By Steven Cook
The Niskayuna Central School District and the Niskayuna Rowing club have agreed to policy changes and training, ending a couple’s lawsuit over alleged illegal restrictions on a rower — their son — with learning disabilities, according to court records.
Among the changes, Niskayuna Rowing will add a statement on inclusiveness and non-discrimination to its protocols and require training for coaches concerning inclusion of students with disabilities. The agreement also includes no admission of wrongdoing by either party. Dawn and Carl LeGere contended in the suit filed last summer that the rowing coaches excluded or discriminated against their son based on his disability, making “generalizations and assumptions” about the boy’s ability.
The parents also claimed that coaches relegated the student, a 10th-grader at the school identified in the suit only by his initials, to the seventh- and eighth-grade modified team when he’d signed up to row in the age-appropriate program. The family’s attorney, Joseph Castiglione, Wednesday called his clients “very satisfied” with the outcome.
The settlement also includes a $16,000 payout that Castiglione said covers attorneys’ fees. It includes no other payments. He said his clients wanted the policy changes more than anything else. “That was really the thrust of my clients’ concern,” Castiglione said, “ensuring that changes were put in place to address the concerns of their child going forward.”
Castiglione said he is in the process of contacting the attorney representing both the district and club to determine their progress in making the agreed-upon changes. A school district spokesman on Wednesday said that all the provisions involving the district have either been addressed or are to be completed. David Davenport, president of Friends of Niskayuna Rowing, declined to comment on the settlement provisions Wednesday.
He said they are happy to have reached the settlement and noted it included no admission of wrongdoing. He said the club is looking forward to continuing its operations and helping kids learn to love rowing.
A look at the club’s website Wednesday, however, showed at least one change in place, a statement on its main page expressing commitment to maintaining a non-discriminatory and inclusive environment, along with offering related information. The website also lays out how students are placed and an anti-bullying policy.
The district is required to have a Board of Education member on the rowing board and designate contacts for complaints. The suit was filed after the district suddenly ousted varsity and freshman boys’ rowing head coach Jonathan Markowicz in April 2016.
He was one of three coaches identified by name in the suit, though not as a defendant. Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. declined to state the reason for the firing then, only saying the decision was made with the help of legal counsel.
The LeGeres contended their son participated in the “Learn to Row” program in summer 2015, then signed up for the fall 2015 freshman/novice rowing program. The family spent about $2,000 on registration fees and team fees, the suit reads. The suit described the novice program as available to all 10th- to 12-graders and some ninth-graders as a “ ‘no cut’ pay to play sport.” The suit contended the coaches excluded the boy from regular team activities and later relegated him to the modified team.
At a school board meeting near the time of his ouster, Markowicz took pains to detail strides he had taken to accommodate special-needs students and those with disabilities, saying he had requested hiring another coach to support those efforts but was denied.
Shown the lawsuit last summer, Markowicz said allegations in the suit ran counter to the culture of rowing in Niskayuna and the program always promoted a culture of hard work, tolerance and integrity. Rowing is not technically a school sport, as competitions exist outside of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s jurisdiction, but the district supports the rowing program with funds for necessities such as insurance and transportation throughout the year.
The district also pays some coaching salaries during the spring season. All of the rowing program’s coaches are board-approved, but the Friends of Niskayuna Rowing pays for all coaching salaries outside of the spring season.