The most-shocking moment in a 39-second video of the Jan. 9 beat-down by a 14-year-old girl at MS 158 Marie Curie in Bayside, Queens of a 13-year-old did not involve the punches and kicks delivered by the older girl as her target tried to cover up—an assault briefly interrupted by a Teacher who took hold of the aggressor, only to have her emerge seconds later jumping off a table to continue the attack.
Rather, the incident entered a new dimension when the 14-year-old, having apparently inflicted enough damage to exhaust her rage, stood up on a table, raised her hands above her head like she’d just won the heavyweight title, and cheers erupted from the students who had been watching.
There was a past history between the two girls. According to Katty Sterling, the girl’s mother, they had once been friends, and she had driven them to the mall and the movies.
Things changed, she said in a Feb. 4 phone interview, when her daughter was placed in the same class as the other girl’s boyfriend.
‘Wasn’t Flirting,’ But That Didn’t Matter
“My daughter likes to talk to everybody—she has a lot of friends,” Ms. Sterling said. “But that doesn’t mean she was flirting with him.”
But, she said, the other girl became jealous, and last spring attacked her in the school lockerroom. “She threw her on the floor, kicked her in the head, scratched her in the face,” she said. But when Ms. Sterling came to MS 158 the following day, she said Principal Henry Schandel and Assistant Principal Robert LoCastro downplayed the incident.
A day later, she said, the female student during a dispute with two boys brandished a knife, although she didn’t use it, but still no disciplinary action was taken against her.
“Apparently the school is being run by the students and Mr. Schandel is just covering things up,” Ms. Sterling asserted.
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents both Principal Schandel and AP LoCastro, did not respond to an email detailing those and other accusations made against them by Ms. Sterling.
It wasn’t clear why the students who witnessed the cafeteria rampage last month cheered the perpetrator, who initiated it by charging the younger girl and whaling away. Until then, there were two discrete sounds on the 39-second video: students shrieking and an adult woman moaning repeatedly, “Oh my God” at the disturbing sight, which seemed the only appropriate reaction to what was occurring.
Dr. Leonard Davidman, the president of Psychologists Local 1189 of District Council 37 who is also the senior Psychologist at Metropolitan Hospital Center, said in a Feb. 4 phone interview that the fight was not unlike some he had witnessed among young patients at the hospital, but added, “I deal with kids who murder people.”
As to the reaction by the student bystanders as if the victor in the one-sided confrontation had done something thrilling, he said, “In mob behavior, people lose their individuality. They join in, so they don’t feel as guilty. That’s a social-psychology phenomenon.”
Dr. Davidman added about the video, which he viewed several times, “What struck me was that no kids intervened and went in to stop the fight. In the old days, some kids would have tried to break it up. And they’re not restrained by rules from breaking in” the way Teachers might be.
‘Afraid to Intervene’
“Teachers are afraid to intervene,” he continued. It’s not because they worry that a student in a frenzy might injure them, although that’s a possibility. “They’re afraid of getting fired,” he said, because of the climate that has seeped into the school system since Mayor de Blasio took office and a priority was placed on reducing suspensions that would at least temporarily remove misbehaving students from their schools.
“Principals say that they have no discretion: ‘We’re told to step back to lower the suspension rate,’“ Dr. Davidman said.
Parents at MS 158, as well as some Teachers, have faulted Principal Schandel for failing to impose discipline, first in a harassment case that degenerated into a sexual assault—and even then he didn’t suspend the accused boy until after he’d been arrested—and then following the cafeteria beat-down.
“You can’t just blame the Principal,” Dr. Davidman said. “You can’t just blame [Schools Chancellor Richard} Carranza,” who further stoked outrage among parents by walking out of a Jan. 16 Community Education Council forum when questioned about the two incidents, and subsequently acted as if he were the aggrieved party, rather than the parents of the two students who had confronted him.
Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who represents School Safety Agents, has been harshly critical of the scaling back of suspensions and other forms of discipline that began while Carmen Fariña was still Chancellor, and he contended that the greatest fault lay with Mayor de Blasio.
“The lax disciplinary procedures will continue because the children have figured out that there are no consequences because of the ‘restorative justice’ and the Mayor’s no-suspension policy,” he said in a phone interview, referring to the technique in which, rather than punishing the aggressor, ways are sought to have that person make amends to the victim. In situations that previously would have resulted in suspensions, Mr. Floyd continued, “Children should be made to bring their parents to school [to learn of their alleged conduct] before they’re let back in.”
An Emotional Meltdown
Mr. Carranza has taken most of the heat for the insensitive reaction that began with his bolting the Jan. 16 forum and later complaining that he had been “set up” by a group that has called for his firing. He concluded a diatribe against his critics at an unrelated Jan. 28 press conference in which he spoke of “outside agitators” with a racist agenda with a ramble about how “every city I’ve worked in and lived in, there is a Mexican restaurant, I have a mariachi, traje and a guitar, I will not starve. So bring it on.”
He acted as if he were the one who had been pummeled and traumatized to the cheers of a mob. It scored high on a scale for self-pity, but didn’t register a scintilla for empathy. The following day, he belatedly issued an apology, saying, “as a parent myself, I can only imagine the pain that parents are feeling when their children have been hurt.”
It took him long enough, and apparently came with some prodding by officials within the administration who had become aware of how close he veered to talking himself out of a job. A change.org petition circulated calling on the Mayor to fire Mr. Carranza, gathering more than 900 signatures in the first four days it was up.
Ms. Sterling said that she had confronted the Chancellor at the Jan. 16 forum because previous attempts to speak to him privately had been unsuccessful. Besides wanting Mr. Schandel to be fired, she said, “And this Carranza who is claiming to be a professional isn’t acting like one.”
The day after the cafeteria attack, she said that when she came to the school, the Principal denied having a copy of the video. She said that when she told him, “You don’t know how to take care of your students,” he replied, “What do you want me to tell you? These things are out of my hands.”
“I told him,” she said, “ ‘I want this girl to be removed from school.’ He told me, ‘That’s not going to happen,’” and suggested she transfer her daughter to another school.
One source at MS 158, speaking conditioned on anonymity, described the attacker as a chronic bully who was “unrepentant and unremorseful” about the beating she administered.
Ms. Sterling’s daughter, an eighth-grader who is due to graduate in June, has not returned to the school since the incident. The attitude her mother said was communicated to her in their Jan. 10 conversation in large measure was consistent with that emphasis on reducing suspensions, no matter how egregious the behavior involved and how often those accused have stepped way beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When a school’s default answer to the victim is to transfer out, the justice it represents is perverted rather than restorative, a product of a twisted ideology that is immune to both the facts and basic decency.
After several weeks in which Ms. Sterling went to MS 158, which is not far from her home in Bayside, to get her daughter’s homework assignments, the school—perhaps embarrassed by the negative coverage and a wave of outrage that has begun lapping at the feet of the Mayor as well as Mr. Carranza, is finally sending an instructor to provide home lessons to the 13-year-old.
Ms. Sterling said she has retained a lawyer, despite what she claimed were pleas by some school officials not to take that route, and plans to sue. “They’ve been offering me other schools,” she said. “They’re trying to play with my brain.”
She was emphatic that her daughter would not return to the school that until Principal Schandel arrived there was well-regarded. Asked how the 13-year-old was dealing with the trauma of the attack and the failure to intervene by anyone in the cafeteria besides the Teacher who briefly diverted her assailant, Ms. Sterling said, “My daughter is very distressed. She feels betrayed by the schoolteachers and the students. She’s afraid she’s going to be attacked again.
“And,” the mother continued, “she doesn’t want to be around the students who were celebrating.”
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