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April 5, 1997

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``Dad,″ asked Ryan Redler, ``why did they lie to us?″

Michael Redler had no easy answers for his 9-year-old son. He was a true believer in Previs’ brilliance.

``I’m willing to accept that the investigations seem to show tampering,″ he said. ``But, in my heart, I’m still not certain. There is no conclusive proof that he did anything wrong.″

But the headlines were getting ugly and so was the mood in town.

Neighbors hurled insults at each other in the local newspapers and across backyard fences. Plainclothes police officers were posted at the school. One parent even sued the testing company for devaluing his home.

Bewildered children, caught up in what the local media dubbed ``Erasergate″ tearfully apologized for cheating on tests they hadn’t even taken.

Some parents darkly suggested it was all an evil plot, that Harrington had set out to bring Previs down. Others insisted that scores didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was the magic of their school.

``I think when you’ve been told how special you are for so long ...,″ said Michele Waggner, whose children go to another school. ``To suddenly find out that it that may not be so may be a bitter pill to swallow.″

Previs denied the allegations from the start.

He took _ and passed _ a lie detector test. He promised that the cloud over Stratfield would be cleared. He faced his accusers at school board meetings, accompanied by supporters, 700 strong.

The same people who had once demanded no expense be spared in the search for the truth now screamed for an end to the probe. After $206,000 and a year of painful truths, they’d had enough.

School Board Chairman John Madeo faced down the fury, grimly reminding everyone why they were there. The issue was cheating, he said, not protecting reputations or careers. For years, students at Fairfield’s other schools had unfairly been held up to Stratfield’s standards. They had been wronged as much as Previs and his school, he said.

``Somehow, that seems to get lost,″ he said.

Head bowed, Previs sat stoically through the board’s vote to suspend him. His sleeve was wet from the tears of parents and students who hugged him.

Watching the vote on cable television, 12-year-old Catherine Redler cried hysterically. ``That’s my principal,″ she sobbed. ``We have to help him.″

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Today, Previs shuffles uneasily around a borrowed office in a convalescent home a few miles from the school he loves. A parent offered him the space _ somewhere private to ``deal with all the lawyers.″

Still professing his innocence, he cut a $150,000 deal with the school board in March and retired. On the advice of lawyers, he won’t discuss the scandal.

After 34 years, Previs’ career as a nationally renowned elementary school educator is, as he says, ``burned.″

Mementos from his 18 years at Stratfield sit boxed in the corner. Handpainted cards from kindergartners are strewn across the desk.

``I love you as a father,″ says one, ``and (that) will never be tampered with.″

Previs’s eyes fill with tears. He and his wife have no children, and he misses his 525 kids.

He still proudly wears his Stratfield school tie, the one specially designed by a parent, depicting a Stratfield student moving through life from the cradle to the Oval Office.

He still talks about Stratfield’s secret as a ``flower that you nurture and it blossoms.″ He speaks with passion and pride and conviction. And he doesn’t stop. It’s as though he is back in the halls of Stratfield, introducing another new parent to its magic.

Then he catches himself with a nervous laugh. Sorry, he says. He didn’t mean to ramble.

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