cross River

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  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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