2003-10-24 / Columnists

From the

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk By Howard Schwach

Claude Monereau is an assistant principal at Beach Channel High School. I should say, that he was an assistant principal at BCHS until he was removed from that position early in the new semester by Kathy Cashin, who is the new Supervising Administrator for Region Five, which includes the school.

Barbara Pleener, the newly-appointed principal for the troubled school, reportedly requested Monereau be pulled from the school when he was insubordinate to her and threatened that he would get her out of the school.

He denies the charge, but past history shows that he has undermined several of the past principals by going to the parents and students for support for the top job.

The NAACP, Lew Simon and City Council candidate Everly Brown have declared the controversy a racial issue.

It is clearly not a racial issue, however.

Early this year, a few months after Andrea Holt, a Black women, was appointed principal of BCHS, Monereau and another assistant principal, Regine Lifranc, came to The Wave office to discuss Holt and what the two perceived as her weaknesses.

The two administrators were interviewed by myself, associate editor Gary Toms and sports editor Elio Velez.

It quickly became clear to all of us that Monereau wanted to be principal and that he wanted The Wave to assist him in undermining Holt.

In fact, at one point he suggested that we run an editorial demanding that he be immediately appointed as the principal.

He told us that Holt would be out as of February first, and that he was the only person qualified for the job and that both the parents and the students were demanding that he get the job.

Holt took over the top job at the school in September. On November 26, reportedly at the urging of Monereau, the school’s parent association sent a letter to John Lee, who was then the head of Queens high schools, asking him to appoint Monereau as principal. On October 9, Lifranc (who is involved in the current controversy on Monereau’s side as well), wrote a letter to Chancellor Joel Klein, citing Holt’s disdain for the minority students in the school and urging that she be removed from the school.

On November 26, six of the school’s assistant principals, including Monereau and Lifranc, wrote a letter to Chancellor Klein. Only one of the school’s AP’s refused to sign the letter. The letter again pointed out Holt’s shortcomings and asked that she be removed.

At the same time, students were preparing petitions demanding that Monereau be named principal.

When one parent wrote to The Wave complaining that her son was coerced into signing the petition by a social studies teacher who promised an improved grade, other parents and school staff denied the charge.

A long-time staffer, however, came to The Wave to say that Holt was doing a good job, but that she was being undermined by some of the school’s other administrators.

"Holt came to this school as the new person in town," the staffer said. "She needed the support of her assistant principals and she did not get it. They came down on her and say that she is not doing her job, but she has been here for three months. The people who are undermining her are doing so for their own agenda."

"They attacked her right from the beginning and convinced the parents that she was not doing a good job," he added. "This has been a turf war from the very beginning, and the kids are going to suffer for it."

On February 8 of this year, after Holt was forced out, John Marcus was appointed by Lee as the acting principal.

Monereau was one of those who was being interviewed for the job, despite the fact that he reportedly does not hold a permanent license for the job (The Wave has not been able to corroborate this fact because the Department of Education consistently refuses requests for information about Monereau, Pleener, or anything else involved with the controversy).

After going through the C-30 process, Pleener was chosen for the job in September, rather than Monereau.

There is no way of finding out why that choice was made, since C-30 processes are confidential and private. It is against the law to speak out about what happens during the process.

Suffice it to say that Monereau was reportedly not happy with the outcome.

By the beginning of October, the assistant principal (who is also a Rockaway resident, by the way), was removed from the building and reassigned to the Region Five office in Ozone Park.

The NAACP (where Monereau is a member) quickly called an emergency meeting for Wednesday, October 15.

"This is outrageous," Ed Williams the local NAACP chapter’s head told Post reporter Carl Campanile. "Mr. Monereau is a pillar of the community. The principal has to go."

The Post reported the story under the headline, "HS ‘Race’ Furor."

The lead says, "A racially charged battle has exploded at a Rockaway high school, with the NAACP and parent leaders calling for the ouster of its new white principal, who bounced a popular black staff member."

In that article, Monereau charged that he had been removed because he’s "too popular with the kids and parents."

"She has a problem with me because she sees me as a threat," Monereau told the meeting. I never said that I was going to get her (Pleener) out of the school."

He said that he was cheered and Pleener was booed at at recent tenth grade assembly. He added that Pleener told him that he was cheered only because he’s black.

The next morning, a number of adults, including Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, City Council candidate Everly Brown and other local activists picketed the school, demanding that Monereau be made principal and that Pleener be sent packing.

At lunchtime, a number of students walked out of the building in support of Monereau and a number of small fires were reportedly started in the building in a effort to trigger a fire drill that would take all of the students out.

While officials convinced many of the students to reenter the building, many others simply took off.

An emergency parent association meeting also called for Pleener’s dismissal and Monereau’s reinstatement to the building with his appointment as principal.

It seems to me that Monereau has been manipulating both the parents and the students to get what he ultimately sees as his due – the principal ship of the school.

He worked to undermine a black principal – Andrea Holt – just as he worked to undermine the new white principal.

Race obviously has nothing to do with it.

The NAACP is now attempting to tar Pleener’s reputation by saying that she was removed from Jamaica High School for "creating a hostile sexual atmosphere" for a male teacher . The Wave has received documents that show Pleener was called to a Department of Education, Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) hearing on the charge, but was never formally charged with sexual harassment or with anything else. The OEO hearing was administrative in nature, not a disciplinary hearing, nor one that could impose any discipline on Pleener. The OEO simply hears cases and makes recommendations to the Chancellor.

The OEO hearing did decide that Pleener had subjected a gym teacher named Dewitt Thompson to what it called "a hostile sexual environment (see page one story).

Pleener, who was never disciplined for the charge, accepted a transfer to the Queens High School Office in 1999 until "an appropriate school" was found for her to once again be a principal.

Sources close to Pleener deny the charges.

That is neither here nor there in relation to the new controversy.

What is happening now is what happened when Holt was principal, and probably when Marcus was made acting principal.

It is a shame that it has been made into a racial issue by the NAACP, Lew Simon and Everly Brown. That serves the students and their parents poorly, and they should apologize to the entire school population for the harm it has done the school.

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