A group of Rocky Point parents are getting ready for 'round two' of their fight to save the job of an assistant principal they say has been wrongly targeted by school district administrators and the Board of Education.
Joe Tapler, assistant principal at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, was placed on administrative leave in late June, the school confirmed, with an interim principal currently handling his duties. Hundreds of children, parents and grandparents packed the last school board meeting – captured in a YouTube video of the meeting – to protest the move and though the next meeting is still weeks away, and though summer typically equates itself with a break from school, many are at the ready to 'Rally For Mr. Tapler.'
"Unfortunately he stood up for what he believed in and is being railroaded for it," said Stacy King-Golik, who led organizing the first rally and has plans to gather a group for another one.
King-Golik added that a meeting is planned for the middle of next month, before the Aug. 26 school board meeting, to pull together the pieces of what exactly happened, how Tapler was put on leave and how the parents can go about getting him back to work.
The school district has declined to comment – and School Board President Michael Nofi said at last meeting that he cannot comment on it – citing the issue as a personnel matter. The district confirmed that Jane Ruthkowski, a former principal at Briarcliff Elementary who most recently served as a principal in the Hauppauge School District, is taking his place on an interim basis.
Tim Hoffman posted the YouTube video, adding that while his son was at Eastern Suffolk BOCES – where Tapler worked previously before coming to Rocky Point School District just over a decade ago – Tapler was instrumental in helping him get through several bullying incidents.
"If you don't address these things quickly, if you don't know a child can feel safe going to school, they don't want to be a part of it," Hoffman said. "Anybody who has ever gone to (Tapler) knows they wouldn't be thrown by the wayside. That's what touched my heart the most about that meeting. There were kids there from all age ranges."
Tapler's wife, Judy, spoke at the last board meeting in defense of her husband. She said that Tapler had confided in Susan Wilson, executive director for educational services, explaining his concerns to her about "different illegal, unethical, immoral things going on in the school district."
He later went to take some sick days due to high blood pressure – with Wilson's support, Judy said – only to come back to find out he had to take a psychological evaluation. The evaluation reportedly concluded that he was unfit to serve around children, and she said he was immediately placed on leave and ordered off school grounds.
"This just ruins people's reputations," she told the board.
While Tapler's status remains in limbo, Hoffman, King-Golik, and others are researching to both get him re-instated, and look into more issues they have concerns with in the district. King-Golik plans to call for the resignation of Superintendent Michael Ring and Wilson, and is already looking forward to next year's school board elections.
"They have dug themselves into a hole," Hoffman said. "They've put themselves in a place I don't think they are prepared to be in ... Joe Tapler being suspended was just the straw the broke the camel's back."
Correction: This article previously stated that Jane Rutkowski taught in the Hauppauge School District. She was a principal at Bretton Woods Elementary School.