EXCLUSIVE: U.S Justice Department Launches Probe of New Rochelle School District for Failure to Evacuate 2 Students During Fire Incident at High School

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The New Rochelle Board of Education is now under federal investigation by the United States Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York for violations of Title II of the American's with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Talk of the Sound has learned.

The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to investigate alleged violations of Title II.

The district was notified of the investigation in a letter last Thursday.

The investigation was initiated from within the Department of Justice based on recent news accounts of a fire incident at New Rochelle High School which appeared in The Journal News and Talk of the Sound.

U.S. Attorneys will investigate the failure of the New Rochelle school district to evacuate two 17-year old students during a fire condition at New Rochelle High School. Both students have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and are wheel-chair bound.

The U.S. Attorney's office declined a request for comment.

At the time of the incident, school officials put out statements that were subsequently brought into question.

In an official statement released by the school district, Director of Special and Alternative Education Yvette Goorevitch claimed that New Rochelle High School Principal Joseph Starvaggi had contacted Richard Feltenstein, father of one of the two students, to discuss the fire incident.

“In addition, this student’s access plans have been scrutinized and there were no concerns voiced about her evacuation and safety plan," said Goorevitch.

Mr. Feltenstein has denied receiving any such phone call by Mr. Starvaggi or that there was any discussion about his daughter's evacuation and safety plan.

Reached for comment earlier today, Mr. Feltenstein says the first he heard about any claim that Starvaggi called him was from reading about it in the Journal News.

Feltenstein added that his requests for a copy of his daughter's "evacuation and safety plan" have been denied.

In the official statement, Starvaggi also claimed that New Rochelle fire officials told him that it would safe to keep one of the students, Jennifer Feltenstein, in a holding room away from any smoke.

Fire Chief Lou DiMeglio told Talk of the Sound that the the problem during the incident was not smoke but high levels of carbon monoxide, that no member of the New Rochelle Fire Department gave any school any instructions regarding either of the two wheel-chair bound students because the fire department was never informed of any special needs students in the building.

DeMeglio also denied a claim by the district that the fire department had consulted with school officials on designated holding rooms in the event of emergency.

DiMeglio stated that several years ago, before he became Fire Chief, a former Code Enforcement Officer from the New Rochelle Fire Department had previously worked out a plan with New Rochelle Schools Security Director Bruce Daniele allowing for a special needs student to be held in a safe area.

"The designated safe area would depend on where in the school the student was," said DiMeglio. "A security person would be present with a radio and they would notify our Incident Commander as to the location of that person in an emergency."

DiMeglio says that did not occur in this instance.

Under Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code, it is a federal crime to make false statements in a federal investigation punishable by fines and up to five years in federal prison.

RELATED: DOJ Woes Increase for New Rochelle School Officials

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

fearisourenemy on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 12:08

Surprising that the long and corrupt arm of the City School District of New Rochelle did not reach the Department of Justice on this occasion. At least it appears that the Administration nor the Board were unable to make a couple of phone calls and make this one go away.

Maybe the key to making things safe for the children of New Rochelle does not lie in the city, county or state. Rather, it may take the Feds need to come in and poke around and begin to look at root causes rather than symptoms. One thing is abundantly clear, the answer to safe schools in New Rochelle does not reside at City Hall.

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