Education

Springfield Schools Superintendent Confirms, After Disclosure to Parent Opposed to Mandatory Looping, That Independent Investigation is Taking Place

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Sylvia Caggiano speaking to the Board of Education Credits: Chip Dickson
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Board of Education Credits: Ellen Dickson
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SPRINGFIELD, NJ—Following a lengthy statement at Monday’s board of education meeting by parent Sylvia Caggiano on the topic of mandatory looping in township schools, Superintendent of Schools Michael Davino confirmed that an independent investigation, resulting from an investigation he first ordered, is taking place within the district.

Caggiano is one of the leaders in a group of several Springfield parents who have called for district guidelines on mandatory looping in township schools. Looping refers to the practice of a teacher remaining with the same group of students for more than one school year. The parents believe they should be given the opportunity to have their children“opt out” of looping for academic or social reasons.

However, Davino has contended that he, as the superintendent, has the right to determine the scheduling prerogatives for township schools. The board of education says it does not have the power to interfere with that prerogative.

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In her statement on Monday, Caggiano said none of the questions she asked the board about looping at its September 18 or October 2 sessions have been answered.

Yet, she continued, a board member this week sent her a private message asking why the identities of signatories to an online petition against looping in the Springfield schools were not shown on the online website containing the petition, or “why they were shown at first but not anymore,” and why a count of the number of signatures no longer is displayed. 

“Was there some kind of retaliation against me or my family or the other parents who have signed the petition?” she asked, and “why has this board member privately questioned me about the identities of people who signed the online petition? Since I do not have control of the online petition website I did not respond to this board member. I hope this is not an attempt to intimidate residents or taxpayers of our town from petitioning their government. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this board member was just trying to show support for the anti-forced-looping initiative. If so, why secretly? Why not here, in this forum, in front of other board members, Superintendent Davino and the public?“

The resident continued that, contrary to the previously-expressed feelings of Davino, there were “no giant bureaucratic hurdles” to overcome and “no magical Chrystal balls to see into the future,” and no large amount of rules to be drafted, as suggested by board vice president Scott Silverstein. 

Caggiano said there is“Just one very simple rule—no forced looping,” where parents get the choice to opt out of a looping assignment. 

“Do you know why I know this is possible,” she continued, “In just a short amount of time, with very little research, I discovered towns from Eden Prairie, MN to Utica, NY to Windsor Locks, CT to New York City have all established parental opt out policies.” 

The Springfield parents also believe there are New Jersey school districts that also have “opt-out” policies on looping, she said. 

Caggiano added that the other communities allowing opting out, while Springfield’s district does not are: They respect the opinions of parents who want a say in their children’s education, and Springfield parents only want the administration to do its job. 

Instead, she said, Springfield administrators always wanted to schedule counterproductive meetings with the township parents, “to rehash something or another.”

The other communities, she added, respect the weight of academic authority that counsels against mandatory looping such as the American Association of School Superintendents and the Association of Middle Level Educators, which, she said all advise against mandatory looping. 

The resident also said that academic study after academic study on looping, including one by educator Jim Grant, who “literally wrote the book on looping”, The Looping Handbook published in 1990, counsel against making the practice mandatory.

She quoted Grant as saying, “The decision to loop should be voluntary for teachers, students and parents,” and that “mandating looping can cause …..negative feelings and it eliminates the option of choice. Offering the choice to everyone is one way to empower respect.”

Continuing about communications she had with Springfield school district representatives, Caggiano said she was interviewed by an attorney with the Morristown firm of Porzio, Bromberg and Newman, which provides legal representation to the Springfield board.

The attorney, who, she said, was “very professional,” said his firm had been tasked with conducting an independent investigation of district employees. 

“In other words,” she said “the district is independently investigating itself.” 

The parent said the interviewer from the Porzio firm specifically explained his inquiry was limited in scope and prompted by comments Caggiano made at a board meeting concerning district employees.

After talking to the board member, the resident said, she was called to a meeting about her son, adding “I made it very clear that the district employee who I believed to be subject of the investigation was not to be present at my meeting with district officials and I confirmed this conversation by email. However, on my way to the meeting, in a hallway, I was told that the employee who was the subject of the investigation and who I requested not be present, would in fact, be present at the meeting. I was given the Hopson’s choice of attending the meeting with that employee present or postponing the meeting. Why was my request refused?” 

In a later email to her husband a district employee said her request had not been ignored but decisions in the district are not made on personal issues, according to the resident.

“I suppose my allegations fall into personal issues,” she added. “No person who initiates a meeting during the course of an investigation of a district employee should be compelled to attend a meeting where the employee is present. A reasonable accommodation should have been made. It was not. Why not should be concern for this public body.”

In her conversation with the Porzio attorney, she said the attorney could not tell her how fast the investigation would occur. 

Caggiano wanted to know how many more board of education meetings she had to attend and when she would get her answers.

Davino, at Monday’s board meeting, said he couldn’t discuss the investigation. He did say there is an independent investigation taking place and it was a preliminary investigation that he ordered that led to the independent investigation

Board attorney Janelle Edwards-Stewart said the superintendent could confirm that there was an independent investigation ongoing, but since it is ongoing, “we’re not at liberty to discuss it.”

After the public comment portion of the meeting had ended and the board already had voted to adjourn, Caggiano told the board that she had received a message that “someone in Elizabeth knew about the investigation” and wanted to know how someone in Elizabeth knew about it.

Asked by TapInto Springfield if the message was from someone in education, she said she was not at liberty to disclose that.

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