City Moves For Summary Judgment In Pleener Case
By Howard Schwach
After two years of moving through the courts, New York City has filed a motion asking for summary judgment in the case of a former Beach Channel High School principal, who was ordered from the school after civic leaders and students picketed for her removal and who was later fired by School Chancellor Joel Klein. In March of 2005, Barbara Pleener filed a suit in federal court arguing that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the conduct of Claude Monereau, a black assistant principal at Beach Channel High School, where Pleener was principal.
This week, Kimberly Miu, a spokesperson for the city's Law Department, told The Wave that the city recently completed a summary judgment motion and that the court would now take some time to consider that motion.
"There is no timeline," Miu said, "That is up to the court."
A summary judgment would mean the dismissal of Pleener's suit and a vindication for Regional Superintendent Kathleen Cashin and Chancellor Joel Klein.
Claude Monereau, an assistant principal at the school had lobbied hard for the position, meeting with local politicians and institutions, including The Wave, urging that they assist him in being appointed principal.
As part of that campaign, a number of teachers and students wrote letters to the Department of Education undermining Holt's administration and pointing out her failings.
On November 26, 2002, for example, reportedly at the urging of Monereau, the school's parent association wrote a letter to John Lee, who was then the Superintendent of Queens High Schools, asking him to appoint Monereau as principal.
On October 9, assistant principal Regine Lifranc wrote a letter to Klein citing Holt's disdain for the minority students in the school and urging that she be removed.
On November 26 of that year, six of the school's assistant principals, including Monereau and Lifranc, wrote a letter to Klein pointing out Holt's shortcomings and asking for her removal.
One parent wrote to The Wave, stating that her son had been coerced into signing a student petition urging that Holt be removed and Monereau be appointed. She said that her son had been promised a better Social Studies grade if he signed.
Monereau, who is now the principal of Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, denied that any coercion existed.
On February 8 of 2003, Holt was removed and John Marcus was appointed acting principal.
After going through the C-30 Process mandated for the appointment of a principal, Pleener was appointed in September of 2003.
Pleener's lawsuit says that she filed a complaint against Monereau in September, saying that he was insubordinate and that he was trying to undermine her authority.
According to the suit, Monereau made "threatening and insubordinate" comments to her at a cabinet meeting.
Monereau was removed from the building and reassigned to the then-new region office by Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin.
The Far Rockaway branch of the NAACP, a group in which Monereau is reportedly a member, called an emer
gency meeting for October 15.
"This is outrageous," NAACP President Ed Williams told New York Post writer Carl Campinile at the time. "Mr. Monereau is a pillar of the community. The principal has to go."
In a New York Post Article, Moereau said that he had been removed because he "was too popular with the kids and the parents."
The day after the meeting, a large group of parents, students and community activists gathered in front of the building, urging students to stay out of school until Monereau was appointed principal.
At lunchtime, dozens of students left the building in support of Monereau and a number of small fires were set in the building.
Heading the protests at the school were Everly Brown, who was then a candidate for the city council, Democratic District Leader Lew Simon and NAACP President Ed Williams.
An emergency parent association meeting held the night of the first demonstration demanded that Pleener be removed from her job and that Monereau be made principal.
Pleener's lawsuit alleges that students, "at the urging of others, walked out of class, triggered fire alarms and acted disorderly." She alleges that the protestors claimed that she was racist and should not be the principal of a predominantly black school.
The ex-principal claims that as a result of a campaign of racial intimidation, Cashin caved in and removed her from the school, replacing her with Dr. David Morris, a black educator.
In June, 2004, Pleener and 44 other principals were terminated by Chancellor Klein, citing poor performance. Monereau was reassigned from the region office to Middle School 53 where he was appointed acting principal.
On October 24, 2003, however, The Wave ran an exclusive story indicating that Pleener, while never charged, had been named in a Department of Education Office of Equal Opportunity report as having created a "hostile sexual environment" for a male physical education teacher at Jamaica High School, where she was the principal at the time. Pleener's suit seeks unspecified damages for violating her civil rights and for defamation.
The Department of Education press office declined comment, saying that the City's Law Department would be handling the defense against the suit.
"We still haven't received the papers and we can't comment until we have," Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a spokesperson for the Law Department told The Wave on Wednesday. Pleener could not be reached for comment.