This morning at 11 am, a coalition of students, civic leaders and advocacy groups plan to release a 'white paper' and report card on the incidence of bullying and bias-based harassment in the city's schools. Student leaders from the Sikh Coalition and other organizations will speak, as will representatives of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York City Bar Association's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Committee, which collaborated on the project, and City Council members Robert Jackson and John Liu.
The report card asks whether the Department of Education has made sufficient progress implementing the anti-bullying Chancellor's Regulation (number A-832), announced by the Mayor and the Chancellor in September 2008. More than 1,100 students and teachers contributed to the report-card assessment. Notably, three of every four New York City middle- and high-school students report bullying in their schools.
This afternoon at 4:30, vocal opponents of mayoral control plan to celebrate its demise, also at Tweed. Event organizers say they'll serve eviction papers at midnight to oust Chancellor Klein and his staffers; DOE spokesman David Cantor denounced the proposed gathering as "tribal" in an email response. Of course, everything depends on whether Albany legislators actually manage to meet -- forced to do so by a judge's order -- and hinges on new Democratic leader John Sampson's desire to spend more time evaluating mayoral control.
When I heard the disturbing news yesterday that a teacher's aide at Brooks's school had been arrested for child molestation, my neurotic parental instincts kicked in: how did anyone ever talk me into letting my innocent son venture out into this dangerous world?
But since I also understand that locking him inside our two-bedroom apartment is not a feasible solution, I have been trying to settle my queasy stomach and find a middle ground. There is no escaping the harsh reality of this incident nor its complexities, especially in terms of how schools should behave in its wake. But this morning, when the principal, Dede Budd, invited parents to a meeting to hammer out these issues, I was comforted -- as much as any parent in these exceptional circumstances can be comforted, that is.
Ms. Budd began by presenting the facts and correcting misinformation. Mr. Benitez had been a paraprofessional at the school for eight years. On the day of the incident, the two teachers in his classroom were absent, so there were two subs. Those subs, who had worked at the school before, witnessed the "inappropriate touching" and immediately reported it. Mr. Benitez was quickly removed from the classroom, and the children's parents were called, as was the police. According to Dede, none of the children, including the ones directly involved, were traumatized or even aware of what had transpired. Mr. Benitez was never allowed back into the classroom after the incident. To Dede's dismay, she was not able to share any of this information with parents since it was initially classified as confidential. It is only now, after the arrest, that she is finally able to speak.
There was talk of providing resources to parents to help them talk to their kids without alarming them, which most parents found challenging. There was also talk of strategies within the classrooms regarding how to address Mr. Benitez's sudden departure and about more general "what's appropriate and what's not?" issues. Dede assured us the teachers have had long and substantive discussions about the best way to deal with the students' questions and concerns.
The meeting concluded with the parents' general agreement that the school administration behaved impeccably. They were as distressed by this incident as we were, and their priority is and always has been to create a safe environment for our children. Even the representative sent by the Department of Education expressed genuine concern: he listened closely to all of us, he acknowledged the fine balancing act of protecting children without trouncing on teachers' rights, and he provided answers that were thoughtful, smart and heartfelt.
Parents were clearly dismayed to hear of the arrest first from the media, rather than the school, and there was a discussion about how to better tackle that complex issue. There must be some way to prevent your first-grader from learning that his teacher was arrested from another child's chatter on the school bus.
Of course, I am still troubled, especially by an anonymous parent in a TV news report who insists that she knew this was coming because her daughter had complained about Mr. Benitez back in 2006. During the meeting, Dede clarified that accusations in prior years had been unfounded. But all agreed that "unfounded" means unproven -- not necessarily untrue. Given the current situation, it's certainly looking more and more like the "unfounded" charges were, in fact, true.
Thankfully, Brooks didn't know Mr. Benitez, so he is largely unaware of these unsettling events. Along with many of his peers, my son is celebrating the end of his school year and the start of summer vacation. But Mr. Benitez's former students don't have that luxury: a man they trusted has suddenly been arrested.
I wouldn't know how to begin to explain to a first grader what I'm having trouble grappling with myself as an adult, but I'm confident that the extraordinary staff at PS 178 will somehow figure it out.
Last week one of my teachers raised a topic that brought up some difficult questions: He reminded us that if he knew a student was cutting him or herself, he was legally required to report them to a higher authority. He expressed his own contradicting feelings on this issue, which prompted an extremely emotional class conversation. In general, my classmates understood the reasoning behind the rule; school authorities have a responsibility to keep young people safe. But teachers are not necessarily trained in dealing with serious issues, like cutting, that may be life-threatening to the student and surely signal deeper troubles. However, many students were extremely opposed to the idea of being sent by a teacher to the guidance counselor against their will. Though there are wonderful exceptions, I have heard from students in many different schools that going to "their" guidance counselor is something they generally seek to avoid.
