2002-12-28 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

A Brooklyn teacher sees a girl with a history of being disruptive walking down a school hallway during a class period. The teacher knows that the girl had previously slashed a classmate, that she is dangerous.

"Go back to class," the teacher says. "You belong in your classroom."

The girl curses the teacher.

The teacher moves towards the girl.

"I told you to get to your class," the teacher says.

The girl pushes the teacher into the wall, causing contusions that necessitate medical attention.

The student is suspended, only to be back in school the next day.

The reason the suspension is lifted?

"The teacher got in the girl’s face," a district official says. "She provoked the girl to attack her."

"I’m scared," the 28 year old teacher told reporters. "I don’t want this to be the end of my career."

A guidance counselor is attacked at MS 53 in Far Rockaway after trying to break up a fight in the hallway. The student that assaulted the counselor is reportedly not suspended.

A student in the In-House Suspense Program at MS 202 on the mainland is found with a box cutter. Donna Solomon, the school’s dean, calls the boy’s parent to come and take him home until his suspension hearing. The principal of the school orders her to call the parent to bring the child back to school.

"Nobody is getting suspended anymore, no matter what they do," Solomon, who is in her last year prior to retirement, told The Wave. "The kid is back in school as if nothing happened. Kids are assaulting teachers, hitting school security officers, there are no consequences, no suspensions."

At MS 226, another mainland school in District 27, attacks on teachers and gangs of kids roaming the hall at will got so bad that it brought citywide media and union notice.

There were reportedly three assaults on teachers over a two-day period a few weeks ago.

One teacher got hit with a rock. Another got torn ligaments after being knocked down and trampled by a large group of kids rampaging through the hallway.

A teacher was sexually assaulted when she tried to get an intruder out of her classroom.

There have been 28 reported incidents of attacks on teachers since September, according to union officials.

One teacher at the school, who asked not to be identified, sent me an email about the situation.

"Since Rhia Warren (the school’s ex-principal, who many say was forced out of the district by superintendent Matt Bromme) left the school, the school has gone to pot," she said. "Teachers are getting hurt on a daily basis and students frequently leave the buildings on stretchers."

"Come next September," the teacher says, "the only experienced teachers in the building will be those who can’t find a job in Nassau or can’t transfer to other districts."

"The school is dying," she adds.

I am no stranger to school violence. For seven years, I taught emotionally handicapped students, first in an elementary school in Coney Island and then at IS 53 in Far Rockaway.

I have been attacked with belts, knives, hammers, fists, feet, teeth, chairs, textbooks and once, even with a gun.

Often I came home with blood on my clothes. Most often, it was not my blood because I decided early out that there was no law that said that I had an obligation to be assaulted without defending myself, that nobody, not students nor parents had the right to assault me.

I lived through the 80’s, when many of the students at IS 53 (especially in the special ed unit) were "Five Percenter’s," a group that decided that it had in its membership the best and brightest five percent of the Black population. All Whites were "Yakoos (Devils) and teachers, specifically white teachers, were not to be obeyed. Members took on names such as "Born Wisdom, God Allah" and "Born Justice, God Allah" and refused to answer to their "slave names."

It was a hell of a time in our schools.

During the last five years prior to my retirement, I was a staff developer for a time for the district, working out of JHS 198, JHS 202 and JHS 226. The two latter schools are on the mainland.

When the administration changed and the staff development position disappeared, I landed at MS 202 as a teacher, programmer and attendance coordinator.

I give you that background only to show you that I have been around. I am no novice at the education game, and I am not easily surprised by what goes on in schools.

The recent events in local schools, however, have both angered and energized me.

It cannot go on.

A few weeks ago, we ran a front-page story on our two local high schools and their attempt to discharge young students who were "not making adequate progress towards graduation." In other words, they were dragging down the school’s scores.

A group called "Advocated For Children" has issued a press release on the problem and when I spoke to Elisa Hyman, the group’s spokesperson, I told her that I believed that her group had destroyed the schools by demanding rights for children who did not value anybody else’s rights.

I do not believe that a student who assaults teachers and other children deserves to remain in a traditional classroom setting. I do not believe that students who prove over and over again that they cannot handle a traditional school situation should remain in that situation.

The modern mantra that "All Children Can Learn," is not true. Those who don’t want to learn cannot do so.

Those who do not want to learn often disrupt others who do want to learn.

That cannot go on.

There have been all sorts of plans to address the problem. The 600 Schools worked well, but they were disbanded because the Advocates For Children sued the city on the grounds that there were too many minority children in the program and the city caved in.

The Second Opportunity Schools (SOS) program never got off the ground.

The new state law that was supposed to protect teachers is a joke. It is honored in its breach, never honored by being actually used in a school.

The chancellor’s new "get-tough" policy will also turn out to be a sham because administrators are too gun shy to actually do something to address the violence in the schools.

I will say again what I said a few weeks ago.

No changes in education will mean anything until the discipline question is addressed and settled.

That is a fact of life that must be addressed and addressed quickly.

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