Shuang Wen principal gets canned as probe drags on

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  The Shuang Wen School (M 184) has been hit with a slew of violations by the city Department of Education, resulting in the axing of its former principal.

The latest developments add fuel to the fire for a group of parents who are suing over D.O.E.’s drawn-out multiple investigations of their children’s school.

D.O.E. recently declared that Ling Ling Chou, the school’s former principal, manipulated student attendance records, failed to properly supervise and train her staff, and misrepresented hours of scheduled classes in a federal government grant application, among other infractions. The substantiated allegations are an outgrowth of several investigations of the school dating back to 2009.

In a statement, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott criticized Chou for “engaging in dishonest behavior, unbeknownst to her students and school community.”

“Principal Chou’s conduct has failed to meet the standard we set for our principals,” Walcott said, “and I am filing charges to terminate her employment.”

Myron Beldock, an attorney representing Chou, said the former principal — who is still being assigned to pass her workdays in a so-called “rubber room” — will be contesting the charges in court in coming months.

“The charges are unfounded and unfair,” he commented.

A D.O.E. spokesperson said the department still has three active investigations that implicate Chou.

The city’s Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation previously found that Shuang Wen’s Parent Association transferred $81,000 to the Shuang Wen Academy Network (SWAN), the school’s after-school program, and that parents unlawfully managed the academy’s “general school funds” account. The report also found that proceeds from a school trip to China were deposited directly into SWAN’s bank account rather than into the school’s treasury.

In defense, the parents, who have taken D.O.E. to court for what they consider invasive investigations, maintain that no intentional misconduct occurred, and that the monies “fell into the hands of untrained parent volunteers who were not versed in accounting practices and who understandably considered the school, the P.T.A., and SWAN all to be part of one entity dedicated to the same purpose.”

They also charge that the “general school funds” account was partly created in the mid-2000s in order to receive donations intended for the after-school program, which is taught in Mandarin.

M 184 parent Vincent Wong called D.O.E.’s reports biased.

“You have the defendant investigating the plaintiff, so you have the criminal investigating the crime,” Wong said.

Meanwhile, at least 30 families have threatened to take their children out of the school or have already left due to the controversies, according to the court papers.

Parent Christopher Siragusa said he has reluctantly decided to enroll his two children in other schools.

“I kept my daughter at Shuang Wen, despite my worries over these increasingly intrusive investigations, because she was getting a great education, and I believed strongly in the mission of Shuang Wen,” he said in a court statement.

“But during the 2009 to 2010 academic year, I became fearful for the future of Shuang Wen,” he said.

Maggie Wong, who served on the school’s P.T.A. from 2010 to 2013, moved her daughter to another school in January, midway through the academic year.

Wong was particularly dismayed by D.O.E.’s decision to remove Principal Chou from the school last summer, prior to confirming allegations made against her by an opposing group of parents.

“The D.O.E. did not know how to handle the situation and did not consider the parents’ feelings and concerns,” Wong said. “The ongoing investigations over a period of three years were disruptive to the environment of the school and to the children’s education. These events led me to seek to educate our daughter elsewhere.”

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18 Responses to Shuang Wen principal gets canned as probe drags on

  1. It seems that the DOE has not been forthcoming whatsoever. The SCI report already cleared the school and principal of numerous allegations and confirmed that there was no "misconduct." They released a slew of biased, so-called investigation reports. The DOE rushed to destroy an long-term employee by releasing these shoddy reports that reveal the incompetence and hostility of OSI — full of internal inconsistencies and outright fabrications. Now they admit that after 3 years they still have 3 other investigations? By the way, Aline, Ms. Chou has not been "axed" or terminated. Walcott said that based on these shoddy reports, he is filing charges to terminate. What is the punishment for OSI or the DOE when it's actually proven that they have been "engaging in dishonest behavior" for the past 3 years. Let's start with why the DOE Press Release claims that Ms. Chou was reassigned on 9/6/2011, when everyone knows that this is an outright lie.

  2. OneShuangWenParent

    The Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) is not part of DOE. It is an independent city agency to which the DOE referred several of its investigations. All of the news reporting fails to mention that SCI found no theft or loss of funds, "no deliberate misconduct," and violations of regulations and standard operating procedures that had been "accepted or overlooked" by DOE and "allowed to continue for a period of years." No news outlet has mentioned that the former principal replaced the parent who administered the general school fund with a DOE employee, the instant the problem was brought to her attention — THREE YEARS ago. It seems DOE has some very deferential friends in the news media these days.

    Oh, and, spare me with these three new investigations. DOE has been trumping up charges against this community for three years. Apparently, even that wasn't enough time.

    A hard-working woman's life has been destroyed by DOE's vicious attack on her. Hundreds of children have been harmed by DOE's disruptive conduct. It has happened before. Users of public schools in this city need to be VERY concerned about the implications. Innovative programs that are designed to prepare children for a place in the future global society are doomed as long as this entrenched, corrupt bureaucracy, with its out-dated regulations, continues to destroy schools, intimidate parents and educators, and control the press.

