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Acting Superintendent Named At Fiery Chappaqua School Board Meeting

Eric Byrne, left, is now Chappaqua's acting superintendent after the school board accepted Lyn McKay's resignation. Pictured at right is school board President Alyson Gardner. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Chappaqua school board members and senior administrators at the Nov. 1 meeting, which is the first since Superintendent Lyn McKay, who was conspicuously absent, announced her resignation. McKay will officially leave on Jan 2., 2017 Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
New Castle Police were stationed at the Nov. 1 Chappaqua school board meeting, the second time since a resident's outburst at a meting last month. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A packed crowd gathered at the Chappaqua school board's Nov. 1 meeting, where board members voted to accept Superintendent Lyn McKay's resignation. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Mark Visser, husband of Chappaqua school board member Karen Visser, blasted critics of the district's handling of the Christopher Schraufnagel sex-abuse case. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Sandy Nohavicka, whose son was in the Horace Greeley High School theater program while Christopher Schraufnagel ran it. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Will Wedge, pictured, spoke at the Chappaqua school board's Nov. 1. meeting. Wedge has been a vocal critic of school officials over their handling of former drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel's sex-abuse allegations. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- The Chappaqua school board voted unanimously on Tuesday night to accept the resignation of embattled Superintendent Lyn McKay, whose ouster comes amid a sex-abuse case pertaining to former Horace Greeley High School drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel.

McKay, who joined the district as an assistant superintendent and 2003 and assumed the top post in 2011, will technically stay in her current role until Jan. 2, 2017. However, she will be relinquishing the day-to-day responsibilities of her job.

McKay was conspicuously absent from the meeting.

Separately, the school board voted to name Eric Byrne, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, as acting superintendent. His assumption of McKay's duties was effective as of Tuesday.

Byrne will perform the position's daily duties until the board appoints an interim superintendent; a person for the role is expected to be found by Thanksgiving, board member Jeffrey Mester said.

“Chappaqua has always been a community where commitment to teaching and learning is evident,” Byrne said in a statement at the meeting.

McKay's employment contract was not due to expire until June 30, 2018. However, the board and McKay agreed to amend the contract in order to accommodate the resignation, which will be for purposes of retirement.

Because McKay's exit is structured as a retirement, she will be able to collect a state pension and join the district's retiree health insurance program. She will continue to collect her current level of salary and benefits until her last official date as superintendent.

McKay's exit deal also calls for a partial buyout, as it will involve her receiving an additional five months' worth of pay due to her retirement coming before the expiration of her contract.

While McKay will use remaining annual vacation and sick days for the duration of her employment, the exit agreement calls for any leftover compensation for paid time off to be deposited into her 403(b) retirement account.

The exit deal also includes a non-disparagement clause for both McKay and the school district. McKay also agreed to waive her rights to sue the district.

McKay's exit agreement can be read here.

McKay's retirement marks the end of heated calls from parents who demanded her ouster over her handing of the sex-abuse situation. The superintendent came under fire in September when she admitted to signing off on a controversial defense filed on the school district's behalf in a lawsuit against three student sex-abuse accusers. The defense, which McKay consented to after getting legal advice from both the district's regular and special counsels, blamed the students for purposes of civil liability.

Word of McKay's resignation came the same week that Schraufnagel, through his attorney, agreed to accept a revised plea deal in his criminal sex-abuse case. The revised deal calls for him to register as a sex offender.

Previous coverage of Schraufnagel, who was a Greeley drama teacher from 2003 to 2015, can be found here.

The ouster of McKay did little to quell anger that stewed at the meeting.

“I today welcome the so-called 'retirement' of Lyn McKay," said Will Wedge, a vocal critic and parent, said during public comment. "That's a first step. One down, more to come.”

Wedge, whose interruptions at an Oct. 18 board meeting resulted in a temporary shut down and New Castle Police being called, was involved in deja vu on Tuesday night. Police were stationed at the meeting from its beginning, while Wedge made more interruptions that brought him warnings from Mester about having to leave if he continued.

Wedge reiterated a series of demands that he made at a Monday press conference, which include the resignation of board President Alyson Gardner.

Perhaps the most contentious portion of the night came when parent Mark Visser, the husband of board member Karen Visser, blasted critics of the district's response to Schraufnagel.

“I speak for myself, but I also speak on behalf of the great majority of folks in this town who are deeply distressed that a small group of vocal people has been very animated in attacking our community," he said.

Visser argued that the critics' fears were overblown, adding, “Because the people that are the shrillest in this discourse don't have even children that go to Horace Greeley. They weren't in the drama department.”

Those remarks drew angry rebukes from some of the critics.

“I'm appalled by that comment," said Sandy Nohavicka, whose son was enrolled in the theater program during Schraufnagel's tenure.

“Listen, we pay taxes, too," she added. "We have every right to say what we want and you can't silence us. This yapping dog right here? She's not going to stop yapping.”

The reference to a yapping dog was an allusion to an email written by Karen Visser, which was leaked to The Journal News, in which she brought up the comparison during an email chain among board members in which critics were discussed.

“It doesn't matter that my son was in theater or not," said John Nadler, a Greeley parent who says that his son was beaten up by a bully and faulted the district for not taking enough action.

Tensions also arose during discussion about creating a committee that would issue a request for proposals to bring in an outside entity to review the district's policies surrounding student abuse.

Board member Vicky Tipp explained that the scope of the inquiry would look at district processes and procedures, but that it would not be a "McCarthyite witch hunt" in the district.

Tipp's remarks drew frustration from some parents, who felt that an investigation is needed to focus on whether district officials missed opportunities to stop Schraufnagel.

“A witch hunt is something that patriarchy did against women in the middle ages," Wedge said.

Resident Victoria Alzapiedi, who tried to recap fellow residents' sentiments during her remarks, got Tipp to elaborate on the intended scope of the inquiry.

“It's a slight look back as well,” Tipp said, but added that it is mostly about “going forward.”

When Alzapiedi asked about the possibility of delving deeper to look at what happened, Tipp noted that the civil litigation the district is involved in - it now includes seven student sex-abuse accusers - will include a review.

“That's what the legal process is doing,” she said, adding “we're involved in litigation.”

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