2004-01-02 / Community

New Plan Could Relieve Violence-Wracked Rockaway Schools

By Howard Schwach
New Plan Could Relieve Violence-Wracked Rockaway Schools By Howard Schwach

A 17-year-old youth comes to Middle School 180 with a loaded weapon. He threatens three other students, but only one student who witnessed the event comes forward. The school’s principal, George Giberti confronts the youth, who gives up his gun and is arrested. Shortly thereafter, the boy who told about the gun is badly beaten by several classmates in the school’s bathroom.

A teenage boy pushes his ex-girlfriend’s head into a Beach Channel High School trophy case, sending her to the hospital. He is arrested.

At Far Rockaway High School, 13 students are arrested after a melee that brings police officers to the building. Police have to use pepper spray to stop the riot. The day after that incident, another mini-riot breaks out at the school, with marauding students racing through the halls.

A Far Rockaway High school meeting between Chancellor Joel Klein and other school discipline experts, called to discuss the previous incidents, is interrupted when a 17-year-old boy in the school’s hallway refuses to provide identification to school security guards and has to be handcuffed and arrested to stop his screaming invective at the security officers. He is returned to the school by his mother later in the day, only to threaten violence to an assistant principal.

A female student is found in a Beach Channel High bathroom with 33 bags of marijuana.

Another female student was found bringing five razor blades into the BCHS building.

A female BCHS student is arrested for threatening an assistant principal with a knife.

Since September, BCHS has reported 170 "occurrences," including at least eleven that included students who threatened teachers or security officers.

Things got so bad, that BCHS principal Dr. David Morris got on the school’s loudspeaker system and told students that he was "disgusted with their behavior."

All of those events and like events in schools all over the city have finally drawn the interest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his hand-picked school staff.

Last week, Bloomberg announced a new, get-tough policy for students who disrupt their schools.

The mayor’s plan includes: a new and confidential school safety hot line that will be tied in with the city’s 311 system. The hot line will allow school personnel to report incidents of school violence; doubling the number of police officers and school security agents in "impact schools," those considered to be the most dangerous in the city; establishing "safety intervention teams" of outside experts and school safety officials to recommend turnaround plans for troubled schools; auditing school principals and making them accountable for how they handle violent episodes in their schools; immediately throwing students out of home schools for such things as illegal possession of a weapon or for assaulting other students or staff; a "three strikes and you’re out" program where students suspended for a third time in 24 months would be transferred to an alternative setting; creating at least eight alternative schools and suspension centers and proposing a change in state law to allow students to be suspended for a maximum of ten days rather than the five days that is presently allowed.

Community School Board president Steve Greenberg, who has long been concerned with school discipline issues, thinks that the plan is "great."

"The courts have gone out of their way to protect the kids who disrupt the schools," Greenberg told The Wave. "How about the rights of the 98 percent of the kids who want to learn?"

Greenberg says that he has seen discipline initiative before and that it will be "interesting to see if this plan is implemented in the way the mayor wants it implemented."

Teachers are more skeptical.

"The plan is great on paper," one local teacher who asked to remain anonymous, said. "We have seen lots of great plans on paper. Let’s wait and see how it works in the real world."

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