ITHACA, N.Y.—Two separate letters have been prepared for submission to the Ithaca City School District Board of Education over the last week, one authored by parents and one by teachers, calling for further transparency and official investigations from the district’s governing body surrounding its review of allegations of professional misconduct against Dr. Luvelle Brown, the district’s superintendent. The Board of Education is set to meet again on Feb. 9, and the topic will surely hold a prominent place of discussion, at least among the public comment period.
One letter, from a group of 120 parents of ICSD students, raises ethical concerns about board members and their ability to oversee Brown’s work, while also stating that the signatories believe Brown should not be superintendent while an investigation is being carried out and that Board of Education President Rob Ainslie should resign. It also demands an explanation of Brown’s resignation reversal in late January, after he announced Jan. 12 that he would be leaving the district.
Ainslie actually did respond to this letter on Monday, Feb. 7, addressing certain concerns about the board meeting’s public comments process, and ending by saying that any concerns that the board hasn’t addressed already “will be directly addressed in response to the petition to the Commissioner of Education.” He also said that the board cannot comment publicly about allegations that relate to specific children and that personnel decision discussions are confidential.
An additional letter, signed by an additional 120 teachers and parents, calls for explanations and transparency from the board and demands an “investigation” instead of a “review,” but does not use such charged language about Brown or the Board of Education. It argues for an investigation of the professional misconduct elements of the allegations against Brown and for details of the board’s review process.
The letters come after Brown’s ex-wife, Anjanette Brown, officially filed a Verified Petition detailing her list of complaints against the district superintendent with the New York State Department of Education.
Board members Rob Ainslie and Sean Eversley Bradwell were both served last weekend, as well as Brown and Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott, after Anjanette Brown’s submission of the petition to the state Department of Education. On Feb. 2, the board voted unanimously in a special voting meeting to appoint legal counsel to represent the board members and Talcott, while Brown is being represented by local law firm Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk.
Ainslie was caught on video last weekend tossing the papers that he had been served back into the snow after it had been delivered to his house. After a comment was requested, he said that any further responses would be public, as they would be included with the petition process with the New York State Department of Education.
It’s the latest episode in a turbulent first month of 2021 for the district. At the board’s first meeting of the year, Brown announced his resignation from the district in order to pursue a job opportunity with Discovery Education. The next day, allegations of personal and professional misconduct by Brown came to light in the form of a petition, written on behalf of Brown’s ex-wife, Anjanette Brown, asking for the NYS Department of Education to investigate the claims. That came after the ICSD board had notified Anjanette that they would not be taking action after reviewing the claims, deeming them out of their purview and more fit for family court—though Board President Rob Ainslie also told the Ithaca Voice that their review had included interviews with district staff implicated in the allegations and had turned up nothing improper.
Two weeks later, at the next board meeting, the superintendent announced that he was rescinding his announcement and would not be resigning from his post, which Ainslie confirmed. Ainslie clarified that the board must accept Brown’s resignation as part of his contract, but that they had waited to accept it in an attempt to convince him to stay, which was eventually successful “after discussions.”
Tensions are clearly high, as indicated by several quotes included in the open community letters. From the first, from the large group of parents:
“The allegations and complaints against (Dr. Brown) are so numerous, so serious in nature, and so troubling that it is no longer possible for Dr. Luvelle Brown to continue serving as a credible effective superintendent—or to serve in any official capacity within the school district—until these allegations are fully investigated and cleared by an independent third party, and made fully public as expeditiously as possible,” the request states.
“In sum: your actions in these matters are unprofessional, unacceptable and an unexpected embarrassment to us, our children and our entire community,” they continued. “We are calling upon you to meet our demands listed above, as our children’s educational success depends directly on your leadership. If you are not able or willing to meet these responsibilities with integrity and transparency, then we have no choice but to demand your immediate resignation as president of the Ithaca City School District’s Board of Education.”
The second letter is a bit more circumspect, but does request answers to a long list of questions related to the board’s review process and emphasizes that the more transparency the board shows, the more faith the community is likely to have in its decisions and conclusions.
“We respectfully suggest that answers to the above questions will provide the ICSD community with sufficient facts to confirm that the ICSD Board of Education discharged its investigative duties in good faith, and with due care, in light of the gravity of the work-place related claims raised in the appeal,” reads the letter from the teachers.
Adding to the community-wide reaction, the Ithaca Teachers Association, the union that represents full-time teachers in the district, delivered a statement to The Ithaca Voice explaining their interest in monitoring the ongoing conduct of the Board of Education.
“We do believe that it is the responsibility of the Board of Education to faithfully act in their elected role and oath of office. If there is question regarding their investigation by the community that has elected them, as employees and association leaders we hope they serve the community well and answer truthfully to the questions brought forward to them,” said the statement, provided by ITA President Adam Piasecki. “We will continue to monitor their responses regarding the follow up to their investigation process. The announcement of the Superintendent’s resignation and then rescinding several days later did come along with a surprise each time, however this changing of plans and decisions is something we as employees are all too familiar with. Unfortunately, we are used to the history of constant changes in almost everything from Administration positions to technology plans to curriculum initiatives changing each year and that is just a short list.”