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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.”