Law & Courts

Key N.Y.C. School Official Forced to Resign

By Jeff Archer — March 17, 2004 3 min read
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Diana Lam, the nationally known administrator at the forefront of the New York City schools’ overhaul of instruction, resigned last week amid accusations that she had helped her husband gain employment in the 1.1 million-student system. The uproar also claimed the job of the system’s top lawyer.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein asked for Ms. Lam’s resignation March 8, after talking with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and reading an investigative report on the matter. The report concluded that Ms. Lam had assisted her husband in getting an administrator’s post and had failed to follow procedures for avoiding conflicts of interest in hiring.

“I’m sorry this event occurred,” Mr. Klein said at a press conference. “My decision with respect to Ms. Lam was based on the fact I thought she would no longer be effective in the job.”

Ms. Lam, who held the title of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, defended her actions in written statements. She maintained that her husband’s employment had been “given a green light” by other top officials in the system.

Her ouster is a major blow to the administration of the country’s largest school system. Mr. Klein, whom Mr. Bloomberg picked as chancellor after the mayor gained control of the system two years ago, chose Ms. Lam to help lead a thorough revision of the system’s curricula and governance.

Most of those changes have stirred sharp debate. In particular, reading-instruction strategies adopted with Ms. Lam’s support have been attacked by many teachers in the city, some experts, and advisors to the Bush administration. (“N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum,” Oct. 15, 2003.)

Her tenure in New York was not the first time Ms. Lam had become a lightning rod for criticism. She has won ample fans and detractors for her assertive leadership style during her career as a superintendent of schools in Chelsea, Mass.; Dubuque, Iowa; Providence, R.I.; and San Antonio.

No Changes of Course

In New York, press queries prompted the school system’s special commissioner of investigation to look into the hiring last summer of Ms. Lam’s husband, Peter Plattes, as a regional instructional specialist—a position in Ms. Lam’s division.

The resulting report said Ms. Lam did not obtain approval for the hiring from the city’s conflicts-of- interest board. It also describes efforts seen by some as attempts to facilitate her husband’s selection for the job. One administrator is quoted in the report as saying Ms. Lam once asked her to take some of Mr. Plattes’ papers to the human-resources department, adding “these are my husband’s.”

Ms. Lam last week denied seeking special treatment for her husband, who is an educator. In her statements, she noted that Mr. Plattes never drew a paycheck, as he quickly withdrew from the position when Mr. Klein expressed concern about his employment in July. Mr. Plattes subsequently sought a teaching position at a Bronx high school, but similarly withdrew before starting the job.

Ms. Lam also said she had alerted the system’s chief counsel, Chad Vignola, of Mr. Plattes’ interest in working for the district. According to the investigative report, Mr. Vignola initially had told the press that Mr. Plattes was a volunteer, because he had not been paid.

Chancellor Klein defended Mr. Vignola last week, but the lawyer announced his resignation on March 10, two days after Ms. Lam stepped down.

Mr. Klein, who said he would stay the course Ms. Lam started, appointed Carmen Fariña, one of the city’s regional superintendents, to fill her post.

“Obviously, when you’re talking about perhaps the most major set of school reforms in the country, this is not about any individual,” Mr. Klein said.

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