Empathy has never been much in evidence from Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, as he demonstrated again by storming out of a Jan. 16 Community Education Council hearing in Bayside because he didn’t think questioners were sufficiently deferential.
“People were yelling,” he complained to a television reporter from WCBS-Channel 2. “They weren’t allowing me to answer. It was grandstanding.”
He acted shocked that emotions were running high, as if that wasn’t to be expected when the two prime topics on the agenda were assaults that had recently taken place at M.S. 158 Marie Curie in Bayside. One was a frenzied beat-down of a 13-year-old girl by one who is 14 in the cafeteria that was made uglier by the sounds of students cheering her on while no one tried to intercede. The other involved sexual harassment of a female student over a couple of months that eventually escalated from verbal filthiness to a physical attack.
What had parents particularly upset was that the female attacker wasn’t even suspended, nor was the boy who tormented and then repeatedly molested the girl, even after he was arrested by police. If those kinds of behavior didn’t warrant bans from school—the boy briefly served detention—then it shows what a sour joke the Chancellor and Mayor de Blasio are perpetrating when they boast of how a more-enlightened approach has sharply reduced school suspensions.
Teachers at the school faulted Principal Henry Schandel for being lax on discipline. Teacher Tom Grey, a veteran of Marie Curie, which is located in a solid, middle-class community, told the New York Post, “It’s becoming more dangerous by the day. Kids are being bullied in class and nothing is done.”
Which would suggest that when Mr. Carranza talks about replacing punishment of students who are physically abusive with “restorative justice,” the message seeping down into some schools is that this is a euphemism for no justice at all.
His is not the first administration that has generated complaints about Principals failing to take appropriate action because reporting egregious incidents can backfire by drawing negative attention from top Department of Education officials. The same concern was often at the root of police commanders trying to downgrade crimes in their precincts to avoid being reprimanded at NYPD Compstat meetings.
But concealing or ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. And Congresswoman Grace Meng got to the heart of why the Chancellor was so wrong to stalk off because some of his questioners may not have used the language of diplomacy, saying, “They were justifiably angry because they don’t believe their kids are safe in school.”
Mr. Carranza can’t seem to acknowledge the legitimacy of their anger, perhaps because it might force him to take a hard look at his soft policies on school discipline. Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd for the past couple of years has argued that misbehavior has gotten worse because students are no longer facing meaningful penalties.
The failure of M.S. 158 officials to notify the molested girl’s parents once they became aware of the verbal harassment she was enduring meant there was no intervention before the boy became more aggressive. How does doing nothing until a situation veers out of control benefit anyone?
It doesn’t help that neither the Chancellor nor the Mayor has expressed a sense of outrage about the two assaults—aside, of course, from Mr. Carranza’s playing the role of the injured party. Perhaps both of them should consider whether he has the fortitude to run a challenging school system, or would be more comfortable in academia, where he won’t be called to account when his theories are punctured by real life.
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