2001-09-22 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk by Howard Schwach

From the Editor’s Desk by Howard Schwach

Everything else that is going on pales in the face of what happened at the World Trade Center on Tuesday. The terrorist attack made everything else seem trivial.

Life goes on, however, and I have to wonder why the public schools have become a little less public as of late.

The District 27 office has never been too forthcoming to The Wave, even about legitimate news stories, and I suppose that is partially my fault. Even before I became the paper’s managing editor, my writing angered school superintendent Matt Bromme. That is what happens when you tell the truth and officials do not want that truth known by the public.

I have always believed, however, that the public has a right to know just what is going on in their schools.

Obviously, Bromme does not agree. On Friday afternoon, I went back to my old school, MS 202 in Ozone Park, to get my paycheck. I was in the general office, waiting for the checks to arrive, when the new principal (who, by the way, is reportedly doing a great job at the school) got a call from Bromme. He then came out and told me that I would have to wait outside the building and that a secretary would bring the check outside to me when they came.

"You are a newspaper editor," the principal told me, "and you can’t stay in the building."

I protested that it was pouring outside and that I was not there as a newspaper person, but as a teacher on leave who still gets paid in that school.

The principal told me that he had his orders and that I would have to wait outside.

I did, and it took an hour for the checks to get there. Many of my old friends came out to visit me, angered that I was not allowed to wait in the office as others in the same circumstances were allowed to do.

Things, however, got worse. I was told by a number of people that Bromme’s orders were that nobody in any school could talk with the press without his permission.

The question that comes to mind immediately is, "What is Bromme afraid of?"

On Monday morning, an editor for The Wave called the district office to find how the schools are handling the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

That is a legitimate story for this paper to do, particularly since so many school children have been impacted by the attack, and one that we wanted to do in this week’s paper.

We wanted permission from Bromme to speak with some of the principals in Rockaway schools to get their take on what was going on.

We were trying to play the game by his rules.

Bromme’s secretary told the editor that we could have to call the Public Information Office at the central board before Bromme would even consider our request.

A call to the Central Board elicited the information that the only person who could grant that permission was away until the end of the week.

Have you every heard the word, "runaround?"

Principals are ordered not to talk to the press on any issue, even a positive issue, without Bromme’s permission. Bromme won’t give his permission without the approval of the central board and the central board people are never available.

At one time, this paper got dozens of pictures and stories about the good things that were going on in the schools and we published each and every one of them. We want to spotlight Rockaway kids and Rockaway schools.

Now, that might all be gone. It is my understanding that Bromme’s prohibition on talking to the press extends to those kinds of stories as well.

It that is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, who is the loser?

The loser is the kids and the schools, and ultimately, the parents of those students.

This newspaper’s job is to provide residents with information. Information about what is happening in the schools is a critical part of that job. We cannot do our job if officials try and hide what they are doing to the extent that no information passes from the schools to this paper.

You are the public. You have the absolute right to know what is going on in the public schools.

It is a simple idea, but it is an idea that is not accepted at the district office level.

That has got to change.

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