Tuesday, April 17, 2007
POL IN CUBAN 'PASS'
LT. GOV. BACKED HS TRIP
By DAVID ANDREATTA
How Post reported story.
FLASHBACKHow Post reported story.
April 17, 2007 -- The Beacon School history teacher who organized the trade-embargo-busting field trip to Cuba traveled to the communist island this month with the support of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, The Post has learned.
Paterson did not return repeated calls for comment, but a spokeswoman acknowledged that he wrote a letter of reference earlier this year on behalf of teacher Nathan Turner, who chaperoned the lieutenant governor's step-daughter on a previous trip to Cuba in 2005 when she as a Beacon student.
The spokeswoman, Christine Anderson, also acknowledged that Paterson contacted the city Department of Education on behalf of the school prior to the latest trip after learning that the agency refused to authorize the outing on the grounds that it could violate federal travel restrictions to the country.
She stressed, however, that Paterson at the time he contacted the DOE and wrote the letter believed that Turner had secured the proper federal travel licenses for him and the students. Anderson said the school assured him that was the case.
The letter was to be used should the teacher and his students run into any trouble while traveling, she said.
It was not clear if Turner pulled out the letter when he and his wards were stopped by American customs officials in The Bahamas last week upon their return. They each face fines of up to $65,000 for violating federal travel restrictions.
Anderson said Paterson penned the letter "based on his knowledge of the teacher and his feelings that the prior trip had been educational."
According to federal regulations, educational travel licenses to Cuba are restricted to college and graduate students .
Anderson said Paterson only learned that the teacher and about a dozen students bucked travel restrictions on the trip this month when it was reported exclusively in yesterday's Post.
Paterson's stepdaughter, Ashley Dennis, 18, a freshman at Ithaca College, told The Post that a fellow Beacon alumnus contacted her earlier this year saying that the DOE refused to authorize the Cuba trip and asking if her stepfather could intervene.
Dennis said she told her stepfather of the e-mail, but did not ask him to get involved.
"I mentioned it to my parents. I'm not sure if it went any further than that," she said.
She added that her stepfather and mother signed off on her 2005 trip, and that she was confident her trip was licensed by the federal government, though she could not be sure.
"I'm pretty sure I went to Cuba legally, and I'm not worried about it at this point," Dennis said.
The special commissioner of investigation for city schools is looking into what role, if any, the DOE played in Beacon's previous outings to the forbidden island. The school principal said the DOE had approved trips.
Students, teachers and alumni said at least six excursions to Cuba have been organized, sponsored and financed in part by the school since 2000.