I think one of the biggest problems is that guidance counselors in many schools do not know their students on a personal level. Big schools and low budgets make it hard to get enough personal attention to every student. I believe in the idea of a small-group advisory period each week, led by counselors, who would have the chance to get to know students and build relationships over time, before a crisis. Additionally, individual meetings should be arranged at some point so every student can meet their guidance counselor.
I know there are some really great guidance counselors out there, and I respect their efforts and their important role in students' lives. However, many schools need to find a way for counselors to become more involved with their students -- not on a disciplinary level, but on a personal one -- and really provide the 'safe space' students need.
Our question about the Community Education Council vote drew an anemic response -- in itself, perhaps a reflection on the Department of Education's fledgling effort at online parent engagement. About half of the respondents said they planned to vote, but the next largest group said they flat-out wouldn't, because they didn't know enough about the CECs or about the process.
This week, we ask about an issue that affects every child in every school in the city: School safety officers, who are often the first faces students and parents see when they enter the school building. Uniformed safety officers are a fact of life in the city's schools. Many find their presence controversial (to put it politely) and advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union have proposed the Student Safety Act, which seems, for the moment, to be stalled in the City Council.
What do you think of the uniformed officers that guard our school doorways? Take the poll - and as ever, share your comments here.
At a jam-packed and raucous meeting on Monday night, the Community Education Council of District 28 in central Queens passed a unanimous resolution recommending the immediate removal of Dr. John Murphy as principal of MS 8 in South Jamaica. The resolution came at the end of the monthly meeting, attended by upwards of 150 parents, teachers, and community members. They crowded into the makeshift basement auditorium of PS 182, which quickly became a standing-room-only venue. The CEC voted on the resolution minutes after Rev. Charles Norris read a litany of complaints against Murphy, ending each with a rousing declaration of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Although a recent incident thrust MS 8 into the media spotlight, the press (WCBS, Daily News, Queens Chronicle, and the New York Teacher) reports that there is a long history of abuse by Murphy at MS 8, as well as at other schools. CEC member Emily Ades spoke from the stage, saying she issued her own report in November 2008 after performing a walk-through of the middle school, which she likened to a detention center.
Ades, a former elementary school teacher in the district, said she received no response from the Department of Education about her report, which detailed a school where “there was no School Leadership Team, the principal made all decisions, there were numerous safety issues, and the children were on lockdown,” she said.
Martine Guerrier, Chief Family Engagement Officer from the DOE Office for Family Engagement and Advocacy (OFEA), came late to the meeting after notifying the CEC that she would not be attending, and sending two representatives in her stead. Her arrival was unexpected and was not met with a warm reception.
Both parents and CEC members said they had reached out to her office to no avail. Kenneth Williams, one of the CEC vice presidents, spoke of his dissatisfaction with OFEA after he sought their support following negative experiences with the principal of PS 30. “[The community has] been left out in the cold for two years. Not just MS 8. Not just PS 30. It’s the whole district,” he said.
Guerrier said, “A number of issues were raised to me today that have not been brought to me before.”
In a telephone conversation with Insideschools.org, Department of Education spokesperson Ann Forte said that there is an “ongoing investigation” of the principal. “We don’t believe that his removal is warranted,” she said, noting that he “sent a letter home to parents a week ago trying to reach out and push to try to communicate better.” She said concerned parents should reach out to District 28 Superintendent Jeanette Reed. The superintendent’s office is ultimately responsible for the hiring of principals and for their dismissal.
Meanwhile, protestors gather each morning before MS 8 begins its school day. They hold signs and photos of Murphy and often cheer “get rid of the rat.” A rally will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Jamaica branch of the NAACP.
Insideschools has learned that a sixth-grade student was mugged yesterday afternoon at J.J. Bryne Park in Park Slope, the city park that essentially serves as MS 51's de facto schoolyard, lunchroom, social hub and outdoor gym. The boy, who was chatting with friends after school, was approached by a group of apparently older children at 3:20 pm. When a would-be mugger found only a stick of chewing gum in the boy's sweatshirt pocket, he took out his frustration by giving the younger boy a beating, leading to facial bruises, a black eye, three and a half hours in the Emergency Room (and a bruised young ego, too). The aggressors scattered after the attack and the younger students returned to MS 51, where parents were called and an ambulance summoned.
This morning, the boy's mother went to the school to speak with the principal -- and as she waited, another youngster came into the office to report an attempted assault on her way to school.
