HIGHLAND PARK - A group of parents accuses school officials in Highland Park of tampering with public records in an effort to cover up an unpopular policy. The school district insists the whole thing is a "misunderstanding".
The dispute started in February, when parents at Irving Elementary School became unhappy after teachers began publicly posting kids' assignments on school bulletin boards with the grades visible for everyone to see. "These are young kids and they're sensitive," says Genese Sodikoff, the parent of a kindergarten student.
But when parents complained, they say school officials blamed teachers for misunderstanding the instructions. In one email, an assistant superintendent tells a parent, "I was not aware of the display of grades. As soon as I was aware of the situation, I addressed the issue." Under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act, the school district even provided parents with a printout school officials said was a copy of the policy. The printout said teachers "may" post student grades but are not required to do so.
However, when parents persisted in demanding the actual email that was sent to teachers, the district resisted for over a month. When it finally released the electronic records, the policy was noticeably different. Instead of saying teachers "may" post student grades, it said they "must" do so.
"That's just deception," Sodikoff says. "Why not just come out and say, it was a bad idea, we apologize, we're going to backtrack here, a lot of people are upset, rather than denying it ever happened?"
Highland Park Schools Superintendent Tim Capone disputes the parents' contention that school officials doctored public records. "They received both copies, so we provided them with all the documentation they asked for," he says.
Capone says the initial email, requiring teachers to include students' grades, was simply wrong and was corrected and the new one was distributed. A representative of the teachers union disputes that, saying the only policy her members ever received was the first one.
Some parents tell Kane In Your Corner that they still believe Highland Park school officials need to take responsibility for their actions. Katie Yurga, parent of a kindergartner, says, "They all need to apologize to the teachers and the parents and make it clear what actually happened."