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Monday, May 2, 2016

State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz Is Accused of Blocking Minority Students From Enrolling at PS 24 in Riverdale

Dear Jeff -

Bad move.

Betsy Combier
Jeffrey Dinowitz
Assemblyman Tried to Block Minorities From Attending Riverdale School: Suit

By  Ben Fractenberg Amy Zimmer and Eddie Small | May 2, 2016 8:02pm

THE BRONX — State Assemblyman Jeffery Dinowitz tried to block minority students from enrolling in a popular public elementary school — saying that he didn't want “outsiders” coming into the kindergarten in the tony area of Riverdale, according to a lawsuit filed by the school’s assistant principal on Monday.
The state legislator installed his chief of staff Randi Martos in P.S. 24, located on West 235th Street, as "part of a politically and racially motivated scheme to prevent minorities and lower-income children from attending P.S. 24 and other schools in the area," school administrator Manuele Verdi claimed in the suit.
Martos was present during the enrollment process at P.S. 24 on at least six occasions in March and April of this year — demanding more than the required proof of residency and violating federal privacy rights of at least 100 students by having unauthorized access to their personal files, the assistant principal claimed.
Verdi also claimed that Dinowitz issued thinly veiled racial threats, saying he could tell if children were not from Riverdale just by looking at them and “by the way they walk, talk, and wear their pants.”
Martos improperly intervened in the registration process, looking over students’ medical and academic records and checking their proofs of address, insisting parents produce three pieces of identification — which exceeds the two required under city regulations and runs afoul of the Mckinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law to ensure immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless students, the lawsuit stated.
In addition, it violates students' protection under HIPAA and Family Education Rights and Privacy Act laws for non-school personnel to have access to their records.
Dinowitz told DNAinfo New York on Monday that Martos did play a role in student registration but stressed that she was invited to do so by the school. He also insisted that it was helpful for the school.
"Her role there was brief and was more as a helper, because they need all the help they can get, apparently," Dinowitz said.
"The fact that Manny Verdi may not have had as active a role as he’s had in the past in signing off on everybody, whether they should have been enrolled or not, probably annoyed him," Dinowitz continued.
Dinowitz emphatically denied that issues of race and class had anything to do with his office's involvement in P.S. 24, characterizing such accusations as wildly inappropriate.
"All I can say is that’s really a lot of nonsense," Dinowitz said, "and with all the racism that goes on in this world, it’s disgusting when somebody would raise false charges of racism to feather his own nest, so to speak."
The unusual move to include Martos in the school’s enrollment process occurred after an annex that had housed P.S. 24’s fifth graders closed, leading to complaints of overcrowding at the school.
Verdi said Dinowitz denied that there was an overcrowding problem, adding that there were too many "outsiders" coming to enroll in the school.
Verdi argued that his school, and former principal Dr. Donna Connelly, were targeted by Dinowitz and other politicians as the school became stronger, more diverse and more progressive in its teaching and learning.
“We were never much liked by some of the local politicians and accusations and innuendo commenced soon after we started our tenure at PS 24,” Verdi wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
“It was clear to us, from the beginning that while we and most of the staff have only the children’s best interest at heart and mind, local political machines had other agendas,” added Verdi, who believes he should be granted whistleblower status for shedding light on this enrollment practices.
Verdi added in his letter to Farina that "Once it became public knowledge that Dr. Connelly’s boyfriend is African American, as well as one of my children, Mr. Dinowitz stopped visiting the school."
P.S. 24, known as the Spuyten Duyvil school, is considered a gem in the area, with a strong arts program and active parent body. It won a New York State academic excellence in education award this year.
In terms of the sheer number of applicants to this neighborhood school, it ranked No. 89 most popular of more than 880 programs, according to a 2014 analysis of Department of Education kindergarten enrollment data.
It’s also known for having a diverse student body, with 42 percent white students, 41 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 7 percent black. Nearly 30 percent of its students are on free or reduced lunch.
Verdi said he and Connelly were scapegoated by Dinowitz after the school lost the lease to the annex. Connelly, who left in October, “chose to retire to avoid future confrontations with local officials and school administration,” the lawsuit read.
However, Dinowitz maintained that Verdi and Connelly were genuinely at fault for the loss of the lease, as he and other elected officials had told them months before it was up to push the DOE on getting it renewed after hearing that negotiations were going poorly.
"They chose not to do that," Dinowitz said. "They buried their heads in the sand, basically."
Verdi then exacerbated the overcrowding situation by allowing students from anywhere to attend the school despite the lack of space, according to Dinowitz.
"If there was space, kids should be in the school. If that would help relieve overcrowding in another school, fine," he said. "But that wasn’t the situation. They allowed people to come into the school who lived far away."
Following Connelly’s departure, Superintendent Melodie Mashel told Verdi that he “cannot stay at 24” because politicians were “intimidated” by him and that leaving “might be a good thing,” court papers read.
“I have been informed by several people of several meetings convened by Superintendent Mashel where my position as AP was discussed and my removal would be a condition for anyone wishing to be principal at PS 24,” Verdi wrote in the letter to Fariña.
Verdi said he is scheduled to meet with Mashel on May 4, at which point he said he expects to be fired or disciplined.
The Department of Education referred questions to the New York City Law Department, which confirmed they will "review the complaint."

