Three to sue district

Middle school deans Cheryl Farb and Alvis Brown, as well as school psychologist Dr. Mark Lerner, are in the process of filing lawsuits, charging, among other things, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and inappropriate administrative practices, respectively. All three are being represented by attorney Thomas F. Liotti of Garden City.
      A district spokesperson said they cannot comment on personnel issues or the ongoing lawsuit.
Farb, former dean of students at the Baldwin Middle School, alleges that she endured many instances of sexual harassment, mostly at the hands of Principal James Brown.
      On one occasion, she says that she "was told by Principal Brown to use my womanly skills to fake an apology. He said to me that, as a woman, I know how to fake things."
      In another instance, Farb claims she was told she "needed to make an evaluation that was 'tight as a virgin's, well, you know what's tight on a virgin.'"
      She explained that as the comments persisted, she complained to her superiors, who in turn labeled her as being "not a team player" and insubordinate.
      In December, she filed a formal complaint, which she says caused higher-ups to place false complaints in her folder, which eventually led to her termination.
      As a sexual harassment counselor, she says she had to come forward in order to set a good example to the students.
      "I decided that if I didn't speak up for myself and for what was happening to me, I would be a hypocrite," she said.
      Alvis Brown, also a middle school dean who has been recommended for termination by Superintendent Dr. Kathy Weiss, claims that he has been forced to work in a hostile environment, and that he was held to a higher standard because he was African American. He also says that he was informed he did not get the assistant principal's job he originally applied for because of his race.
      Furthermore, Brown alleges he was asked to participate in a course of conduct aimed at harassing Farb into resigning. He claims to have developed health problems due to the constant stress incurred from working within the district.
      And Lerner, who has worked as a psychologist in the district for 16 years, claims that the district engages in a systemic practice of depriving children of proper care in order to save money.
      During his time in the district, he alleges he was told to change the dates of psychological documents and exams, alter the content of reports, withhold appropriate information from parents and to use obsolete tests. Furthermore, he was instructed not to make any recommendations, because doing so would "handcuff" the district into paying for services, he said.
      "Dr. Weiss informed me that psychologists do not make recommendations in their psychological reports, and if I do not like this I should find a district to work in that welcomes my recommendations," said Lerner.
      Also, he says he was directed to make all of his recommendations on an internal form, known as a "green sheet." That form was never to be seen by parents or students.
      Lerner, who has a practice outside the school and has authored several books, said that these "unethical, unprofessional and illegal activities" have been the practice of the district for many years but that the problem has gotten worse in recent years.
      As a result of coming forward, Lerner says he was reassigned from the high school to Meadow Elementary School and eventually
was stripped of his professional contact with children. At the end of the last school year, he says he was reassigned to a small room in the district office commonly referred to as the "fishbowl," a small room with windows that he said put him on public display.
      He called the conditions of the "fishbowl" deplorable, with a large harpoon hanging on the wall over his head. He added that it was apparent to his colleagues that he was being disciplined, which he said was humiliating.
      Lerner, who is tenured and slated to return to the district this year, said his relationship with his colleagues and his health have deteriorated as a result of the lawsuit.
      "I have been subjected to ongoing harassment, retaliation and discrimination," he said.

Sub: Parents and students respond
Parents and children at the Baldwin Middle School are divided on their positions regarding the recent allegations made against school officials.
      Though many parents were still unaware of the charges as of last week, the ones with knowledge of the situation were firm in their beliefs.
      A parent of two middle school students, who asked that her name not be used, expressed her displeasure with the administration. "A lot of people want to see James Brown gone. He has never done anything for the school," she said.
      Furthermore, the parent added, "anytime I've had to deal with Cheryl Farb has been a pleasure."
      But John Eason, a teacher whose daughter recently graduated from the middle school, says that he has a lot of faith in James Brown. His two other children have enjoyed academic success as a result of the education they received at the school -- one has recently become a dentist and the other is about to graduate from college.
      "Mr. Brown runs a tough ship," Eason said. "For my family, he's done well. He's a good leader for our children."
      In addition to parents, students also have begun to form opinions. Kelly Canham, who graduated from the middle school this past June, says he and other students began to hear rumblings about Farb's allegations and that they created a distraction.
       "At first we thought it was a rumor," Canham said. "We didn't know who it was that she said harassed her, but no one thought she was harassed. Now, we don't know."
      Canham was also upset that Alvis Brown might be fired, saying the dean was like a friend to many students.
      "I could talk to him about everything," Canham said. "If anyone had a problem, we could always go to him. Everyone loved him. He was the nicest dean in the whole wide world. Everyone could talk to him if they had problems. I don't understand why they would do something like this."
      Parents and students will, at this point, be hearing only one side of the story, as district officials continue to remain silent on the situation. Board of Education President James Scannell said that while he couldn't comment on specifics, he is confident that when all the facts are presented, the district and Weiss will be found to have acted appropriately.
      But Dr. Lerner contends that Superintendent Weiss is directly responsible for many of the problems in the district, saying "everyone is afraid of her."
      "This is just the tip of the iceberg and there is a story to be told," said Lerner. "Kathy Weiss needs to be held accountable."