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Reluctant parent speaks out regarding alleged forgery

A few weeks can make a big difference. Earlier this month, The News learned that a parent believed the principal at Harvey Austin School 97 had forged her signature on the school's Comprehensive Education Plan, an annual school improvement plan that every Buffalo public school must submit to the state because the Buffalo school district has such a high percentage of schools in bad standing with the state.

At that time, parent Timekia Jones had confronted the principal but asked that she and the principal be left unidentified since Jones wanted to keep a low profile and had a previously good working relationship with the principal, Brigette Gillespie. She subsequently filed an affidavit regarding the alleged forgery as part of a larger complaint by the DPCC to State Ed about parents not being involved in school turnaround plans, but declined to speak with reporters. We still wrote about the matter and posted her affidavit, along with examples of the alleged forgery, on the School Zone blog.

Jones changed her mind about speaking out, however, after she said Gillespie changed her schedule on Monday to make it difficult for her to stay involved as a parent at her school, where she has two daughters with special needs. That's when she said she wanted to take further action.

Interestingly, DPCC President Sam Radford said he was trying to work the matter out with the administration and that the idea of pressing charges was entirely Jones'. But the DPCC supports her decision.

"The parent is well within her rights to defend her own personal integrity," Radford said. 

He also said Jones got an award at last year's Parent Assembly for having a model parent involvement program at her school.

The district contends it is investigating this matter and proceeding "by the book" in determining whether Jones' allegations are true, and if so, what disciplinary action may be merited. As of last week, it appeared Gillespie's job status was unchanged. 

Radford said he doesn't think the forging of parent signatures is such a rare occurrence.

"They’ve been doing it for a long time, so they don’t think it’s a big deal," he said of the school district. "I think they responded to it so ineffectively because they know it’s so pervasive."

Radford said the DPCC will be holding a press conference this week and is inviting state and federal elected leaders to to stand with parents in asking the U.S. Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General, the NY State Attorney General and the NY Inspector General to investigate "acts and omissions" by the Buffalo school district regarding the procurement and use of millions in Title I, Title II, Title III and School Improvement grant money.

The DPCC contends parents have been routinely shut out of the process to determine how these federal dollars, administered by the State Education Department, are spent. Among the documents where Jones said her name was signed without her knowledge is Title I budget documents.

With Jones moving ahead with her plans to file charges against Principal Gillespie this week, it will also be interesting to see how the State Education Department will choose to get involved in the matter, if at all.

Below is the letter Jones sent to U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. sent on Saturday.

Timekia Jones letter to Hochul

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |