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Wantagh board firm on Mandalay teacher transfer

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Parents of students at Mandalay Elementary School, in Wantagh, continue to pressure district administrators and the Board of Education to return popular reading teacher Denise Burkhard to Mandalay, but the board remained firm in its decision to transfer the popular teacher to another school in the district.

Burkhard, a 27-year veteran of both the district and Mandalay, was moved to a new assignment at Wantagh Elementary School in late November. Parents contend that the move was irregular and violated both district policy and state education law.

District Superintendent John McNamara and Board of Education President Elizabeth Guber have refused to comment publicly on the reasons for the transfer, citing privacy concerns.

“We are legally bound to protect the privacy and other rights of all staff members … therefore, we have been unable to have the public discussion that some members of the community have demanded of us,” Guber wrote in a statement signed by all five board trustees.

Guber wrote that the board and central administration felt “frustration” at being unable to explain their actions fully, but believed the allegations that the district acted illegally to be “unfair, inappropriate and defamatory.” Nevertheless, she wrote that she understood and sympathized with parents’ feelings, acknowledging that “staffing adjustments are difficult.”

As a reading specialist, Burkhard also taught special needs students, and parents complained that her transfer was disruptive to their children’s education. Jen Kramer, one of the parents spearheading the initiative to return Burkhard to Mandalay, said her son Jack, 11, had been doing well until the staffing changes. After Burkhard’s transfer, Jack returned to his old behavior of refusing to go to school at all, she said.

McNamara and Guber attended a meeting of the Mandalay Parent Teacher Association in December, where they listened to parents’ concerns.

Parents also complained that Burkhard’s replacement at Mandalay lacked the necessary qualifications to teach the Wilson Literacy Program that Burkhard taught, which requires a special credential — an allegation Guber flatly denied. “All staff are appropriately certified and trained,” she wrote.

Burkhard has declined to comment publicly about her transfer but would like to return to Mandalay, according to Kramer. The district’s teachers’ union has backed her return as well, while refusing to comment on specifics.

Board members assert that the district has acted throughout in a manner consistent with its stated policies. “We are of the firm belief that if we could provide a detailed explanation of the district’s actions, the community would realize that the superintendent, the central administration and the board have acted at all times in the best interests of the staff, students and parents,” Guber wrote.