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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Freedom of Information Request That Could Have Gone Very Wrong - But Didn't (2006)

 The post below is not new, but I love it for the sheer audacity of former NYC DOE General Counsel Michael Best for allowing two pages of my personal notes to be ripped out of my notebook and taken away because they had "information I was not supposed to see". I was determined to get those two pages back. Read and find out what happened!

By the way, when investigating government information and emails or asking anything about social media, check local and state laws before launching a search, lock down the parties’ statements regarding their individual social media accounts, and secure clearance to access any non-public accounts. If the matter has a high risk and/or exposure level, request that an experienced expert obtain the data and provide a "defensible, reliable chain of custody" (Best Practice - "BP) regarding evidence pulled from social media. I always stay in line with industry best practices.

Enjoy the best show in town - the New York City Department of Education. Lol

just sayin'...

Betsy Combier

I found my birthday card from the rubber roomers at 25 Chapel Street (2006?)!!!

So happy. Thanks, people!!! See below.

The UFT members at 25 Chapel street were my first connection to the rubber room saga that would change my life, alter the life of my children and allow me to start my company ADVOCATZ. (Current Website is

I will forever be grateful to David Pakter, Polo Colon, Steve Ostrin, and all the wonderful people who talked with me about their troubles. I was then, and continue to be, honored with your trust.

By the way, my birthday is 7-11. July 11, not October (I'm re-posting the birthday card now because I just found it)..

Betsy Combier
President, ADVOCATZ
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Strange things happen when you try to get information from the New York City Board of Education
by Betsy Combier
June 2009

Under the Bloomberg/Klein administration, public school buildings are "plants" (as in factories) and every inch must be used for the assembly line workers (teachers) to complete the widgets (children) for the marketplace (graduation, technical jobs, etc). This may sound rather harsh, but try as hard as I can to find another picture that fits the pattern and practice of the people at Tweed over the past 7 years, I cant come up with any other scenario.

Company business must be protected at all times, of course, and this means that workers always must be present and willing and able to work, at all times. Sickness and family obligations that take you away from your job for any amount of time are simply weaknesses that you must be punished for. If you are a child with special needs and you have a parent who knows what to do to protect you, and does not bend with the threats, barrage of wrong information couched in "the law" as seen by the managers (ISC and Superintendents, the CEO Klein and his vice-president Michael Best) and other such deviations from the facts, then you may be fine. Similarly, if you are a parent or teacher, and you have the evidence necessary to prove what you are saying if true, JUST SAY NO to the NYC BOE when they try to allege anything about you, your actions, your character, family, or rules.

I'm a parent of four daughters who are and have been in the public schools of New York City, and I and all of them have been harmed by administrators of the New York City BOE. Nonetheless I can, and obviously do, speak out about what I see and hear in my children's factories...oops, schools. Alot aint right.

Anyway, in 2006 Joel Klein decided to place the Ross Global Academy Charter School inside of NEST+M, one of my daughters' schools. The NYC BOE insisted that our capacity was half empty - by changing the capacity number on a daily basis. As I wrote in a previous article, Garth Harries, the recently departed manager of the BOE plant capacity and assessment, came to NEST+m in April of 2006 with several other people to measure rooms that "they" liked at NEST for the Ross classrooms. Parents were outraged. (We sued twice, first the City of New York, Joel Klein, et al., and then the Board of Regents of the State University of New York; we won our lawsuits).

The next day I called Ms. Mashea Ashton, Garth's boss at Tweed, to ask if I could read the Ross Global Charter application, a public document. I also filed a freedom of information request with the New York State Ed Dept. Ms. AShton said, "Sure, when do you want to come to Tweed to review it?"

That is how I ended up at Tweed on April 18, 2006 at 2PM. I was given a desk on the third floor on which were four huge volumes, all 1900+ pages of the application for a charter filed with the Regents to set up a charter school in New York City. The location was never given, but the charter school would be in the NYU "education park" on the lower east side of Manhattan (there was a map).

From 2PM until about 5PM I read the documents and wrote notes. Suddenly at 5PM Ms. Ashton came over to me and said, "I'm so sorry, but someone at legal just called me and told me that I should review your notes because we may have left some information in the documents that you should not have seen."

I thought, wow, this is interesting! I knew that "they" had no right whatsoever under any law to seize my personal notes, but as a reporter, I thought there might be a great story if I let Ms. Ashton take my property. I wanted to know what she might do with it.

I reluctantly said something like, "Gee, I'm not sure that you have any right to look at my notes, but I guess you could look at them". Ms. AShton took my pad and, a few feet away, started reading my notes. Then, she ripped two pages out of my pad. I said, "What are you doing". Ms. AShton said, "Well, you have some private information here that we forgot to take out of the documents you are reviewing, and I have to take these pages. But I'll xerox them for you and give you the left half ".

