Parents doubt anonymous charges

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Once again, the principal of Spuyten Duyvil’s elementary school is the target of an anonymous email campaign to get rid of him. But this time, a group of parents from his school are standing up and denouncing the attacks.

A series of emails started circulating in May accusing P.S. 24 principal Steven Schwartz of promoting gambling while he was supposed to be working. These emails landed in the inboxes of city employees, elected officials and members of the media. They included screenshots of tweets the anonymous accusers allege Schwartz wrote about gambling along with a video posted to YouTube that appears to be Schwartz talking while sitting in a vehicle.

The New York Post reported the emails last week, claiming they were from concerned parents and teachers who called on the education department to investigate Schwartz. The newspaper alleges he tweeted about horse racing and gambling during school hours “hundreds” of times — all similar to incidents that led to a 2018 investigation that ultimately cleared Schwartz.

Although the Post could not verify the Twitter account belonged to Schwartz, the social media profile and posts were deleted shortly after the initial anonymous emails started circulating.

The Post also alleges Schwartz wrote about betting and handicapping horse races on a blog called The Daily Gallop. The website does host blog posts that carry a Steven Schwartz byline, although it’s not clear if the author and the P.S. 24 principal are the same person.

One post includes the deleted Twitter handle and an invitation for users to follow his horse racing tips and news.

The Post quoted an unnamed person the publication identified as a school staffer who said both faculty members and students were aware of and made frequent remarks about his gambling. The Riverdale Press was unable to verify that claim.

The week following the Post’s story, a P.S. 24 parent posted a Facebook link to a letter denouncing the emails targeting Schwartz, describing them as an unsubstantiated distraction hurting education and the school’s public image. The images included in the anonymous emails presented as evidence has “questionable quality and/or legitimacy,” according to the posted response.

“This letter is not an affirmation that we believe there is no room for improvement or agree with every decision that Principal Schwartz has made,” the letter stated. “This letter recognizes that policy disagreement is normal discourse in adult and professional life. Our desire is for the parent community to come together and join in respectful, civil conversations about the issues that are affecting us, without using rumors and gossip, engaging in falsehoods, speculations or assumptions, and most of all, respecting the educators with whom we entrust our children every day.”

The lack of validity and the large number of recipients “seems to indicate a desire to create a ‘story’ or smear campaign as much as (or more so) it indicates a desire to better the educational environment of our children.”

So far, the letter has more than 140 signatures.

Schwartz did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the anonymous writers of the emails nor the parents who posted the support letter.

Still, the situation has prompted action from education officials.

“We expect our school leaders to exercise good judgment, and this accusation was previously investigated and no misconduct was found,” an education department spokesman wrote in an email. “We’ve referred this new allegation for investigation and will take appropriate follow-up action based on the investigation’s findings.”

The previous investigation was conducted by the special investigations office, according to the spokesman, which examines such accusations levied against school administrators.

Elected officials are aware of the situation, but the way these accusations were brought to light is unproductive. Councilman Andrew Cohen said he received the emails, but can’t take anonymous complaints seriously.

“I’ve always made that school’s welfare a top priority,” Cohen said. “I will continue to do so. If someone is aware of an issue that they want to bring to my attention, everybody knows my phone number and my email.”

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