  3. Shuang Wen Community

    Principal Chou is an American, provide her with the the due process she's entitled to!

    Principal Chou is loved by substantially all (at least 95%) of Shuang Wen students, families and friends, past and present! That, the DOE cannot take away! We love you Principal Chou!

  4. The last time I checked, the DOE 'reassigned" Ms. Chou to the 'Rubber Room'. In my book, 'axed' means terminated, no pay. To my understanding, Ms. Chou is still collecting a pay-check. This is yet another example of how the DOE is putting her on trial in the public. By leaking half-truths and relying on inconsistent reports to scare the parents and to bias and distort public perception, this only serves to reveal the dark side of the DOE. Disguising behaviors that is unbecoming of those trusted to educate the children of NYC:(

  5. Mary O'Grady

    Villager — Please correct the errors in this article.

    What is interesting here is the revelation of another three pending, secret investigations — investigations are supposed to FAIR — yet the un-named DOE spokesperson speaks of these investigations as if they are weapons. Who wants to venture a guess as to whether or not the DOE will find wrong-doing? That impartial Jamel Boyer manages to balance being an OSI Investigator AND a named defendant in a federal class action lawsuit. Why does the DOE feel that they need to hold back three secret weapons in their back pocket? Are they concerned that their investigation reports will be taken apart as easily as the blatant lieS (plural emphasized) on their April 20 Press Release?

  6. It’s absolutely outrageous how an outstanding educator’s life has been destroyed and turned upside down in a DOE witch hunt of allegations. Mr. Walcott has never even met with Principal Chou. He never visited her school when they won the distinguished Blue Ribbon award that only a handful of public schools have received. Walcott said, “and I am filing charges to terminate her employment.” What a ridiculous comment to make about an incredible educator that he has NEVER met. This amazing woman took students on trips to across the US and the world to teach them not only books and essays, but true world experience. Most low income students in the DOE are failing. What is Mr. Walcott doing about that? Principal Chou had remarkable amount, more than 70% of her students came from low income households. Mr. Walcott should be praising her efforts and hard work and using her school as a catalyst to educate other principals to create such outstanding results in NYC inner city low income populations.

  7. In a city were diversity is our strength it is disgusting and despicable that investigators interrogate small children about such an important holiday. Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Principal Chou and the Shuang Wen students have been taught to respect all faiths and cultures. The DOE calendars dictates that Christian and Jewish High Holidays are non-working calendars days however Mr. Walcott and his ill mannered DOE investigators demonstrated no restrain in desecrating Chinese New Year. Principal Chou created wonderful caring and loving bi-lingual environment for NYC public school students. Her legacy and strength will carry her through the hatred and manipulation of the dysfunctional DOE.

  8. OneShuangWenParent

    A conscientious reading of the SCI report regarding the $81,000 shows that the transfer to SWAN was approved in advance by the PTA Executive Board. A deceitful person who attended the meeting went along with the decision but later grieved it to SCI. See footnote 6 of the SCI report. The report goes on to say that the transfer was approved after-the-fact by the full parent body, which voted "139 to 1 in favor of the transfer."

    Who cares whether this procedure violated some medieval DOE regulation if the parent community was satisfied with the result? Isn't that all that matters? Why is it even news? Will it be news when the former principal debunks the 16 "charges" against her — oh, and, these three NEW investigations? Or will the press avoid reporting anything that exposes the viper pit that is DOE?

  9. Why does the DOE and the media insist on describing the SWAN transaction as if it improper when an INDEPENDENT agency found NO wrongdoing, only bad record-keeping? And let's not forget while these organizations were legally separate, ALL existed for the SAME purpose: providing the same 600+ children with a top-notch education in English and Chinese.

    Why is that the DOE wants to punish Ms. Chou for supposedly breaking the rules, but the DOE completely ignored its own rules, not to mention the 4th amendment to the constitution, in its investigation?

    Why does the DOE want to terminate and humiliate the principal of school where 70% kids get free lunch, but ranked #1 in Manhattan in 2010-11 according to the DOE itself?

  10. Former school parent

    In an environment where the USA places disappointingly low in the comparison of countries all over the world in math and science scores, one would think that schools that are innovative and have shown successful results in academic achievements would be models for others to use in efforts to raise achievement standards. Shuang Wen is such an innovative school where students accomplished much more than just reaching academic goals. They surpassed many standards and in a bilingual/bicultural environment. Many students have gone on to prestigious colleges and universities – Cornell, NYU Pre-med, Carnegie-Mellon, Wellesley, Middlebury, Cooper Union, Skidmore, Northwestern, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Fordhan Univ., CUNY Baruch. SUNY Stonybrook, Indiana Univ. and more. Many on scholarships. These results are the fruit of hard work on both parents' part and students' part, commitment to study and the encouragement and dedication of wonderful teaching staff over the years. It is the result of going beyond the 8 – 3 workday, beyond the 9 – 5 workday mentality.

