Yes, A Student Reporter Really Helped Uncover The 'Bad Education' Scandal

by Danielle Burgos
Originally Published: 

The town of Roslyn prided itself on being the best school district in Long Island. Under the charming leadership of superintendent Frank Tassone, the quality of Roslyn's public education was nationally renowned. So it came as quite a shock in 2004 when Tassone, as well as other members of his inner circle, were indicted in an $11.2 million dollar larceny scandal. HBO's Bad Education, written by Roslyn alum Mike Makowsky, tells the story from the perspective of student reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan). But Is Bad Education's Bhargava based on a real person? Her real-life counterpart broke the real story behind Pamela Gluckin's (Allison Janney) firing, which tipped people off to Tassone's involvement in the scandal.

Bhargava is a stand-in for Rebekah Rombom, a Roslyn High School student with close ties to the scandal. In the early 2000s, Bhargava was one of the two editors-in-chief of the school's newspaper, The Hilltop Beacon. According to a 2004 New York Times story on Rombom, her co-editor, Sam Floam, first learned of an anonymous woman who had stolen money from the school district. But it was Bhargava who decided to investigate.

“Later that day I, too, received the same information from another source,” Rombom wrote in the Times. “Dr. Frank Tassone...had meetings with the leaders of several civic associations and school committees. During these meetings, he informed these individuals that an anonymous letter had surfaced containing information and allegations regarding the theft, as well as other information."

Though Rombom first thought that it all "seemed sketchy," her advisor pushed her to continue exploring the story. So Rombom decided to check out a public meeting of the Board of Education. According to Refinery29, the embezzlement claims were addressed at the meeting, which led Rombom to follow up and interview the assistant superintendent for human resources and Tassone (Hugh Jackman).

After discovering that the woman was none other than Gluckin, the former assistant superintendent of the Roslyn High School district and close friend of Tassone's, Rombom was ready to go to press. “[But] I was informed that I would not be able to use the name of the woman accused of embezzling the money," Rombom wrote in the Times. "This struck me a bit odd, since I, along with a handful of other community members already knew that she had been identified as Pamela C. Gluckin.”

Though Gluckin's name wasn't published in the paper, the story still made a major splash. According to New York Magazine, after it went to press, Newsday and other major newspapers began looking into Rombom's revelations. From there they uncovered what would become known as "the biggest school fraud case in the country."

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