The city’s Department of Education (DOE) removed the Maspeth High School’s principal in early July due to reports of grade fraud. Now, reports of other misconduct are being released amid the scandal.
Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir reportedly intimidated teachers into passing students despite their failing efforts, according to an extensive report by the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI). The allegations date back as far as 2015. The misconduct at the school was a matter of public discussion, according to the report, and was even the subject of news stories before any investigations were started.
Abdul-Mutakabbir pressured staffers to offer sham courses to “low priority” students to quickly get them out of the school and graduate them early. A source in the report said that “troubled students” were enrolled in the classes to receive credits, but never had to attend or submit any assignments.
One source, named in the report as CW5, failed “Student S” in physical education class. However Abdul-Mutakabbir told CW5 that Maspeth could not afford summer school for PE, so CW5 would have to pass Student S. Abdul-Mutakabbir is reported saying he would give Student S a diploma that was not “worth the paper it was printed on” and for him “to have fun working at Taco Bell.” CW5 felt threatened, and subsequently changed each failing student’s grade to a passing one.
Abdul-Mutakabbir also allegedly told teachers, “We’re not here to teach them life lessons; college will do that,” and that Abdul-Mutakabbir “just wanted them out.”
Several other key players at Maspeth High School refused to be interviewed, specifically, assistant principals Jesse Pachter and Stefan Singh. Witnesses said that Pachter and Singh helped carry out the principal’s fraud and intimidation.
Pachter, who still works at the school, allegedly received $35,681 per session for coaching the female varsity flag football team and leading the Public School Athletic League (PSAL), which required he be present at all athletic games at the school. However, a source stated Pachter never attended any games that year.
The DOE said that there weren’t substantial findings against Pachter, though he, among others, have been retrained and have gotten a letter in their files.
Head Dean Daniel Sepulveda was also accused of acting inappropriately with students. Sepulveda, the wrestling coach, was recorded as he wrestled a student who was not a member of the team. The video shows Sepulveda picking up and slamming the student to the ground. In the SCI report, a parent is quoted as saying, “it’s very concerning that a teacher would do something so violent to a student.”
The report concluded that the violent behavior of Sepulveda was “indisputable.”
“Though the student appeared laughing, the video clearly showed a large, grown man throwing a thin, young teenager to the ground,” the report stated.
Sepulveda also texted wrestling students privately instead of using the appropriate application, GroupMe, to communicate with students. Below shows messages between a student and Sepulveda.
Sepulveda also allegedly became “friends” with a female student and regularly drove wrestling students home in his car. Some students also claimed to have smoked marijuana in Sepulveda’s apartment, though no kids were willing to speak with SCI about these allegations.
Sepulveda was also accused of verbally giving answers to students during Regents exams while serving as a proctor. In a text exchange between Sepulveda and another witness, CW6, Sepulveda said the following about his misconduct: “You don’t get it, man. You came from a very black and white background in private schools. But it’s different here. It’s different because I’m not going to not even give these kids a shot at the real world because they didn’t pass [high school]. That’s ridiculous.”
Councilman Robert Holden said this investigation and the subsequent removal of Abdul-Mutakabbir took “a ridiculous amount of time.”
“There was no sense of urgency,” Holden said. “Whistleblowers first came to my office more than two years ago and we helped bring the story to light.”
Holden criticized the DOE and mayor for dragging their feet, while several others involved in the scandal are still working at the school.
“They also need to be removed,” Holden said. “If the city won’t do it, it may be up to the U.S. Attorney. Allowing an atmosphere of intimidation and fraud to continue is unfair to the many great teachers in the school and a great disservice to students.”
Holden said that he recently met with the new principal, Selin Alicanoglu, and looks forward to working with her to help Maspeth High School move forward.
Abdul-Mutakabbir was the first principal of the school, which was founded in 2011 and awarded Blue Ribbon status in 2018.
Abdul-Mutakabbir was also accused of treating the staff unfairly, favoring members of his “clique.” Additionally, Maspeth personnel allegedly used non-DOE email accounts for school business.
The DOE said they are reserving the right to pursue charges against anyone found of wrongdoing. The DOE will be holding a hearing for the allegations against Abdul-Mutakabbir next month.