ITHACA, NY -- The past month has been one of a lot of questions for the Ithaca City School District. On Jan. 12, Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown resigned from his position effective Feb. 1, and said he was leaving for a job in the private sector. The next day, allegations emerged from his ex-wife, Anjanette Brown, accusing him of abuse of power, misuse of public funds and more. At the Jan. 26 Board of Education meeting, Luvelle reversed his decision and announced he would be staying with the school district.
From the start, the Board of Education said they had received the allegations from Anjanette back in November, during which they determined they were not credible and that it was a personal matter. However, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers have all had questions about what process exactly the board went through to make that determination.
These concerns were voiced again at the Feb. 9 Board of Education meeting, during which many people tried, again, to get answers.
Aimee Bacon, who read a comment on behalf of another ICSD stakeholder, said that the obvious friendships between board members and the superintendent have made it hard for the community to feel confident in the board’s ability to handle the current situation in an objective manner.
“It’s an all too common situation for a person in a position of power to abuse that power. As officials in elected positions, you must acknowledge they can do good while also doing harm,” she said. “Whether or not there is any truth to the allegations, this board and administration have clearly been engaging in behavior that is problematic, like the refusal to respectfully engage with students who are asking hard questions […] We’re calling out your blind spots, board members. This community needs to feel confident that you are capable of setting aside your friendships to do your job with the integrity and impartiality that our children and community deserve.”
Another speaker, Kelly Evans, also spoke on behalf of an ICSD stakeholder, and addressed concerns that the board was avoiding answering questions about the investigation and was lacking in transparency. At the last meeting, President Rob Ainslie repeatedly said Anjanette’s claims were a personal family matter and outside of the board’s purview, despite the claims directly accusing the superintendent of abuse of power and funds within the school district.
“Watching the events of Dr. Brown’s resignation and then un-resignation has demonstrated how deeply flawed our Board of Education and administration has become,” Evans said. “Instead of taking the opportunity to answer taxpayers’ and students’ questions open and honestly, you have chosen to gaslight, intimidate, and at times, mock us […] You cannot repeat this is a personal matter, it’s not […] We want explanations and accountability of the statements regarding Dr. Brown, Lily Talcott, Robert Ainslie and Sean Eversley Bradwell’s abuse of power in their positions.”
Student representative Grace Lim read the board comments from students she had received from a survey sent out that gave students the chance to give the board their criticisms and compliments about all things at Ithaca High School. These comments specifically focused on the situation with the superintendent.
One student stated: “I’m concerned that this situation concerning Dr. Brown isn’t being treated with the seriousness it requires. How am I, as a student, supposed to feel safe and secure and supported at school if the superintendent is abusing his power?”
Another student wrote: “Do something about Dr. Brown. He has not addressed any of the allegations against him and he is in no state to lead ICSD, especially the students he is supposed to be representing.”
The board did get a chance to respond to speakers, though again, their answers did not provide much in the way of answers.
The board’s vice president Bradwell said “we do not discuss personnel matters in public.” He added that the board had responded to a petition from the state about the matter and that people could reach out to the board clerk to see that response. The documents also include the process of review of the allegations. The Ithaca Times has filled out a freedom of information law request to obtain these documents.
Board member Eldred Harris said that just because one party involved put this private information into the public didn’t mean it was actually any of the public’s business.
“The issues that were raised in the allegations and then the subsequent documents, the petition and now the appeal, they cross some of the most intimate and personal and complex privacy issues that you can address, that anybody can address,” Harris said. “Please understand that even if we wanted to respond directly to some of these deeply personal and professional matters, we just can’t […] in the manner you expect us to.”
Eventually student representative Adam Saar spoke up to clarify that they are not asking for personal information.
“What we’re asking for is not exposing private or personal details or anything like that,” he said. “We’re asking the board to clarify for the community what the board has done to reach the conclusion that these allegations can be dismissed. As in, the process by which the matter was investigated by the board, and who were the people doing the investigating? We’re not asking for any personal or private details that would infringe on people’s privacy, we’re just asking for a little transparency into the process.”
Bradswell responded to Saar, and said that there are many different communities in Ithaca and that the ones he knows aren’t asking that question. He then reiterated that the answer to Saar’s question is in the aforementioned documents and that they won’t be speaking more on it.