ITHACA, N.Y.—A letter containing allegations of misuse of power and inappropriate conduct in office was sent to the New York State Department of Education regarding Ithaca City School District Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown, who resigned from his post earlier this week to take another job. The letter asks for state intervention and investigation into the situation.

According to the letter, Dr. Brown has been engaged in “personal war” against his ex-wife, Anjanette Brown, culminating in a slew of accusations of wrongdoing and ethics conflicts. The couple began divorce proceedings in 2013. Specifically, the letter states that Superintendent Brown was “undermining her rights, silencing and humiliating her and destroying her reputation” plus misusing school staff and resources in a way that has negatively impacted the couple’s two children.

The letter, which is written more as a petition asking for intervention and is addressed to the state Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa, is written on behalf of Brown’s ex-wife, but she is not signed on as an author herself. The version which is now floating around social media in the community is a condensed version of the petition that Anjanette Brown sent to the ICSD Board of Education late last year asking for an investigation –– a plea that was met with no action by the board, which claimed the issues presented were outside their purview. She has now sent her original 210-page complaint, and the accompanying condensed letter, to the State Department of Education and the state’s Office of Human Rights.

The condensed version contains a lengthy list of wrongdoings that Luvelle Brown allegedly committed while in charge of ICSD, including using his power to hire as an “administrative assistant” the paralegal who was supposed to help oversee their children’s best interests during the couple’s divorce (it also claims that Luvelle Brown had a romantic relationship with the woman during that time period).

Beyond that, Anjanette Brown claims that her son was denied early intervention services (services and supports that are available to young children with specialized educational challenges) that he would have had access to if Luvelle Brown had not been superintendent and blocked them, that the superintendent exerted influence over school and district staff to block Anjanette from involvement in their educational needs and that Dr. Brown subverted court orders that sought to prevent him from seeing the children during school hours (such as teachers providing his children access to an iPhone to FaceTime him during school; which would have also otherwise been a punishable offense for phone usage in school). In total, there are 16 allegations of misconduct in the letter, largely dealing with what Anjanette Brown feels is a long-term pattern of marginalization and discrimination against her by the district.

Another overarching theme of the letter is a failure by the Board of Education to investigate or monitor the superintendent’s conduct, including when alerted by Anjanette Brown. It asks the state Department of Education for a “thorough, objective and transparent investigation with due protection for whistleblowers,” to hold Luvelle Brown and the school district’s Board of Education accountable for marginalizing Ms. Brown and failing in their mission to uphold the district’s goals which include promoting a safe learning environment free from bias against any student or parent/guardian, and for Anjanette Brown to be repaid by the district for any expenditures she has had to endure due to removing her children from public school and enrolling them in private school.

Brown resigned at the Ithaca City School District Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12 (starting at the 28 minute mark), a decision that seemed surprising, although the superintendent said it had been in the works for “about a year.” He said he was leaving the job in order to take a position with Discovery Education, which Luvelle Brown said is an organization he has worked with increasingly over the last several months. He is slated to serve as the organization’s head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity.

When asked if his decision to leave had anything to do with the letter, which is dated Jan. 5, one week prior to his announcement, Brown said “Absolutely not.” He continued that he was not concerned that the letter would impact his new position with Discovery Education. Further, he said that he felt the letter was an example of someone talking out of turn about something that shouldn’t concern them, particularly the aspects regarding his children.

“It’s a caste system, where people feel like they can talk about someone else’s personal life, someone else’s children,” Luvelle Brown said. “Talk about it, write about it, make judgment statements about it in a public domain. From my perspective, that’s completely inappropriate and off-limits.”

In an interview, Anjanette Brown said she had filed her original petition with proof of allegations with the ICSD Board of Education in November, asking for an investigation, but that the Board had responded to her after a month that the allegations amounted to a family matter and declined to take any further action. Board President Rob Ainslie had not responded to a request for comment but The Ithaca Voice did review the letter sent by the board to Brown in response to her petition in November.

“Following a thorough review, the Board of Education has determined that these concerns relate to an ongoing family dispute between you and your former husband and therefore are outside of the Board of Education’s purview,” the letter states.

Luvelle Brown cited those findings as evidence of the allegations’ inaccuracy and irrelevance. Anjanette Brown said the response was frustrating because she had tried to explicitly state in her petition that she did not want the personal aspects of her disputes with Luvelle to be investigated—just the aspects that could have been violations of his office.

“This is not about Family Court dirty laundry,” she said, and the petition expresses identical sentiment. “This is about a systemic problem in our community. That should be addressed. He was aided and allowed to carry out and blur lines because of his position and authority and that is wrong.”

Shortly after receiving that answer from the Board of Education, Brown sent her lengthy petition to the State Department of Education and the Office of Human Rights. The condensed letter was also sent, authored by Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, a Professor at Ithaca College and member of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission, as well as Mojubaolu Okome, a professor at CUNY Brooklyn College and Hafsat Abiola, the executive president of Women in Africa Initiative—all of whom appear to have become involved as advocates for Anjanette Brown.

Anjanette said she feels like she had to be the “David to Goliath,” lamenting that it took her years to be more public about the difficulties she’s faced and the problems she alleges. Soyinka-Airewele reiterated that she believes much of the blame should rest with the Board of Education, emphasizing a more systemic problem of lack of oversight and accountability between the Board of Education and the superintendent.

“The school system should be a haven for children, including those whose families might be experiencing turbulence,” the letter states. “Consequently, the school district cannot be hijacked by any administrator or powerbroker who refuses to conduct their affairs without prejudice and bias. (…) We believe an independent investigation will strengthen the Ithaca school district and send a clear message that New York State is indeed committed to ensuring our schools are safe havens for all students irrespective of the power, wealth, gender and other statuses of their parents.”

As of Jan. 13, Soyinka-Airewele and Anjanette Brown said they have not heard back from the Department of Education regarding their request.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com