2002-11-30 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

It doesn’t matter much that the mayor has taken over the school system or that a task force appointed by the legislature is going to replace schools boards with yet another entity for community control. It does not matter what report cards are used, nor what standards are addressed. It does not matter which curriculum is addressed or what textbooks are used. It does not matter that the teachers are certified or uncertified. It does not even matter who heads the individual schools or the district office.

None of those things now matter and none of them will ever amount to more than a hill of beans until the discipline issue is settled and settled once and for all.

Kids cannot learn and teachers cannot teach as long as juvenile thugs are allowed to run roughshod over the city’s public schools.

And, make no mistake about it. That is exactly what is happening right now, as you read this. The thugs have taken over and everybody from the legislature to the chancellor to the district superintendent to the principals, are afraid to admit that fact or to even speak about it in rational terms.

Those of you who were fans of School Scope remember some of the things I wrote about that occurred in a "good" district school prior to my retirement.

I wrote about the male student who sexually assaulted a young female. He was arrested, but he could not be suspended because he had been suspended three times before during the year. He returned to school and stalked the young girl, continually telling her that he was going to do it to her again and again. He accosted her on the staircase. He walked into her classrooms. The girl’s mother went to the district superintendent who told her that there was nothing he could do. She went to the chancellor, who told her that there was nothing he could do. Finally, she threatened to go to the New York Post. The Post called the superintendent, asking for comment. The male student was gone in a day to a Brooklyn school.

Then, there was the case of a 6 foot three-inch male special ed student who pushed a pencil into a female student’s eye, assaulted two female teachers and then went after me. He threatened me, pushed me into a wall and called my wife and mother some pretty bad names. The principal called up his father and told him that it had to stop. It did not. He destroyed the work of other students and assaulted students and teachers at will. He walked the halls all day, never going to class. He spent three periods a day in the lunchroom, often causing mass fights in that large room.

I was told that he had been suspended and that, because he was a special ed student, he could not be suspended again unless he used a weapon.

After I wrote two columns about him and after I was investigated by the superintendent (who did not believe that I was telling the truth), he was transferred out of the school, ending his reign of terror at that school and reportedly starting one at his new school.

More recently, we have the story about a pregnant teacher who was told by a student that he would "kick the baby out of her belly" just before he assaulted her. He was back in her classroom two days later.

We have a story about a 13-year-old junior high student who beat a teacher so badly that she had to be hospitalized. The student had just come to that school after being transferred from another local school where she had slashed another student with a box cutter.

We have the stories of kids being knifed in their classrooms.

We have the stories of teachers demonstrating in front of their schools because they are afraid to teach.

We have stories about a teacher hit in the head with a brick for telling a student to be quiet in class.

We have a story about two young brothers assaulting a teacher sending him to the hospital.

We have stories about young teachers leaving the system in droves because they cannot teach. They cannot teach because their classrooms are dominated by thugs who will not let them do their jobs.

We have stories about students who refuse to go to school because they are afraid of being assaulted.

We have the story of a young girl in a Brooklyn high school who refused to go to school because she had been threatened. The school’s solution was to get the two girls together and make them shake hands. The girl who did the threatening was never suspended. After the hand-shaking, the girl who was afraid to go to school was again accosted. She was reportedly told that she could be assaulted at any time and that "the school can’t do anything about it."

"This is just nonsense," the student told a reporter. "I have a 90 average. I am not the type to fight. I go to class and work hard. There are just too many fights in school. Why do I have to be afraid all the time?"

That is the question that the educational community should be addressing rather than the question of who will control the schools.

The answer to that question is that the schools are controlled by a small percentage of thugs and will continue to be controlled by those thugs until the powers-that-be decide to address that problem.

What is the response to all this from the new Department of Education?

"Crime is down in the schools," a spokesperson says. "We are addressing the problem.

They are addressing the problem with more security officers, with cameras in the schools.

Those are band-aide solutions. The thugs need to be removed from the schools.

For once, the UFT has the right idea. The teacher’s union has asked that the disciplinary rules by enforced strictly.

They asked that real, effective alternative education sites and programs be developed.

They asked that students who are continually disruptive be moved out of the schools to alternative sites.

There once was a program called the "Six Hundred Schools." They were called that because all of those truly alternative schools had designations in the 600 range.

Everybody knew what those schools were and who they were for. The kids who were taken from the schools where they were disruptive and were placed in a 600 school were met each morning by off-duty and retired cops who shook them down for weapons and drugs. Nobody went to the bathroom without an adult tagging along. The classes were small. Paraprofessionals in each room to assist the teacher were law enforcement specialists.

Infractions of the rules were dealt with quickly and severely. It was a real learning experience for the students and most quickly repented and were sent back to their regular schools.

In today’s politically correct society, however, the idea of 600 schools is an anathema. There were too many minority kids in the school. They were often not treated nicely by staff. Sometimes, they were even yelled at and made to lose their self-esteem. Heavens, what a terrible place.

Where are the 600 schools today, when we need them so badly? Gone to flower, every one.

If the politicians want all the other aspects of education to matter, first, they are going to have to bring back the 600 schools.

Just as The Wave was going to press this week, Chancellor Joel Klein announced new, though discipline standards. They sound good on paper, but so did the new law that protected teachers, and that was honored more in the breach than in than in anything else.

It remains to be seen whether Klein’s new standards for discipline will mean anything more than the paper it is printed on.

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