The Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District is calling for the firing of a former Assistant Principal at the Bronx school where Abel Cedeno fatally stabbed a 15-year-old student for ignoring a warning that the troubled teen was carrying a knife she’d gotten more than two-and-a-half years prior to the stabbing.
In a report released Sept. 12, Special Commissioner Anastasia Coleman detailed the events that followed a disturbing voicemail a Teacher at the Urban Assembly for Wildlife Conservation received on May 28, 2014 regarding Mr. Cedeno.
A Troubled Past
The instructor received a message from the student’s mother, who informed him that her son was carrying a knife and had a history of threatening family members by displaying the weapon, the probe found. He brought the message to the attention of an Assistant Principal at the school, Caridad Caro, who told investigators that she met with Mr. Cedeno and personally searched his backpack, but did not find a knife.
She also claimed that she arranged for a School Safety Agent to be present while she conducted the search, but did not recall whether anyone documented it, or which officer was present. Investigators determined that five School Safety Agents were assigned to work at the school that day, and each of them said that they were not present for the search, nor were they aware of it. Only SSAs were permitted to conduct weapons searches.
Mr. Cedeno fatally stabbed Matthew McCree in the chest with a three-inch switchblade on Sept. 27, 2017 after a dispute erupted during a history class. He also stabbed Matthew’s friend, then-16-year-old Ariane Laboy, who survived. Mr. Cedeno claimed he brought the knife to school because he was bullied due to his sexual orientation. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison Sept. 10 for manslaughter, first degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
‘Contrary to Logic’
The probe found that Ms. Caro did not inform the school’s Principal about the voicemail, nor did she log the case into the Online Occurrence Reporting System, the DOE’s database for reporting safety incidents. She claimed that filing a safety report about the matter wasn’t necessary because Mr. Cedeno’s mother’s discovery of the weapon was not on school grounds, which the SCI report stated was “contrary to logic and DOE policy.”
“The DOE was deprived of critical information necessary to address and monitor [the] student’s conduct and assure the safety of students and staffers,” Ms. Coleman wrote in the report. “We recommend that Caro be dismissed from employment, and that this matter be taken into account should she seek employment with the DOE or any of its affiliates in the future.”
Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, who represents School Safety Agents, called the findings a “scapegoat attempt.”
“Mayor de Blasio failed to install metal detectors in schools and the Schools Chancellor at the time [Carmen Farina] failed to support the school and ignored the school safety surveys,” he said. In a 2016 school climate survey, just 19 percent of Urban Assembly’s Teachers reported that they felt safe, while 55 percent of students said they felt safe. “Why do a survey if you’re going to ignore it?” the union leader asked.
Metal Detectors for All?
Mr. Floyd has advocated for all city high schools to have metal detectors, about 90 use the equipment permanently. “There’s a lot of blame to go around but it starts at the top,” he said of the stabbings.
Urban Assembly did not have any metal detectors when the stabbings occurred, but then-Principal Astrid Jacobo had reportedly requested one prior to the tragedy. The DOE has stated that the inquiry was never made.
Ms. Caro was reassigned from the now-closed school and is currently an Instructional Lead at the DOE’s Brooklyn North Borough Office.
Will Mantell, a spokesman for the DOE, said that based on the findings of the investigation, the agency would start the process to terminate Ms. Caro.
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