These pages had the names and addresses of the Board of Trustees of the Ross Global Charter Academy. My protests fell on deaf ears, and she answered my question "Who told you to do this" by saying "someone in the legal department".

She then left me to read/copy/write notes on the entire documents all over again, until 6PM when I left.

I went home and wrote Joel Klein's attorney Michael Best, and asked him for my notes back.

I started a log of the emails:

April 28, 2006

Now, the NYC BOE is informing me that I will get my notes back, but in an altered form. I do not believe that I wrote down any personal addresses.

From: Best Michael
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 6:18 PM
To: ''

Subject: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

I have considered the situation regarding the notes you took while examining paperwork related to the Ross Global Charter School ("Ross').

There are two pages of notes at issue. My understanding is that Ms. Mashea Ashton of the DOE asked to see your notes and realized that you had copied down the addresses of various people associated with Ross. Realizing belatedly that information pertaining to the home addresses of these individuals should not have been provided to any member of the public because of the need to protect the individuals' personal privacy, Ms. Ashton asked to see your notes. She then made a redacted copy of your notes, i.e., a photocopy of your notes with the addresses redacted, and she gave you that redacted copy of your notes. Thus, although Ms. Ashton kept the original, unredacted version of your notes, you were not actually deprived of your notes or of any pertinent information concerning Ross.

Upon reviewing the matter, however, I have determined that, with one exception, the redacted addresses are not personal addresses. Instead, they are business addresses, which should not have been redacted. It appears that Ms. Ashton redacted the business addresses in an excess of caution to preserve the privacy rights of the individuals associated with Ross, but at this time, we will provide those business addresses to you. There is, however, one address that appears to be a home address, and it would be inappropriate to release that home address publicly.

Therefore, we will return the original version of your notes to you, but we will redact the one home address before we do so.

Please contact me via email on Monday to let me know the best way to return the notes, with the one item redacted as mentioned, to you. Thank you.

Michael Best

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 6:22 PM
To: Betsy

Subject: FW: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Please see below. It appears that the attempt to send this email to your other email address was not successful.

>>> 4/20/2006 9:40:56 AM >>>

Dear Mr. Freeman,

I request an expedited verbal opinion on the following Freedom of Information request and incident. Please call me at 212-794-8902 as soon as possible.

On Friday, April 14, 2006 I made an appointment with Ms. Mashea Ashton of the NYC DOE Office of New Schools, to go over the charter application of the Ross Global Academy Charter School at Tweed at 2 o'clock on April 18.

On Tuesday, April 18, 2006 at 2PM I arrived at Tweed, ms. Ashton met me downstairs, and subsequently took me upstairs to her office. She gave me a table in the corner, upon which she placed the 1919 pages she had received back from NYSED of the Ross charter application, and told me that all charter applications were that long and to please let me know if there was anything that I needed, and she went to her desk.

I looked over the documents and jotted down on my pad the names of the Board of Trustees as well as relevant sections of the Charter School Act of 1998 and other information on the 501 (C) 3 (Ross Institute and Ross Global Academy Charter School).

At approximately 5PM Ms. Ashton came over to me and told me that she had to take all my notes and look at them. I asked why. She told me that there was private information in the documents and she had to make sure I had not copied any information down. as a long-time admirerer of your work, and the FOIL law, I have some knowledge of what is private information and what is not, and I believed that I had no private information in my notes, so I gave her my pad. I did not want to dispute her assessment at the time, and she told me that I had to give all my notes to her. She removed two pages: the list of the Board of Trustees' names with their affiliations (no addresses).

She told me that she had "checked with legal" and had been told that I could not have my notes back, because the Board of Trustees' affiliations were private information. Again, my notes had no addresses or telephone numbers.

Ms. Ashton xeroxed my notes and gave me the left half with the names of the Trustees. She then left me to look at all the documents for another 1/2 hour, and I had to leave at 6PM, which I did.

Was she correct in taking my notes?

Thank you for your reply as soon as possible.

Betsy Combier

On Monday, April 24, 2006, I tried calling Ms Holtzman to ask if I could pick up my notes that day. Ms. Holtzman returned my call on Tuesday, April 25, and told me that “Mike” [Best] would get back to me. I still have not heard from Ms. Best, nor do I have my notes.

I consider this a very serious violation of my 4th and 14th Amendment rights, and I demand my personal property back immediately. On Monday morning May 1, 2006, at 9:30AM, I will expect to have my two pages returned to me. Please let me know where I can pick them up. My telephone number is 212-794-8902.

