HILLSIDE — Tuesday the board of education will meet again to discuss the future of high school principal Lee McCaskill, 56, who is in hot water for swatting a female student on her backside in jest.
Although initial media reports said the high school principal had “spanked” the female student in his office after reprimanding two female students for arguing in the hall, Superintendent of Schools Frank Deo said that was not true. After news hit that McCaskill, a Piscataway resident, had been put on administrative leave with pay as a result of the incident and it was widely reported that he had “spanked” one of the students, the incident quickly received both print and television attention. Deo said last week the attention blew out of proportion what actually took place in the principal’s office several weeks ago.
“I don’t think there was any harmful intent. He was just counseling them,” the superintendent said about the incident, adding that when you have a very diverse school population, there are incidents where students get into confrontations.
“Usually the principal brings these students into his office for counseling and this incident was no different,” he added.
Deo explained in an interview with LocalSource late last week that after counseling the girls, they stood to leave and McCaskill tried to lighten the moment by telling the two students to get along, telling them to stop acting like 5-year-old’s.
“As he said this, he playfully swatted one of the girls, but it was meant to lighten the situation and not as any form of punishment,” Deo explained.
“Certainly it was poor judgement on his part, but he did it without thinking in an attempt to lighten the moment and get the students to leave his office in good spirits,” the superintendent added.
Deo said it was “more of a tapping” than anything resembling a spanking, but despite this the incident was reported to him by a security guard present in the room during the counseling session with the girls.
Although last week when the board met they did not take any further action on the matter, they did leave McCaskill on administrative leave until a thorough school investigation is completed.
“Everyone’s safety and well-being is our first concern,” Deo said, adding that one of the girl’s mother’s actually defended the principal and was not upset over what took place.
McCaskill, who holds a doctorate in educational administration, is in his fifth year at the high school, earns $149,376 a year. He retired from principal at Brooklyn Technical High School in 2006 and worked in Orange before coming to Hillside.