August 30, 2013
An investigation into cheating at the elite Stuyvesant High School ended with a scathing conclusion: Former principal Stanley Teitel mishandled cheating allegations and downplayed the scandal to officials.
Sleepy proctoring and coordinated text messaging helped dozens of students initially get away with sharing final exam questions on their phones during June 2012 Regents and final exams, according to a report by the Office of Special Investigations, which was released publicly this afternoon (but dated Nov. 5, 2012). But it was how Teitel responded once he learned of the incident that “showed an extreme lack of judgement,” investigators wrote.
News of the scandal struck a chord when it broke last year in part because it happened at Stuyvesant, an ultra-competitive high school that accepts only students who score the very highest on an eighth grade admissions exam. It put a spotlight light on what some students at the school described as a culture of cheating caused by unrelenting pressure to succeed.
A first phase of the investigation, finished last year, ended in the suspension of 66 students. Teitel, a 41-year veteran of the school system who helmed Stuyvesant for 13 years, retired in September 2012 amid the investigation into the role of administrators and teachers.
A spokeswoman said that Teitel would be barred from employment with the department, per the report’s recommendations. The report also heavily faulted Teitel’s assistant principal and testing director, Randi Damesek, who has remained at Stuyvesant. The city is seeking her termination, the spokeswoman said.
Teitel was first tipped off about the scheme in an email from a student whistleblower who wrote that the cheating was taking place during Regents exams. The student at the center of the ring, had already sent nearly 2,000 text messages containing Regents test questions, according to phone records in the report.
The student, Nayeem Ahsan, who is identified throughout the report at “Student A,” told investigators that he was able to get away with texting during one of the tests because the proctor “just sat at her desk and fell asleep.”
Teitel waited for two days before confronting the student, preferring to catch him in the act rather than intervene beforehand to prevent it. Investigators wrote it was a “plan designed, not to address or thwart this cheating, but to create circumstances under which it could continue.”
The report also shows how Teitel sought to keep the investigation under wraps from the Department of Education and the State Education Department, both of which mandate that cheating incidents be reported. Internal emails between Teitel and Damesek suggest they were aware of the compliance, but ignored it.
Instead, Teitel tried to kick out the main culprit, and punished students who were involved by revoking extracurricular privileges.
City officials found out about the incidents a week later, only after the department’s press office began receiving questions from reporters. State education officials didn’t find out until after it was reported in the media.