Parents rally in Delhi to oust principal

A few dozen Delaware Academy parents and students gathered at the American Legion in Delhi on Monday, March 15 to ask the state to remove Richard Hughes from his post as the Delaware Academy Central School High School principal.

The turnout, of about 35 people, was far smaller than the organizers, Sandy and Mike Dacey and their lawyer, Andrew Van Buren of Hobart, had expected. Their Facebook group demanding Hughes’s resignation has over 300 fans.

“It’s a little disheartening that more people didn’t turn out for this,” Van Buren told the group. “It is an atmosphere of fear.”

Controversy has surrounded Hughes since he allegedly asked the New York State Police to shut down a party held by DA seniors on school grounds last June. Hughes, who was the principal of the middle school at the time, became the high school’s principal soon afterwards.

In January, at a meeting the Board of Education of the Delhi Central School District, several parents complained about increased police presence at the high school, including the Daceys, who said that State Police officers detained their 17-year-old daughter and searched her car on school grounds on January 21.

At the March 15 meeting, which was billed as a safe space to discuss concerns about Hughes, Van Buren spoke first. He said that Hughes was “unfit to head” Delaware Academy because the police presence at DA has “reached an absurd proportion.”

Mike Dacey told the group that the school district hasn’t responded to his complaints and requests for information about Hughes. Sandy Dacey reported that when she filed a Freedom of Information Law request for Hughes’ resume, the school responded that no such document could be found.

“They’re basically being stonewalled,” Van Buren said.

“It was almost comical, it was so blatant,” Mike Dacey said.

Others echoed concerns about police on campus and Hughes’ authoritarian style. One parent said that Hughes had falsely accused his daughter and another girl of drug use, and then refused to apologize after they were exonerated. Another said that her son’s cell phone was permanently confiscated without explanation. A third said that his 16-year-old son was searched for cigarettes after he was came to school with a cigarette lighter, and then was suspended for school for three days although none were found. A former school employee told the group that she once heard a child cry hysterically for over an hour while in Hughes’s office, and was too afraid of losing her job to intervene.

“A school leader he is not,” said Ray Seyforth, one parent who took a turn at the mic.

“The principal is totally, totally out of control,” said Mike Stein, another parent, who added that Hughes has a habit of boasting that he has a brown belt in karate.

At the urging of the organizers, who provided forms, several parents began the process of formally filing complaints to be sent to the New York State Education Department in Albany.

The Watershed Post’s calls to Hughes and to Bruce McKeegan, the attorney for the school, were referred to James Gregory, a lawyer in Binghamton. Gregory said that that his law firm, Hogan, Sarzynski, Lynch, Surowka & Dewind, has been hired by the school district to investigate the complaints against Hughes.

Gregory refused to confirm or deny any of the allegations made at the meeting because of federal confidentiality laws for educational institutions.

“School districts are prohibited by federal law from releasing any information regarding a student record without that parents’ consent,” he said. 

So far, no formal complaints have filed against Hughes or Delaware Academy by State Education Department, he reported. If the school receives any, he added, it will “investigate and cooperate.”

As to whether the school was unable to produce a copy of Hughes’ resume for the Daceys, Gregory said that he found that allegation “highly unlikely.”

The topic of Hughes is bound to come up again at the next Board of Education, which is scheduled for Monday, March 29.

Update (March 19, 2010): According to Sandra Dacey, a packet containing Hughes'  resume arrived in the mail on Monday, March 15, but was not seen until after the meeting that night.)