NY1 Exclusive: City Principal Investigated In Retaliation Probe
A veteran public school principal is under investigation for allegedly attempting to smear one of his teachers through a hate-filled letter. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
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Last June, an anonymous letter was sent to the managers of Michael McPherrin's co-op. It contained ugly allegations against McPherrin, a public school teacher, and his longtime partner Andre Lopes.
"As you read, your jaw just keeps dropping because it just gets worse," McPherrin said.
There were private details, like the couple's HIV and immigration status, as well as allegations of drug use and pedophilia. It said, in part:
"The talk of the building is that both Mike and illegal immigrant Andre suffer from full blown AIDS and have no problem infecting others including the underage boys they bring to the apartment."
"This was an attempt to destroy our lives and me professionally," McPherrin said.
The writer claimed to represent concerned residents, but the building management called it "anonymous hate mail" and wrote McPherrin that, "our records indicate there are no complaints against you or your partner."
McPherrin says he knows who sent it: his boss, Ron Smolkin, the principal of Independence High School in Manhattan.
Since the addresses on the anonymous letters were handwritten, McPherrin hired a handwriting analyst who found it "highly likely" they matched samples of handwriting McPherrin said were Smolkin's. Then, there was the information in the notes.
"That we are HIV positive. That Andre has an outstanding immigration issue. That we have a second residence. The social security number. That information could’ve only been gotten from my personnel file," McPherrin said.
McPherrin says his trouble with Smolkin started after he became the teacher's union rep and organized staff members concerned about Smolkin's leadership.
"He has a history of retaliatory vindictive actions," McPherrin said.
Other staff members at the school make the same charge. In one case, a judge ruled Smolkin falsely accused a school aide of an assault inside the building and fired her without benefits. A former assistant principal says Smolkin had her removed on trumped-up charges after they hadn’t been getting along. Current staff members also gave NY1 other examples -- off the record -- saying they were afraid of further retaliation.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, state Human Rights Commission and teachers union are all investigating the anonymous letter. But Department of Education lawyers argue there is "no evidence of a hostile work environment" and have asked the human rights commission to drop the case.
Smolkin would not speak with NY1 on the record but through a lawyer says he denies the allegations. Also, the DOE and the groups investigating him all have policies against speaking on the record about ongoing cases.
Meanwhile, McPherrin says the principal continues to target him and has slapped him with four disciplinary charges this school year. He says they're the first in his 23 years of teaching.