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Queens Chronicle

Parents voice support for Maspeth High

Holden and Mayor’s Office in war of words over test-cheating scandal

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:08 pm, Thu Oct 10, 2019.

As allegations about widespread cheating at Maspeth High School swirl, the September meeting of the Parent Teacher Association saw support for the school last Wednesday.

One mother, whose son who is a junior, said, “I’ve never seen a school so well run,” to applause from other parents.

Another mother said, “I know that this school will succeed even though there was some negative press and will be investigated. And I’m sure that everything will be null and void.”

Her husband noted that their son has improved since coming to the school.

“Every teacher has put that extra effort in,” he said. “So please don’t believe what you hear.”

Accusations from former teachers who came forward to the New York Post include math teachers changing incorrect answers on Scantron exam forms, truant students passing classes and an assistant principal teaching a course where attendance is not required. Two official investigations into the allegations are underway.

Some students told the Post they got passing grades they did not earn and were registered in nonexistent classes so they could graduate.

But Gerald Matacotta, coach of the school’s girls varsity volleyball team, said at the PTA meeting that after a match with rival Metropolitan Campus last Monday, the opposing players shook hands with his team and told them, “We know it’s not true.”

Though school officials can’t comment on the situation as it is being investigated, PTA President Barbara Jankowski mentioned the “disparaging articles” written about the school and that any parents wanting to discuss the situation with an administrator could write their names down on a list provided at the meeting.

Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir, the principal since the school’s opening in 2011, didn’t mention the controversy during his two-minute talk to parents.

The Post reported the allegations after several former teachers at the school described passing undeserving students at the behest of the administration. The Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations is investigating allegations referred by the special commissioner of investigation. The Public Integrity Bureau of the District Attorney’s Office is also investigating.

The school claims a 99 percent on-time graduation rate, compared to 76 percent citywide.

“Because somebody has evidence you can’t just get rid of the administration, but I think looking at what I looked at in the way of the mountain of evidence, this is kind of clear cut that this is going on,” Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who represents the area where the school is located and has pressed the issue, previously told the Chronicle.

Matacotta says there are different ways the situation could’ve been handled.

“These disgruntled teachers had a system to go through,” he said. “And they said that they knew about this three years ago ... why didn’t they go to the superintendent, which was the right thing to do, and then go to the DOE’s investigative arm?”

Mayor de Blasio’s senior communications advisor, Wiley Norvell, criticized Holden on Twitter last Sunday, saying the councilman’s “conduct here is irresponsible. He is playing fast and loose with the facts.”

“When he learned of complaints, Holden didn’t do the ONE thing all City employees and elected officials are required to do — report these issues directly to the appropriate investigators,” Norvell tweeted.

He added that Holden initially refused to provide details, including the name of the school. The Mayor’s Office contacted the SCI and a few days later Holden disclosed the school in question, which the office passed on to the SCI, according to Norvell.

“Rather than let SCI do its work and investigate, Holden has been trying to score points in the press, repeatedly jeopardizing the investigation,” Norvell tweeted.

Holden shot back on Twitter, saying, “Like grade fraud, incompetence is systemic in the @NYCMayor’s administration. @BilldeBlasio cares more about the press than the children affected by this corruption. As is evidenced by him sending his lapdogs to do his spinning.”

On Saturday, the Post reported that Holden told de Blasio about the issues at Maspeth High School in August but the mayor didn’t act with urgency, leading Holden to meet with acting District Attorney John Ryan.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who also represents Maspeth, said many of his constituents fight to get their children into the school, which was recognized last year with the National Blue Ribbon by the federal secretary of education.

“When an issue arises like that, it’s disappointing,” Addabbo said.

He hopes the school can “right the course” after the probes, also noting that parents could be concerned colleges will see it as a blemish when their children apply. Addabbo said he doesn’t believe it will be.

“I would hope not,” he said. “There’s so much more than just grades. There’s attendances, there’s extracurricular activities, there’s so much more.”

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