PS 42 Teachers Demand Safer School
Schoolteacher Taneeka Jones, 31, huddled under her umbrella in front of PS 42 in Arverne at 7 a.m. last Wednesday, explaining to a Wave reporter why 60 of the school's 87 teachers were demonstrating in the rain for increased school safety.
"I just got back to school after being out for a line of duty injury," Jones, who is the school's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader, said. "I told one of my students to stop misbehaving and his sister assaulted me. She pulled my shawl right off my body and ripped my necklace right off my neck."
Jones says that there have been many incidents such as that one, in which a 13- year-old seventh grader sent her to the hospital, ever since the school was ordered to add a middle school to its elementary school organization two years ago.
In fact, the assault was the second on Jones since September, adding to the total of 20 assaults on teachers at PS 42 since the school year began, Jones said.
The most recent attack came on December 23, when paraprofessional Vita Marie Hughes was kicked so hard by a student that she needed medical treatment.
"[Superintendent Kathleen] Cashin threw a middle school in here with no support at all," Jones said. "We don't have a gym, we don't have any facilities for the older kids, no activities for kids that age and that size. The lack of facilities and programs leads to lots of disciplinary problems."
Jones says that the UFT called the early morning demonstration because the school's administration and the district have refused to do anything to fix the problem.
"We're slated for a new addition to the building," Jones says, "but that won't be ready until 2012. What do we do in the meantime?"
A parent, who was dropping her son off at the school and who asked not to be identified because she feared retribution from the school's administration, said that she supported the teachers in their demand for increased security and a tougher discipline program.
"It is really hard in there," she said, pointing to the school entrance, where two school security agents watched the teacher's demonstration. "Many of the older kids just don't care. They beat up the younger kids. They even beat up the teachers. Nobody does anything about it. I sometimes fear for my son in the school, but I don't have anywhere else to send him."
She added that the principal, Riva Madden, seems to have "given up" in disciplining the middle school students.
"There's just no punishment, no way to show a student that their behavior is inappropriate," said a teacher, who asked that her name not be used.
And, while the school received a grade of "B" on its school report card issued by the Department of Education, statistics from the DOE website show that only 43 percent of grade 6 students and 22 percent of grade 7 students were reading on grade level in last year's standardized tests.
Those statistics also show that fourteen students were suspended in the past year and both teachers and parents present at the protest rally say that there are daily problems with fights and other disruptions in the building.
Queen Makkada, who is the president of the school's Title I Parent's Committee, told a Daily News reporter that she supports the teacher's demands for better security for the school, but that she believed that some of the school's staff were guilty of mishandling rowdy kids.
"You have children on top of children. They just stuck kids in here and added grades," Makkada said. "How would you feel if you were bunched in here?"
In a recent survey conducted by the DOE, the majority of both teachers and parents who responded said that they believed that there was a "safety and respect" problem in the building.
Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the DOE told The Wave on Wednesday morning that the administration at the Tweed Courthouse is aware of the problem.
"Officials from our office of school safety will meet with the principal, teachers and school community starting today," Feinberg said. "They will address the problems and come up with solutions."
Meanwhile, one additional school security agent has been added to the school, officials said.
A union official present at the demonstration said that the UFT would continue to press for safer schools for both teachers and students.