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Phase one of Stuy HS cheating inquiry ends in canceled scores

It’s summer break, so Stuyvesant High School students probably weren’t listening to the radio at 7 a.m. today.

But if they were, 69 of them would have found out from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that they will have to retake the end-of-year Spanish exams they took last month. That’s the number of students that Department of Education investigators concluded had received exam questions in advance via a text message from a classmate.

Walcott announced during an appearance on the John Gambling Show that also touched on the schools thrown into limbo by an arbitrator’s ruling last month and the Department of Education’s new focus on college readiness.

The first phase of the investigation, conducted by the department’s internal Office of Special Investigations, looked only at student behavior and meted out punishments, including some suspensions, according to the city’s discipline code, Walcott said.

The next phase, he said, is to look at whether Stuyvesant’s principal, Stanley Teitel, and his staff followed the appropriate protocol after learning about the cheating on the city exams. “We have to look at the process,” Walcott said. “Once the allegation was made, what happened after that?”

Teitel sent a letter to parents June 20 alerting them to the cheating and informing them that students suspected of cheating would lose some privileges, such as the right to leave campus for lunch. But the city did not find out about the cheating allegations for nearly a week after that letter went home.

The cheating was made possible with a cell phone, even though a citywide policy bars students from bringing their phones to school. Last week, most members of the City Council called on the department to roll back the ban, saying that it is “possibly discriminatory” because it is enforced more often at schools in poor neighborhoods where security is often tighter.

But Walcott said today that the council members are tilting at windmills. “It’s not happening,” he said. He added that while enforcement of the ban is up to individual schools, roving metal detectors mean that students can have their phones confiscated even if their school does not regularly collect them.

The cheating scandal was not the first topic that Walcott and Gambling discussed this morning. The top slot was reserved for the city’s thwarted bid to “turn around” 24 struggling schools by closing and reopening them with new teachers, new programs, and new names.

Two weeks ago, an arbitrator ruled that the city’s staffing plans for the new schools violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions. He explained his decision in a detailed opinion released on Friday, saying that Mayor Bloomberg and some department officials had helped convinced him that the “new” schools were not in fact new at all.

For the schools to be truly new, Buchheit concluded, much would have to change, including the overall educational visions underlying their leadership.

Walcott used some of that language today as he outlined the city’s appeal bid, set for its first court appearance on Tuesday. The schools were going to have “a new vision, some new staff, a new mission” when they reopened in September, he said.

The decision has thrown months of planning at the schools into limbo and left teachers and administrators unclear about who is in charge and what should be happening. Buchheit’s ruling allows teachers or principals cut loose from the schools to reclaim their positions, but how that will happen is not yet clear.

Walcott said he met last week with the schools’ principals, both “the principals we had identified” as well as those who were already in place. “I let them know that we at central will be there to support them,” he said.

But he said, “It is a fairly tumultuous situation within the schools.”

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