Local High Schools Under Siege
Both Far Rockaway High School and Beach Channel High School have become famous in the past few weeks, not for their academic or athletic prowess, but for a wave of violence that has been chronicled not only in this paper but in the daily papers as well.
On Friday, December 19, David Morris, the newly-appointed principal of Beach Channel High School, reportedly took to the school’s loudspeaker to warn the students that he was no longer going to tolerate inappropriate and violent behavior.
According to a parent who was in the school at the time, but asked to remain anonymous, Morris told students, "I am disgusted with your behavior." he reportedly added, "There are a core number of you who do not want to learn. If you are not interested in learning, we don’t want you here."
Morris also detailed the percentage of students who are failing and who disrupt other students and keep them from learning.
The principal, who took over the school in October, when former principal Barbara Pleener was forced to resign, was reacting to a number of reported incidents at the school, including two the previous day – an assault in which a teenage boy pushed his ex-girlfriend’s head into a trophy case, sending her to the hospital and bringing him under arrest, and a marijuana bust in which a student was found in a school bathroom with 33 small bags of the controlled substance.
Other reported incidents at the school in the past few weeks included at least 11 instances of students hitting or threatening teachers or security officers, a female student who threatened an assistant principal with a knife, a female student who came into the building with five razor blades, a male student who was found with brass knuckles and a drunk male student who sexually assaulted a female student in a stairwell by groping her.
In total, Beach Channel High School has reported 170 "occurrence reports" with the Department of Education since September.
Kathleen Cashin, the Supervising administrator for Region Five, however, told a group of parents at MS 180 last week, that she felt safe in placing sixth graders into the school next year.
Cashin said that her plan to start a grades 6-12 "Channel View Academy" at the school was viable because the administrative changes that had been made had stabilized the school and that, while "there are safety concerns" at the building, it is basically safe for the younger students.
Scott Pecoraro, the UFT Chapter Chairperson at Beach Channel High School, told The Wave that he is glad that nobody had really been hurt in the recent incidents.
He pointed out that the only direction the school has had of late from Joan Gordon, the region’s instructional supervisor for the school, was to insure that the bulletin boards in the school set a positive tone.
"Rome is burning, and all Gordon is concerned about are bulletin boards," Pecoraro says derisively.
While he is concerned about younger children in the school, he says that he "hopes that Cashin can deliver on her promises."
"If she can, that’s fine," he adds. "If not, then we’re back to square one."
Far Rockaway High School gained its notoriety the week previous, when city officials and school officials met at the school to discuss school violence issues.
That meeting was spurred by an incident at the school in which 13 students were arrested for rioting in the school. Police had to use pepper spray to quell the violence.
During the meeting, which was attended by such notables as UFT President Randi Weingarten, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, School Safety Chief Gerald Nelson and CSA Vice President Ernie Logan, a 17-year-old student in the hallway between classes refused to show his identification to school security officers and was asked to accompany the SSO’s to the dean’s office.
He refused and became abusive to the officers, yelling, cursing, screaming and threatening school staff.
He was eventually subdued and handcuffed, but not before those at the meeting and reporters waiting to speak with them were given a first-hand look at the school violence problem.
The boy was taken to the 101 Precinct, where he met with his mother and was given a desk appearance ticket. He went back to the school with his parent, where he reportedly once again had to be removed after verbally abusing an assistant principal.
He is reportedly back in school this week, after a five-day suspension.
On Wednesday of this week, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Randi Weingarten got together on the steps of Washington Irving High School in Manhattan to announce a "get tough" plan for the city’s schools.
"This is a growing problem," Miller said. "No matter what the Department of Education says, there’s a growing problem of school violence."
Miller’s plan calls for a significant jump in the number of school safety officers and a "zero tolerance policy" for violent and disruptive students.
Chancellor Joel Klein responded to Miller’s comments by saying, "people should stay focused on what the realities are." Klein told reporters that while school crime was up "slightly," assaults in the schools were down nearly ten percent from last year.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who earlier said that he "had dropped the ball on school violence," announced a new plan last week that would take violent students from their schools and place them in newly-created "reform schools or suspension centers."
"Every student has the right to seek an education in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation," Bloomberg added. "The plan we are announcing will turn around the schools most plagued by disruptive students and criminal behavior. It will identify problem students and send the message that disorder will not be tolerated. [Disruptive students] will be dealt with swiftly, appropriately and removed from school when necessary."
Those "New Beginning" schools will be placed in each borough, according to a Department of Education spokesperson.
Dr. Cashin, at a meeting last week, promised to get a New Beginning school for Rockaway.
Teachers, however, are skeptical of the new plans. They have seen "600 Schools," come and go. They have lived through the proposed "Second Opportunity Schools," which never materialized. They have seen other "Discipline Plans" go by the board.
"In the 30 years I’ve been at the school, morale has never been lower," Ray Taruskin, the UFT Chapter Leader at Far Rockaway High School told a reporter for the union’s newspaper. "New teachers who started all gung-ho are now ready to leave. They’ll go anyplace but here."