Newburgh teacher, whistleblower alleges retaliation after 4th suspension since revealing grading and attendance scandal
A Newburgh teacher and whistleblower is sharing his experience with the district after he says he was suspended over the summer, for the fourth time, since coming forward about a grading and attendance scandal at Newburgh Free Academy.
Richard Desiderio was looking forward to another year with his students, but says he was suspended last week before he stepped foot in class. Desiderio was suspended with pay in a 7-1 vote with one board member, Deb Bouley, abstaining.
“I don’t fear them anymore. I don’t care what they could do. For a long time, I did,” said Desiderio.
Desiderio says he has not received any information about the allegations against him and has no idea why he would be put on paid leave.
“The Newburgh school district needs to be completely dismantled,” said Desiderio. “The kids are the only reason you and I are sitting here doing this interview because I refuse to quit on them.”
MORE: Grand Jury report
Desiderio says this is the fourth time he’s been suspended since 2016 when he came forward to administration and the district attorney about inaccurate grades and attendance records for NFA students and athletes.
The evidence shared showed some student-athletes had thousands of absences that should have rendered them ineligible to play. Other records showed the district had a practice of excessively overriding online learning grades in their APEX program to pass failing students.
The evidence was part of a 2019 grand jury report that found “systemic” problems in the district.
Desiderio says since then, he was transferred from the high school to work with elementary students, stripped of his coaching title and has been written up more than 50 times.
“Ninety-nine percent of teachers go through a 30-year career and don’t get one directive,” said Desiderio.
The teacher says he’s been accused of abusing students, cursing at them and threatening them but claims each time, the workplace charges against him were dropped.
“There would be practices over Christmas break after I was initially reinstated as coach, where there wouldn’t be anyone else in the building besides myself in the gym for two hours. They had such grave concerns about me that they fired me from coaching, then suspended me from teaching, but had no problem leaving me alone with 12 girls,” said Desiderio.
A representative for Newburgh schools says they don’t comment on personnel matters.
Desiderio gave News 12 all of the disciplinary documents he says he has, including district paperwork from 2017 that shows the workplace charges against him were withdrawn. News 12 submitted a FOIL request to the district for more information.
“They’re not going to bully me,” said Desiderio.” I’m not getting intimidated or harassed.”
It's not clear if the grand jury report resulted in any consequences for the Newburgh school district or administration.
News 12 reached out to the New York State Department of Education for an update.