2004-11-19 / Front Page

MS 180 Principal Accused Of Manhandling Teacher

By Howard Schwach

A female teacher has accused John Comer, the new principal of Middle School 180 in Rockaway Beach, of manhandling her when she failed to stand in the school’s hallway during the change of class one day earlier this month.

Melissa Gianninoto says that she was stunned when Comer pulled her from her classroom and flung her into a wall in the hallway.

“I stepped from the hallway for a moment to quiet my class down and get them started on their lesson,” she told The Wave this week. “The principal came by and placed his hands on me. He pulled me out of the room and into the hallway.”

School rules require that teachers be in the hallway during “passing” to monitor students moving to their next class.

Gianninoto, who is a licensed Social Studies teacher and is assigned to teach Language Arts, said that she was ready to go to the 100 Precinct to file charges against Comer, but was dissuaded by colleagues and union officials who warned her that she would only cause herself more problems with the principal and would then be open to have her job terminated.

New teachers can be fired for small violations of DOE regulations under Department of Education guidelines. In fact, a guidebook on how to fire teachers was recently released secretly to all principals in the public school system.

Gianninoto did file an incident report with the school’s union representative, however and spoke to a union representative from another local school as well.

And, while no other adults were present to corroborate her story, a number of students witnessed the incident and told other teachers in the building about what had happened. Those teachers did corroborate the fact that witnesses supported her story.

Union officials also corroborated the fact that the incident report was filed on the day of the alleged incident.

When contacted for comment on the allegation, Region Five officials issued a prepared statement that read, “It is the policy of school that teachers remain in the hallways during passing.”

That statement did not address the question of the principal placing his hands on the teacher, something that is not allowed under Department of Education guidelines.

Gianninoto admitted that she had stepped into the classroom against rules to quiet her class.

She also admitted that she has had problems with the administration of the school in the past.

“I was observed a few weeks ago by the principal and we never had a post-observation conference as required by our contract,” she said. “Today, a secretary came to my room and asked me to sign the observation without reading it. She was in a hurry and told me not to read it, I did. The bottom of the observation noted that there had been a post-observation conference.”

Shortly after the alleged incident with Gianninoto, Comer issued a memo to all teachers and staff.

“Be aware no one is to call 911 without the permission of the principal or the principal’s designee,” the memo said, although Department of Education rules require teachers to report certain abuse and criminal activities to the police immediately.

Gianninoto told The Wave she believes that the principal is harassing her. She said that the union was working out a deal for her to be transferred to another school, but Department of Education officials deny that such a deal is in the works.

Comer declined to take phone calls for comment and did not return messages left with his secretary.

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