Ithaca parents, teachers concerned over elementary school principal’s absence

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Northeast Elementary School in Ithaca.

Students, parents and teachers rallied outside an Ithaca elementary school Tuesday morning. Parents and teachers say the school’s principal has been absent for weeks now, and the school district won’t tell them why.

Hannah and Ben Hutton have two kids at Northeast Elementary School. Hannah Hutton said principal Liddy Coyle’s absence was abrupt and unexpected.

“She didn’t send out an email one week, and then she didn’t come to school the next day,” Hannah said. “And then later that day, we just got a really kind of terse email saying, this is your new principal, and then respect Liddy’s privacy while she’s out of the office.”

In a letter, the district said Coyle was “out of office” and asked community members to “respect her privacy.” Parents say the school district abruptly appointed a new administrator to support the school, two weeks ago.

Hannah said her kids have been asking about their principal. She said she’s not sure what to tell them.

Ben Hutton said the sudden transition at Northeast Elementary hasn’t been the only source of frustration for parents. The district’s school board election last month was plagued with numerous errors and last minute changes.

“The district does not have the trust of parents right now, after the fiasco surrounding the election a few weeks ago,” Ben said. “The district lost a lot of trust.”

The Huttons and other parents at the rally say they’re hoping the new school board members can push the district to be more transparent.

Jennifer Fee said the district hasn’t offered any other explanation for the sudden personnel change.

“Why is the principal, who’s so beloved, being removed from the school without explanation in the last three weeks of school?” Fee asked. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Fee and other parents praised Coyle’s work at the school, particularly during remote learning. They say they want more transparency from the district about her absence.

“If she’s been removed for some disciplinary reason, then why not communicate that clearly to to the parents?” Fee said.

It’s not clear if Coyle will return as principal next year. The district did not respond to multiple requests for comment.