PS 114 Parents Talk Boycott
By Howard Schwach
Spurred by what parents are calling an "administrative nightmare," and the three-day suspension of a fifth grader who showed a friend a bright yellow plastic Nerf gun and was suspended for three days, many of those fifty parents present at a parent association meeting last Tuesday night called for a one-day boycott of the school to force Education Department officials to hear their plea for something to be done to address the parent’s problems with principal Lisa Vecchione.
"We have tried every way we could to address the problems we face with this principal within the system," says Keith Goldberg, the association’s treasurer. "We have notified Matt Bromme and the central board of the problem. We have received no help. "Among the remedies we are now considering is a boycott of the school."
When the question of a boycott was brought to the floor of the meeting, Gerry Magee, one of the co-presidents of the PA asked the crowd, "Are you really willing to keep your kids out of school for a day," and the resounding answer from the crowd was a "yes."
Magee told The Wave that they have tried everything in their power to bring the problems with Vecchione to city officials.
"We sent a package detailing all of the safety issues and the principal’s lack of interest in parental input to the chancellor after the first day of school," she said. "We met with Burt Sachs from the Chancellor’s office four times, once with Bromme, Mary Weinstein (the deputy superintendent) and the principal. We were told that there were procedural things that had to be done and that we would hear something from the chancellor by January 1. Now, Sachs is gone (to work for the UFT), Bromme is gone and we have no place to turn."
While the precipitating incident for the latest anger against principal Vecchione was the suspension of 10-year-old Robert C., a fifth grader at the school, the parents at the meeting had numerous grievances against the principal and cited her actions for the lack of morale on the part of the staff and the falling test scores at the school.
According to Robert’s father, Dr. John Neil Carter, his son was sitting in the cafeteria with the rest of the grade, watching Cinderella on video as a lunchtime activity.
His son had brought to school a bright yellow, plastic Nerf gun, designed to shoot soft sponge pellets. He had no pellets with him at the time. Robert took out the toy to show a classmate and was seen by an adult, who took him and the gun to the Vecchione.
According to Carter, his son was made to write and sign a statement without the parents being notified, something that the father says is against the school’s own regulations.
At the meeting, a parent rose to question Vecchione about the fact that her son was called to the office to write and sign a statement about another incident, an alleged problem with a teacher.
"How can you ask a child to sign a statement against a teacher without calling the parents," she asked.
"That is not what I am speaking here about," the principal said. ""Give me a call on Thursday morning and perhaps we can have a discussion," she said. She then left the auditorium without taking further questions.
A parent at the meeting cited her actions that night as an example of her feelings about parent involvement.
"She is hostile to parents," the parent said. "She would rather we would go away and leave her alone to do what she wants."
The school has had six principals in the past six years and has changed assistant principals three times during the same period.
Parents charge that Assistant Principal Wayne Greenberg, who worked well with the parents, was removed from the school earlier in the year because "he had kept a dossier on Vecchione that he took to Bromme."
Parent leaders say that Greenberg was removed shortly thereafter.
The parents were told that it was "a mutual agreement between the superintendent and Greenberg," but most of the parents believed that he was forced out because of his complaints about Vecchione.
"Our problems with Vecchione sound so simple, but they are part of the disease that has gripped this school," Dr. Carter told the meeting. "We have to do something to make our environment here at school a better place for our kids."
In one case, parents say, the principal had removed two classes of third graders from their rooms while fourth graders took a standardized test in the same area.
"Those kids were made to sit in the auditorium for two full days," a parent association member says. "There was no way they could work, because other kids were in there to watch movies during lunch each day and when teachers were absent."
They also say that Vecchione "locked down the school" during the tests, not allowing any other class to move during the testing period.
When the parent of a new student wanted to walk her child to his new classroom, however, she refused to allow the parent to do so, causing such a racket that the parent took the child from the school, according to parents who were present at the time.
"We teach our kids to work cooperatively with each other from Kindergarten on," a parent said. "It seems that the principal hasn’t learned that lesson yet."
Vecchione’s problems at the school began on the first day of school in September. On that day, a young boy was "lost" for more than an hour when he somehow got on the wrong bus.
When his parents came to the school, Vecchione reportedly ignored her and her husband because she was at a meeting in her office. When she came from her office about an hour after the parents arrived, the child’s sobbing mother accosted her in the hall, allegedly placing her hand on the principal’s shoulder.
Vecchione had her arrested for assault, a charge what was later thrown out by a judge.
In the latest incident, the principal called the police and demanded that the toy gun be vouchered and that the child be arrested. The police issued a juvenile card to the young boy, something that could stay on his record until the end of his school career.
Carter told The Wave that his son was punished for bringing the toy to school.
"He understands that he was wrong," Carter says. "He does not understand why it was such a big deal that he was suspended for it."
He father has a problem understanding that as well.
"She said that the toy was a Class I Weapon, which includes machine guns, automatic handguns and box cutters," he said. "I don’t understand how a toy Nerf gun can fit into that category."
Education Department spokesperson Margie Feinberg told The Wave on Wednesday that the principal’s action was "entirely appropriate."
"The Chancellor’s Code of Conduct is clear," Feinberg said. "Imitation guns, even toy plastic guns, are not allowed in school. The principal has two options: a principal’s suspense or a superintendent’s suspense. She chose the former, and it was appropriate under the circumstances."
Feinberg added that the schools "always value parental input," and that parents can find out about the code through their school or through the Education Department’s website.
Despite the Education Department’s assertion that parental input is valued, PS 114 Parent Association officials do not believe that is true at their school.
"We have a definite leadership problem in this school," PA co-president Helen Killgalen told the meeting. "We have a principal who will not respect the leadership team or parents. We have to do something and nobody in power seems to want to help us. We have tried everything in the book and we are still experiencing the problem."