Newburgh teacher Richard Desiderio was suspended with pay by the Newburgh Enlarged City School District on Tuesday, September 12 following a 7-1 vote. In addition to the suspension, Desiderio has been brought up on 14 charges subject to review under educational law.
The resolution on the meeting agenda stated that the employee identified “shall be suspended with pay during the pendency of said Section 3020-a Education Law proceedings.” As per the New York State Education Department, it states that tenured teachers “have the right to retain their positions and may only be terminated if there is “just cause” pursuant to Education Law §3020.”
The district declined to comment on the suspension.
“It is district protocol not to issue public comments regarding matters related to personnel,” said Cassie Sklarz, Director of Communications for the school district.
Desiderio, a special education teacher at Horizons-on-the-Hudson, received a letter dated September 5 that notified him of his suspension and that he was not allowed on school grounds or to attend school functions. The academic school year began again on Wednesday, September 6. Desiderio explained that as a special education teacher, he teaches in an academic setting known as a self contained class, where special education students receive instruction in all subjects. According to Desiderio, class sizes are not to exceed 12 students.
Two manila folders with documents listing 14 charges brought against him have since been delivered to his residence. Charges include “misconduct and/or conduct unbecoming a teacher and/or neglect of duty and/or incompetence, insubordination and neglect of duty and/or incompetence”.
Within the language of the charges against Desiderio, several of the charges spanned over the course of two years, 2021 to 2023, that were observed during children supervision while on the playground or in other academic settings. Several of the incidents observed were of children sitting on his lap that were brought forward by employees, identified as school psychologist Lisa Boughton and teacher Janet Orwick.
One charge, dating back May 5, 2023 identified a young student who was observed to have been on Desiderio’s lap. The concern with the specific charge was that the student’s parent(s) were not contacted regarding the contact.
“It’s educational malfeasance to have not contacted this girl’s mother” Desiderio said.“Do they really think I’m hurting the kid? Or are they trying to target me because I exposed them?”
AR’s mother, identified as Aneisha Davidson, has expressed concerns about not receiving proper communication from the district on the charges brought against Desiderio, who was her daughter’s teacher this past school year and helped with a speech impediment.
“I’m just a little confused. I mean, Mr. D., and I have a great relationship. I spoke with him about how my daughter was. Anytime I had an issue with the school, he made sure all my questions were answered,” said Davidson. “I trust these people with my children. And if it wasn’t for Mr. D, I would have never known about this situation.”
Davidson has not sought any legal counsel at this time as the story is still unfolding and still has more questions to ask of the district. Davidson has also considered keeping her daughter at home, as she does not feel comfortable at this time sending her back.
“I definitely think they should be, you know, letting parents know what’s going on with the children no matter whether it’s mine or not,” she said.
During last week’s board meeting, Board of Education President Darren Stridiron was the only member to oppose the suspension of Desiderio, while Vice President Deborah Bouley abstained from the suspension vote. Stridiron also noted for the record that Desiderio should have legal coverage under the whistleblower policy.
Desiderio, a tenured teacher within the district, was identified as the whistleblower back in 2016 when the district came under review for attendance record irregularities. Desiderio at one point was also the head girls basketball coach at Newburgh Free Academy.
Stridiron posted to Facebook on Saturday, September 16 calling for a special meeting to address the concerns of the district parents and students and to get answers. The next meeting for the board of education will be held on Tuesday, September 26 at the district auditorium. The district website listed that a special meeting was called on Monday, September 18 at 5:45 p.m. which was listed as “BOE Special Meeting (Executive Session Only)”. At the meeting, seven of the nine board members were present at the meeting along with the superintendent and deputy superintendent and one other administrator. The meeting went immediately into executive session and concluded soon after.
At this time, Desiderio said that he does not intend to file a lawsuit against the school district or step away from the field of education. He has considered the possibility of employment elsewhere. Desiderio said he has not heard any communication from the Newburgh Teachers Association and any district legal counsel since the story has unfolded.