Betsy Combier

We wondered why Mr. Best did not want us to have the home address of Robert Torres, the only home address on the two pages of notes. Perhaps he did not want us to contact him, although he is listed on We called him, and he told us that “…if the NEST parents don’t stop their protests and think that we will not protect our children, they are very wrong;” and, “if you do not stop the NEST parents your principal will be sorry”.

Robert Durkin, well-known in New York City for changing the grades of 19 students at Washington Irving High School when he was Principal, and for being fired, told us that he “would make NEST+M a better school, just like the Julia Richman High School Complex”. We know the Julia Richman Educational Complex very well, and comparing NEST, a very small school, with a complex of 6 schools is like comparing apples to spinach.

Kunle Abodunde has resigned from the Board, we were told, and has presumably left the country, as has no record of him, even though he supposedly started The Posse Group (he is not on their website, but we called a few colleges).

Richard Halperin, Principal of Quellos LLP, had no comment about Ross/NEST, and we located more than 80 pages on his involvement with the Clinton Administration and the Monica Lewinsky coverup, but no data on his knowledge of elementary school teaching/curricula/education. (From Betsy Combier: Mr. Halperin died suddenly on June 19, 2008, and here is his obituary tribute from the New York Times, June 21, 2008:
" HALPERIN--Richard E., sadly on June 19, 2008 at age 53. Born December 7, 1954 in New York, NY to Alvin and Anne Halperin. Richard was the former Chief Operating Officer of the Quellos Group. Prior to joining Quellos, Mr. Halperin was Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to the Chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc. He also served as President of the Revlon Foundation, The MacAndrew & Forbes Foundation, and the Perelman Family Foundation. Previous to joining MacAndrews, Richard was Administrative Assistant to the Attorney General of New York State. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Rye Country Day School, The Ross Global Academy Charter School and The Citizens Budget Commission. He was also an Executive Advisory Board Member of the Boston University College of Communication and was a member of the Zoning Board of the Town of Harrison, New York. He held a B.S. cum laude in Communications from Boston University and a J.D. from the New England School of Law. Survived by his beloved wife Lucy, cherished children Ross, Robert, Kenneth and Steven, and adoring sister Marsha (Martin) Epstein. Funeral service Sunday 12 noon at The Jewish Community Center of Harrison. Interment to follow at Sharon Gardens Cemetery. For information, Zion Memorial Chapel 914-381-1809."

We have concluded from all of our telephone calls to Ms. Jennifer Chidsey Pizzo (no comment), Martin Payson (no comment), and Dr. Mark English (no comment) that there is no strategy currently in place to establish a positive partnership between Ross Global staff, parents and children, and NEST+m. This foretells doom for all.

We have information on Ms. Ross’ legal troubles with her taxes. It seems that in the rush for tax exempt properties, NYU and the NYC DOE have forgotten that the environment for the Ross kids has been poisoned irrevocably. The only solution is to change the location of the Ross Global Academy Charter before children’s lives are changed and the promises you have made to your new students shown to be false.

Second reason. We will publicize the new study by City Project, “Fatal Subtraction”. This shocking report may convince New Yorkers that New York University has ulterior motives for placing the Ross Global Charter in NEST+m that have nothing to do with putting “children first”. We have received comments from parents not connected with the NEST+M community that the Ross Global Academy Charter may be a good idea, but one that cannot succeed with NYU behind it, despite the massive power and wealth connected with this University. You will not have the best wishes of New York City residents behind you in your desire to be in partnership with NYU as small, excellent schools such as NEST+m are destroyed and minority parents are lied to.

If you have plans for franchising the “Ross Model” – and we are still unclear exactly what that is – then we suggest (audaciously, we admit), that you separate your charter school from NYU as quickly as possible, despite the ridicule of the NY State Regents to this suggestion, especially Regent Meryl Tisch, who had so much to do with the approval of your charter application, and works with Mr. Richard Halperin at The Citizen’s Budget Commission. At minimum, you should not continue to jeopardize the success of NEST+M to suit your own needs. It looks to us that you will not succeed in realizing your goals within the NEST building. We know that the general public no longer trusts that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein are doing a good job in the area of public school education reform. This sentiment will prevail after Mayor Bloomberg’s term of office is over and the media in NYC hopefully will be more open to covering all views and honestly reporting all data. Public opinion seems to be turning against your benefactors right now, and will only continue to grow, and harm your potential for success.

Third reason. The NYC DOE has not been in favor of Gifted and Talented education for many years, at least since the 1980’s. However, this opinion is not shared by the public especially in New York City, where right now there is immense pressure from parents to encourage highly gifted students. There is also the matter of what seems to be Joel Klein’s dislike of Celenia Chevere. His attacks against NEST+m have always been personal and this will become his legacy: using his personal feelings as weapons. We suggest that no foundation built upon this kind of attack will succeed.

