Karen Dussack calls the education of her two children her top priority.
So it was a surprise to the Bayside mother when two caseworkers from the city's Administration of Children's Services came to her family's home last month to investigate charges of "educational neglect," a form of child abuse.
During their May 14 visit, the caseworkers arrived unannounced, interviewed Dussack and her two children and inspected the home's refrigerator, pantry and smoke detectors.
"I felt like my whole life was intruded upon," she recalled. "I was being invaded. The first thing I always do is take care of kids."
The visit came one day after she declined to reschedule a meeting with her son's guidance counselors at Bronx High School of Science in Riverdale. Now Dussack is not only fighting the charges, but also calling attention to what she says is "a form of harassment" on behalf of her son's school, a crusade that has sparked media attention across the city.
"I'm mortified about it because I did nothing wrong," she said. "There are cases of real abuse out there."
The ACS could not comment on Dussack's case.
Dussack's 17-year-old son, Michel, has a solid B average, notable SAT scores and a college scholarship lined up for the fall. She was scheduled to talk with her son's counselors to discuss the possibility of her son failing gym. Dussack missed the meeting because her 11-year-old daughter was injured during a softball game the weekend before and had a chiropractor's appointment that conflicted with the meeting.
Dussack said she declined to reschedule the meeting with the counselors because her son's gym grade had improved coupled with the price of taking a day off from work and driving to the Bronx. She told her son's counselor to have Shun Fang Chang, the school's assistant guidance principal, call her if the matter needed to be discussed further.
Instead, Dussack said, the school called ACS.
Valerie Reidy, the school's principal, said she was not involved in the guidance office's call to ACS, but she believes the office exhausted every possible option before doing so.
"We felt that we could do everything we could and needed the parents' help. We were reaching out to that and were not getting a positive response," said Valerie Reidy, the school's principal. "We don't do these things as a knee jerk [reaction]. We're very judicious about using the system."
Michel Dussack calls the charges leveled against his mother "ridiculous," adding that the definition of educational neglect and his school record "just don't match up."
The ACS investigation into the Dussack family comes at a time when the school's administration already faces criticism from students, former faculty and the public. An editorial in the Riverdale Review, a weekly Bronx newspaper, describes the school as "a place where dissent is crushed" and calls for the removal of Reidy. In January, Bronx Science students walked out of classes to protest an array of issues, including the school's policy toward cutting classes and the principal's use of the title "Dr." when she does not hold a PhD, but an honorary degree.
"It's scary for them to have this type of power to use against you," Duassak said about the Bronx Science administration.
Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@ti
©2008 Community News Group
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