Sixth-graders at MS 51 and other schools citywide have new freedoms -- they may leave school for lunch, they may take public transportation, and they have time to socialize and visit with friends. But with freedom comes risk. "These kids are open targets, on their own for the first time, in the park," says parent Deborah Hodge, who says she was surprised to learn that her son's experience wasn't unique, and that other sixth graders had been victims of physical attacks near the school.
"All parents should know this," she said this afternoon, after talking with others whose kids have been roughed up. "If I had known what happened before, I might've acted differently." Ironically, Hodge says the physical freedom was one of the things that attracted her family to MS 51 -- but she rejects the notion that "you need to run from school to home," and feels her son, along with his schoolmates, should be safe and feel secure after school in the park. (NYPD officers are on hand intermittently, although they are not a daily presence.)
Editor's Note: the Safe Haven program on the Upper West Side is one community's response to similar challenges.
In today's Times, a retired social studies teacher and very proud papa got in trouble at Brooklyn Tech -- fined and reprimanded, for his decision as school librarian to showcase a comic-book version of 'Macbeth' his daughter had illustrated.
Whatever one feels about illustrated classics -- some turn their nose up at anything derivative, others say any route into literature is worth celebrating -- doesn't it seem the city might have better, more urgent, or more important things to do than pursue a public-school librarian for potential conflict of interest?
In a disturbing, cross-town coincidence, NY1 reports that students at three high schools have been exposed to pepper spray this week, with more than two dozen kids evaluated for complaints ranging from chest pains to burning eyes, and two 14-year-olds, in separate incidents, detained by the NYPD.
What are kids doing with pepper spray, and what are they doing bringing it to school?
The good news, from the DOE and the State, is that crime in the city's schools is on the wane: Of 25 city schools described as persistently dangerous by the State last year, 15 were removed from the list in light of improved safety and lower crime. The downside is that 11 city schools remain on the danger list. New York City also added more schools (six) to the state's list than any other area of the state.
In counterpoint, Comptroller William Thomson asserts that as many as one in five violent/criminal/safety incidents that occur in schools go improperly or incompletely reported. City leaders hope that a proposed amendment to the City Charter will improve school security by directing complaints of police misconduct to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (not the current norm) and requiring regular reporting on school violence to the DOE and NYPD.
In an article today, the Post documents a number of District 75 schools on the state's list -- D 75 schools enroll special need students with the most acute needs. Reports of persistent violence in D 75 schools, where staff ratios are far smaller than mainstream schools, raise difficult questions on all sides. And an AP story from am New York sets New York's improvements against a national canvas, noting without irony that the other 49 states document a total of 21 persistently dangerous schools compared to New York State's 19 (although reporting criteria vary from state to state).
Notably, despite pop-media visions of metal-detectors and box-cutter-wielding teens, "persistently dangerous" schools include elementary and middle schools, too. Under the provisions of NCLB, parents can request safety transfers for students enrolled at "dangerous" schools. But time is short before the start of school; those interested in seeking transfers should contact their school this week to explore the process.
Do-gooders are building 11 new playgrounds at Bronx elementary schools this summer, but parents of leaf-picking toddlers just might face summonses, like one unlucky mother in Chelsea. Five public school students, who grew up playing on city fields, were picked in the Major League Baseball draft and face a tough choice -- go pro or go to college -- while students at the Bronx Early College Academy, who'd hoped to earn college credits in high school, now learn that there may not be space for their high school at all come fall.The DOE and NYPD both report that crime is down in city schools, but a college-bound recent graduate was tragically shot and killed on the street in Rockaway yesterday. Brooklyn teens who gave their teachers a laxative-laced cake had their charges reduced while truly disturbing charges were filed against a teacher accused of abusing a disabled student.
Just when public hearings were scheduled on mayoral control of the schools, there is a bid for two new unions – one for public school parents and one for the students. Hard questions should be raised about bad record-keeping at the DOE and the ask-questions-later mentality of ACS workers. Outraged New Jerseyans questioned a superintendents’ golden retirement parachute, and some worry that questions about potential score inflation of New York standardized tests may never be answered.
Quiet week at Tweed and City Hall? Time for Times stories about higher education, like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. The Sun’s Elizabeth Green wrote about a well-regarded anonymous education blogger and the DOE’s “truth squad,” which monitors education blogs for net-speed inaccuracies.
Skewing to the summering-away crowd, the Times counsels parents not to worry if teens complain about the isolation of the family summer house -- once the kids go to college, they'll begin to enjoy the second home again. (Whew!) And in town, it seems that more parents are building mini-teen centers in their homes to keep their kids off the streets (and mini would be the operative word for most NYC apartments). But kids who created their own suburban summer fun are wrangling with lawyers instead of shagging wiffle balls. One, two, three strikes and we’re out! Have a great weekend.