2003-10-31 / Columnists

From the

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

Parents with children at Beach Channel High School and the community at large have the right to know what is going on at that school.

Unfortunately, local politicians, the Region Five office and the Department of Education are doing everything in its power to keep both the parents and the community in the dark.

Despite the fact that Mayor Mike Bloomberg says that he wants his administration to be the "most transparent (read, open) government ever, it has become exactly the opposite.

Over the past week, we have called a number of city agencies to gather information about the controversy – information that our readers will need in order to make an informed decision about what should be done to address the problem as well as information simply needed to understand what is going on. It is the role of a newspaper such as The Wave to provide that information – especially in the face of a daily paper that keeps saying that there is a racial issue involved with the controversy.

We called the Region Five office, the headquarters of Regional Superintendent Kathleen Cashin, the woman who appointed Barbara Pleener to the school and who removed assistant principal Claude Monereau.

We asked some simple questions to be passed on to Cashin: When was Pleener appointed? Did she go through the C-30 Process (the mandated process for parental involvement in choosing a principal), or was she simply an "Interim Acting Principal?" Was a C-30 Process for the school in the works? Did Cashin know about Pleener’s problems at Jamaica High School prior to the appointment? Why did she remove Monereau and at whose urging? Did she still support Pleener despite the facts that came out last week?

We have been waiting more than a week now for answers to those questions. While Pleener gave up the principalship of BCHS last Friday, shortly after The Wave hit the stands with the story of her transgressions at Jamaica High School, most of those questions are still germane.

We called the Department of Education’s press office and asked the same question. We are still waiting for a call back.

We called the Department of Education’s Office of Equal Opportunity simply to ask about the process for holding hearings and making recommendations after the hearings are completed. We are still waiting for a call back.

School security officers attempted to keep a Wave reporter from taking pictures at the special meeting held a week ago. City Councilman James Sanders barred The Wave from a special meeting he held on the controversy at the First Church of God.

What are these people afraid of?

Don’t they believe that the public has a right to know what is going on at a public school and that papers such as The Wave are the natural conduit for that information? Or, don’t they care?

While Sanders apologized to The Wave for keeping its reporter from the meeting, it still behooves public officials to allow for full access to all public meetings and for full disclosure on public issues.

As a retired schoolteacher, I find it hard to understand why school officials cover up activities in the school.

How could Cashin appoint a principal at a Rockaway school (or any school, for that matter) without going through the C-30 Process? She knows the law and the fact that acting principals must be designated as Acting Interim (IA). Pleener was never designated as IA in any of Cashin’s statements, nor on the letters she sent to parents early in the school year. In fact, she said that she had been appointed to the school.

How could Cashin, in good conscience, appoint a woman to a troubled school who had been at the district office since 1999, when she was found to have "created a hostile sexual environment" for a Jamaica High School gym teacher while she was principal at that school? Didn’t Cashin know that Pleener had been sanctioned for "anti-union activities" while she was at Jamaica High School? Did Cashin not know of her transgressions? Wasn’t she at all curious as to why Pleener was at the office for so many years? How could that be? The answer is, it could not be and Cashin did know of Pleener’s problems, of her anti-union activity.

Unlike others who wanted Pleener to go, I do not want her replaced with Claude Monereau. The assistant principal, who has tried to undermine a series of Beach Channel High School principals, including Andrea Holt (who is Black), has no place in the school – certainly not as the principal, and not even as an assistant principal who would be in position to undermine whoever is appointed to the school on a permanent basis.

What that troubled school needs now is an acting principal who can calm the tempest by working with all of the constituents on change. Then, it needs an open and above-board C-30 Process so that the parents can have a legitimate say in who gets the permanent job.

Lew Simon said in his column last week that the C-30 Committee that met last year sent three names to Cashin: Monereau, Bob Comer and Bob Kane. According to Simon, all three were rejected. Under the regulation, Cashin would then have to go back to the committee and give her reasons for rejecting the three and asking for up to five more names.

Instead, Simon charges, Cashin did an around-end with the committee and appointed Pleener.

I really don’t know if that is true. The workings of the C-30 committee are closed by law, something I never agreed with in the first place. And, certainly, Cashin is not speaking. What we have left is the proverbial "smoke-filled room" that allows decisions that affect the public to be made in private among fewer than a dozen people.

By the way, that is the way our new "District Leadership Teams," that will replace the community school districts, will be chosen – behind closed doors by fewer than 20 people.

Change is often good, but not when it makes things worse than they were prior to the change. Mayor, please take note. You have created a one-headed monster and it is your head (or job) that is on the line.


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