2003-12-19 / Columnists

From the

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

Mike Bloomberg and the leaders who he chose to take over the New York City schools in a sweeping reorganization plan have become "The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight."

The mayor recently said that he should be given an "F" for the "lousy job" in the revamping of the school’s suspension system. He is right, but he did not go far enough. He and his chancellor, his deputy chancellor and his ten supervising administrators should all get an "F" for everything that they have done since taking over.

I would not have believed it, but they have done nothing right. Witness a few examples:

Anybody who has contact with the schools knows that the critical component to restoring parent’s faith in the system and in improving education is discipline.

If there were a grade lower than "F," Bloomberg and his minions would deserve to get it. Not that the previous administration had a clue as to what to do about the rampant crime and disruption in the school, but Bloomberg promised a brave new world and has produced nothing to show he even understands the problem.

Students who assault security officers, teachers and other students, are routinely put back into their schools. Thugs wander the halls of schools, waiting for their suspension hearings. At one school, a teenager who assaulted a teacher was in school the next morning. School administrators pointed out that it was alright, because he had only come in for breakfast and then he was supposed to go back home.

In a Brooklyn Elementary school, two kids who had brought a gun and a box cutter to school one day were back the next. Teachers were so incensed that they took their classes to the auditorium and refused to go to their classrooms until the kids left the building.

One thirteen year-old boy who had been suspended came back to school and caused so much trouble in the cafeteria that it took six adults to subdue him. He was back in school two days later.

One fight between girls at Far Rockaway High School got so out of hand last week that police called to the building had to use pepper spray to quell the mini-riot.

At least seven students were arrested. Some were reportedly back in school the next day when another fight broke out. A group of boys then reportedly "went wild," terrorizing the school until police again came.

Klein met at Far Rockaway High School on Monday with politicians and school experts.

During the meeting, a ninth grade student a floor above the meeting refused to provide identification and was so abusive he had to be arrested.

At MS 180, the student who told the principal that another student had a gun (The Wave tried to protect his existence in a front page story), was so badly beaten by other students that he had to be rushed to the hospital.

What’s the answer? Remember the "600 Schools," where thugs who terrorized their home schools were sent for long periods of time? Off-duty police officers working as school aides made sure the kids behaved. They even took them to the bathroom. The schools were done away with because there were too many minority kids being admitted. It was a politically- correct decision, not an educational one. We should bring back those schools. The Second Opportunity Schools (SOS) promised by the last administration have never materialized.

Even the school security officers are frightened by what is going on in their schools.

One SSO, who served six years in the Army, told The New York Post that working in city high schools is like "being in a war zone without a weapon."

"We don’t have mace, we don’t have a baton, we’re going in blind," the SSO said, after being assaulted by some students who were wandering the hall during class time.

Perhaps, now that the spotlight is shining on the problem, something will be done.

Even Congressman Anthony Weiner has jumped on board the problem.

"No one disputes that reorganization can be a complicated process, but in this case, the Department of Education has dropped the ball," Weiner said. Letting bullies terrorize our schools is every parent’s nightmare, but we’re finding that in schools across the city, the nightmare has come true."

"Letting students who disrupt the classroom walk the halls for weeks without punishment teaches all of our kids, especially the bullies, exactly the wrong message," Weiner adds. "That message is that you can do wrong and get away with it. When it comes to school safety, the Department of Education has dropped the ball."

Not only has the mayor dropped the ball on the discipline question, he and his school leaders are about to drive thousands of the brightest students right out of the school system.

Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam sent parents into a tailspin two weeks ago when she announced offhandedly that the Department of Education is working to "expand the definition of what it means to be gifted and talented."

While school officials say that they are not sure what Lam means, every parent in the city knows exactly what that shorthand message means.

What Lam really was saying in her own, politically-correct way was, "there are too many White kids and Asians in the gifted programs and we’re going to redefine the programs so that more minorities can gain entrance, even if they don’t belong there."

What will happen then? Either parents whose kids are in gifted programs will be driven to the private and parochial schools or they will sell their homes and move to other areas where they have access to those programs.

Watering down the gifted programs, or doing away with them entirely, as some in the Department of Education want to do, will simply make the system more-minority, more in need of assistance.

When hundreds of parents jammed one parent meeting in another district to complain about doing away with the program, they were told by a Department official that the programs would remain in place for at least one more year, but there could be no promise about gifted programs after the 2004-2005 school year.

Even in the area of sports, the Department has literally dropped the ball. A recent ruling allows public school students to transfer at any time from one school to another.

Eugene Lawrence played basketball for Canarsie. Now, he plays for powerhouse Lincoln because he wants the kind of public attention a program like Lincoln’s can bring.

We all know what is going to happen next. Lots of good players on poor teams will transfer to other schools, not for a better education, but for a better sports program. Is that what the Department really wants? Apparently so.

There are countless other examples of ineptitude in what is happening. The mayor has said that he will accept responsibility for what happens in the schools. Perhaps, he should begin to update his resume.

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