Our summary above will be elaborately explained on our website, but we hope that you will re-consider the disastrous destruction of NEST+m. Your Charter school would thrive at another location, and you should pursue establishing an independent school, at a new site. You should leave NEST+M to the parents, staff and administration who have built and maintained it. The Ross Global Academy Charter School will not succeed at 111 Columbia Street, because the general public and those who care about the children most affected by this terrible attack on our nation’s public school system by the rich and powerful wont let you.

Thank you for your consideration of our issues, and we look forward to promoting your charter and your “Ross model” at a location other than 111 Columbia Street.

P. Wilder
Ajamo Kamau
Betsy Combier

From: Robert Freeman [] (pictured at right)
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2006 11:15 AM

Subject: Re: Fwd: FOIL Request From The E-Accountability Foundation

I have received your letter concerning the ability of the New York City Department of Education to review and/or confiscate personal notes that you prepared while reviewing records made available to you pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law.

In short, government agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Law; private individuals are not government agencies and are not required to comply with that law. Further, from my perspective, your notes are your personal property, and the Department would have no right either to review or take possession of your property.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director
NYS Committee on Open Government
41 State Street
Albany, NY 12231
(518) 474-2518 - Phone
(518) 474-1927 - Fax
Website - 

From: Betsy []
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2006 1:59 AM
To: 'Best Michael'
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Best,

I will pick up my notes at approximately 10 AM May 1 at Tweed. I suggest that you read Mr. Freeman’s opinion, which is also mine, that my notes are not subject to the freedom of Information Act/Law, and any change in my notes by your agency or officers is actionable.

Please have my notes in the original form at the front desk on Monday morning, or have the law that covers your statement that you may redact my notes without my permission.
Betsy Combier

From: Betsy []
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:10 AM
To: 'Robert Freeman'; 'Best Michael';;
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: FW: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Freeman,

I request an expedited opinion on the matter outlined below.

On April 18, 2006 at approximately 5PM, , while sitting at a desk at Tweed, Ms. Mashea Ashton, the employee of the NYC DOE with whom I spoke about viewing the Ross Charter Application under FOIL, and the person who gave me the time 2-6PM to read the charter and gave me the 1010 pages to read, told me that I had to give her my notes so she could read them. I unwillingly gave my notes to her, and she told me that she had to seize two pages.

Now, the NYC BOE is informing me that I will get my notes back, but in an altered form. I do not believe that I wrote down any personal addresses.

Please reply as soon as possible, by telephone if necessary: 212-794-8902, or by return email, about the NYC BOE giving me back my personal notes, redacted by them.

Thank you!!

Betsy Combier

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 8:14 AM
To: Betsy

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

I am afraid that 10 AM this morning will not work for me. Please propose another time tomorow. Thank you.

Michael Best

From: Betsy []
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 8:36 AM
To: 'Best Michael'
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Best,

I hope that 11AM tomorrow morning will be convenient for you.

Additionally, I request that you give me, in writing, the name of the person in your office who told Ms. Ashton to seize my notes. If you do not give me a name, I will assume that you told Ms. Ashton.

Thank you,

Betsy Combier

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 10:46 AM
To: Betsy

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

This will confirm our conversation of a few minutes ago. I explained to you that I am obliged to protect the privacy concern of the person whose personal address you wrote on your notes. I told you that I was trying to reach that person on the telephone but had been unable to do so as yet. I told you that I wanted to find out if this person would consent to release of his personal address. And I asked for a bit more time to try to get a hold of him before you picked up your original notes, because if he consented, i would not have to redact his address on your original notes.

You told me that you were coming to get the notes in 20 minutes, and you said "I should do what I have to do." I told you that you were putting me in a position where I have no choice but to redact your notes in order to protect this individual's privacy interests, and you reiterated that I should do what I have to do, but you were coming to get your notes.

Michael Best

On May 2, 2006 I went to Tweed's front desk and asked for an envelope with my name on it. There was none. I asked the security to buzz Mr. Best. Michael Best came downstairs, and asked me to sit with him for a few minutes. I said, "Sure!" Mr. Best tried to convince me that he must redact my personal notes, and he encouraged me to agree with him. I finally said, "Mr. Best, you are the Attorney here, I am not. So why dont you go to your office and get my two pages from my pad, and bring them to me? If you feel that you must redact my notes, then you do what you feel you must do as an attorney."

He went upstairs and brought me my two pages, unredacted.

I thanked him, and as I turned around to leave, he said, "I enjoyed speaking with you very much."