2003-10-24 / Front Page

BCHS Principal Created A 'Hostile Sexual Environment' Pleener Never 'Charged' For Actions At Jamaica High School, Sources Say

By Howard Schwach
BCHS Principal Created A ‘Hostile Sexual Environment’

BCHS Principal Created A 'Hostile Sexual Environment'
Pleener Never 'Charged' For Actions At Jamaica High School, Sources Say


BCHS principal Barbara Pleener,  in happier times upon taking over the school in September. She is now charged with racism by parents and activists and her past has come back to haunt her.BCHS principal Barbara Pleener, in happier times upon taking over the school in September. She is now charged with racism by parents and activists and her past has come back to haunt her.

Barbara Pleener, the newly-appointed principal of Beach Channel High School, now under fire for "racism" in the dismissal of a Black assistant principal, was cited by the Department of Education's Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) in June of 1999 for "creating a hostile sexual environment" for a male physical education teacher at Jamaica High School, where she was then principal.

Sources close to Pleener, however, told The Wave that Pleener was never "charged" in that case, that the hearing was an administrative one rather than a trial.

"Pleener was never charged with anything," the source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said. "She was never charged, she was never disciplined as a result of the case. She simply accepted a transfer to the Queens High School Office in 1999 until an appropriate placement as a principal could be made.

In a letter to physical education teacher Dewitt Thompson, dated June 10, 1999, a document recently obtained by The Wave, however, the OEO's Stephen Mitchell wrote, "According to your complaint, during basketball games, she made a point of wearing a fox coat and walking across the gym floor to sit behind you. She would hug you after each game and showered attention on your team by providing private tutoring, dinner and a Broadway play. She subjected you to adverse employment when you invited your girl friend to a school game. She cut team funding; subjected you to screaming fits; threatened to discontinue junior varsity; devised an absurd teaching schedule, all of which resulted in the loss of your job as a coach of basketball; and discontinued the junior varsity team altogether."


Parents and other local residents picket outside Beach Channel High School last week. They are demanding the removal of principal Barbara Pleener and the appointment of former assistant principal Claude Monereau, who Pleener banished to the district office.Parents and other local residents picket outside Beach Channel High School last week. They are demanding the removal of principal Barbara Pleener and the appointment of former assistant principal Claude Monereau, who Pleener banished to the district office.

"In reviewing your statements and the evidence and statements of others, the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) found reasonable cause to believe you were subjected to a hostile sexual environment."

As is its practice, the OEO forwarded a "recommendation for corrective action" to the office of the chancellor.

After the hearing, Pleener accepted the transfer to the Queens High School Office.

According to the source, no further action was ever taken.

Calls to the Department of Education to ascertain what recommendation was made to Chancellor Rudolph Crew went unreturned.

Thompson, who is now retired, agreed to speak on the record with The Wave.

"I had a nice career at Jamaica High School before Pleener came to us from Bayside High School," Thompson said. "She wanted to sue me for slander and she wounded me deeply."

Thompson said that Pleener "beat me into the ground because I would not go out with her."

He added, "Her pursuit of me was so obvious and blatant, particularly at basketball games, that one of my students made a comment about the supposed relationship between me and the principal."

Thompson says that his problems started when he brought a woman with whom he had a four-year relationship to a Sunday basketball game at Westbury.

"Once she realized that we were not going to have a relationship," he said, everything, including her support of the team, ended."

James Eterno, the union's chapter chairperson at Jamaica High School, confirmed Thompson's story.

"That was a microcosm of how she ran the school," Eterno said. "It was a serious misuse of power."

Eterno added that Pleener was also placed under a trusteeship program by the Department of Education for "anti-union activities."

Pleener, as with all other Department of Education officials, is not allowed to speak with the media without the permission of the department and could not respond directly to Thompson's comments without that permission.

Pleener is under fire from parents and local activists for the removal of assistant principal Claude Monereau from the school.

Monereau and his supporters have charged Pleener with racism and with the removal of the assistant principal because she believed that he was a rival for her job.

In fact, documents on file at The Wave reveal that Monereau has attempted to undermine the authority of at least two of the school's principals, one of whom is Black.

"This is not racism," said Beach Channel High School union chapter chairperson David Pecararo. "This is a political disagreement between two members of CSA (the supervisor's union)."

On Tuesday, parent activists picketing the school in the morning handed out leaflets urging students to remain out of school until Monereau is made principal of the school.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, commenting on the controversy, said, "Order has to be restored. We need a quality educational system for students, and hopefully, adults won't get in the way."

Kathleen Cashin, the supervising administrator of Region Five, which oversees all of the Rockaway schools, was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson said that she still fully supports the embattled principal.


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