  11. Former school parent

    What is so shameful now is that the former leader of the school has been tried and crucified in the press and in the public by the DoE which has been investigating allegations and complaints for 3 years on issues that have been cleared up by the SCI ( a mayoral agency independent of the DoE) and issues that now are shown to be not uncommon practice among public schools all over the city. This school has been singled out and the press has been overeager to latch on to any hint of scandal or wrongdoing. It does not fit the mold of any regular public school taken out of a directory – Shuang Wen was started as an innovative and alternative school which succeeded too well on many levels and is now suffering for that success because certain people think that it should not be so unique and should fit a certain mold.

  12. Former school parent

    The SCI (independent mayoral investigative agency) has cleared the school and principal of any financial wrongdoing but the press and the DoE persist in harping on points that have already been cleared. You would think that after 3 years of investigations, the DoE OSI would not have to rely on innuendos, misleading information and downright lies to gull the public into drawing particular conclusions. Anyone who has personally known Ms. Chou knows that she is a highly dedicated school leader, giving more time and energy to the school and her students, giving of her time and energy to have every child achieve to the best of their ability so that they can realize their hopes and dreams. Those who have attended the Lunar New year shows that the school has put on each year except the last, knows of the hard work and dedication of the students, teachers and parents into making this a spectacular celebration of the most important holiday for the Chinese and Asian people who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. Yet, the DoE seems to have no respect for it.

    The press needs to show that they are not in the back pocket of the DoE and be truly impartial.

  13. We are the 99%

    When it comes to Shuang Wen School, 99% of the parents unequivocally support ex-principal Ling Ling Chou. What she had done with the school and the students were simply amazing. With 70% of the students coming from low income families, the school consistently placed in the top of the state in statewide tests. In addition, last year, out of a graduating 8th-grade class of 65, around 10 got accepted to Stuyvesant High School, and many others went to equally prestigious high schools. The appreciation of the parents for what Principal Chou had achieved is unmistakable in the outpouring of support for her at every interview, every press release and every court appearance.

    (comment continued on next post)

    The DOE, however, for whatever reason, is using the accusations from the other 1% of parents as platform to lauch a campaign of suppression and intimidation against Principal Chou and against 99% of the parents. The DOE has repeatedly raided the school office searching for the slightest trace of wrong-doing; it had pulled students out of the classroom for interogation; and now it threatens to terminate Principal Chou's employment and pension.

  14. We are the 99%

    (continued from prior post)

    The DOE has made it ample clear in the past that the school is DOE's property and Principal Chou is an employee of the department, and there is nothing that the 99% of parents can do anything about it. However, we still believe in justice, we still believe in the power of the people and we still believe in Principal Chou. It is with these believes that we will keep on fighting, even though the odds are clearly stacked against us.

  15. The Doe continues to malign, dehumanize and destroy the lives of hardworking and concientious educators like
    Ms Chou. When did we rewrite our constitution? Punishment before due process? Ms Chou deserves all the
    rights afforded to her as a citizen. Give them to her!!!

  16. Another SWS parent

    Is this America? Everyday it amazes me that this kind of intimidation tactics, discrimination and injustice is happening in America. For outsiders, we are a bunch of "active" parents supporting a principal. It is not! We are a group of parents being bullied by the DOE, Dennis Walcott and ultimately Michael Bloomberg. The DOE has been doing this for years to other teachers and principals. Setting them up with charges, putting them up in the Rubber room and forcing them to resign. Most complied because they just don't have the resources nor the energy to fight the endless bullying fromt he DOE. The news media does not want to lose DOE as a source and are reluctant to help the parents. Parents simply do not have the financial strength nor time to fight. Parents have to take care of their children. Not this time! Dennis Walcott, we are not going anywhere! Not because we are a crazy bunch. We cannot take your harassment to our community any longer!

  17. Another SWS parent

    A dedicated principal who started the school 13 years ago. She leaves her house at 6am in the morning and is the first one to arrive school. She stays to help with Mandarin teaching duirng after school program to help the kids. She knows every student by their first name. She takes every 8th grader to China every summer. She cares so much about the school and she succeeded, the US DOE awarded Blue Ribbon Award to the school. There are 3 disgruntled parents who did not see eye to eye with the principal who vowed to bring the school down by filing frivolous complaints about the school and open up endless investigations. By colluding with the OSI investigators, they succeeded. They filed many many complaints that were not true and opened up many files for investigations with allegations that are laugable! A good school now has been tainted and damaged by all these controversies, good students are leaving the school. A selfless woman's life has been destroyed.

  18. Upset Parent

    To the disgruntled parent with her 9 children, are you proud of yourself now?

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