PS 24
Bronx School Parents Furious Over Political Fighting and Lack of Leadership

By  Eddie Small and Amy Zimmer | May 3, 2016 3:41pmLINK 

THE BRONX — Parents at a popular public school in Riverdale want to cut through the politics and get their school back on track with a new principal, after their former principal resigned under pressure and an assistant principal accused a state legislator of racially profiling applicants.
P.S. 24, located at 660 W. 236th St. in The Bronx, was run by Principal Donna Connelly until she left in October after a series of controversies under her tenure, including the school losing its lease for an annex and reports that she had forced teachers to get rid of their desks and filing cabinets.

The turmoil at the school has continued with Assistant Principal Manuele Verdi's recent lawsuit against the city accusing State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and his office of getting involved with enrollment at the school to block minority students from attending.
However, parents at the school are eager to move beyond such controversies and get a new permanent principal installed.
“This year has been very challenging, but we are fearful about how the delay in appointing a new principal will impact the preparation for our upcoming academic year,” parent Paulina Sanchez said.
“For the first time in our history, we will be dealing with having to house over 1,000 students in a building intended for 610 students," she continued. "The loss [of] our annex space this year was a major blow, and we cannot afford to delay this matter any longer.”
Dinowitz said more than 100 parents attended P.S. 24's Parents Association meeting on Monday night and were extremely upset.
Parents were talking about pulling their children out of the school, and teachers were talking about leaving the school due to its lack of leadership and overcrowding issues, he said.
"The school is in severe crisis right now," Dinowitz said, "and when elected officials fight for the kids in their schools, most people appreciate it."
He said Verdi's lawsuit would put an added burden on the process to find a new principal for P.S. 24 and again emphatically denied that race had anything to do with his office's involvement in the registration process for P.S. 24.
"Just because Manny Verdi thinks that his job was to overpopulate the school doesn’t mean that there were racial motives in those of us who wanted to keep the population of the school at a reasonable level," he said.
The process for finding a new principal at P.S. 24 has been temporarily delayed pending an investigation, and the superintendent will update the school community moving forward, according to DOE officials.
The Parents Association of P.S. 24 expressed strong frustration with this process in a statement, describing it as "totally unacceptable."
"We are outraged that P.S. 24 has been without [a] permanent principal for six months and may not have one for the remainder of this school year," the statement reads. "We should have a principal and two assistant principals. Currently, we only have one acting interim principal and one assistant principal."
The statement goes on to blame incompetence of the DOE regarding the school's overcrowding issues and demands a full explanation into the delay in the principal selection process and the speedy appointment of a new principal and an additional assistant principal.
Parents Association co-president Bob Heisler said that P.S. 24 was dealing with students trying to attend the school from outside of its zone, but the neighborhood had to deal with its changing demographics as well.
“If a school is sought after, people bend the rules in order to get into it,” he said. “But the other problem: we’re not responding to the demographic changes of the neighborhood.”
He said that the sooner the school resolved the issue of not having a leader, the sooner it would be able to deal with its long term capacity issues and that, in the meantime, the building’s cold lunchroom would be converted into four classrooms.
"This is a good school, historically," he said, "and the DOE has not done anything this year but screw it up."

Desk-dumping principal gives herself the heave-ho


The Bronx principal who ordered teachers to dump their desks in the trash earlier this month because she didn’t want them sitting in class has chosen to toss herself out as well.
Donna Connelly, who is principal of PS 24, the Spuyten Duyvil School in Riverdale, has filed her retirement papers effective Nov. 1 after being pressured to leave by superiors who read about her nutty antics in The Post, according to the Riverdale Review.

Modal Trigger
Donna Connelly

Sources tell the Bronx newspaper that Connelly’s anti-sitting edict had garnered the animosity of both her staff and the powers-that-be.
To make things even worse, the desk-dumping diehard also was allegedly caught red-handed last weekblatantly refusing to prevent her overcrowded school from losing a lease for extra classroom space.
Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz went on to blast Connelly and her close personal friend and assistant principal Manny Verdi, after the Department of Education admitted at a PTA meeting that they had failed to renew the lease at the nearby Whitehall co-op building.
The building had housed approximately 140 fifth-graders over the last six years — and now officials are being forced to scramble to find space for the students at the school, which is already 200 kids beyond capacity.
Connelly’s retirement makes PS 24 the third school that she has been removed or forced to resign from in the past 23 years, the Riverdale Review reports.
Verdi — who has been disciplined for using his personal American Express card for routine school expenses so he could rack up “points” to fund a lavish trip to Italy — is lobbying to be her replacement, the paper said.
But in order to make the decision on who should replace Connelly, Dinowitz says, officials will hold “an open process to find the best person for a school that deserves, after so many years of turmoil, the best possible leader.”
He added that “the hardworking staff, many of whom have been in our community for decades, deserve this, and certainly, our children deserve nothing less.”

Arthur Goldstein: The Discipline Policy of the DOE Needs Revision

Arthur Goldstein: Teachers’ discipline toolkits, now lighter

In Mayor de Blasio’s New York, when a kid curses you out in a crowded hallway, all you can do is call the kid’s parents. That’s what the new discipline code says.
Our job is already tough. You never know what’s going to happen when you’re face-to-face with 34 teenagers five times a day.
Over time, you develop strategies. When they work, you repeat them. Eventually you create a toolkit to create an environment in which students can learn. You learn what to do when they test you, which they do constantly. You learn which kids cannot be near which other kids. You learn when to speak up, and when to keep your thoughts to yourself.
Kids are unpredictable, and each one has a unique set of problems and triggers. It’s on you to create an environment of mutual respect: You respect them, they respect you, and they respect one another. It takes time, but once there is a positive culture, learning can take place.
Discipline is the last thing you do, the last place you go. But every student needs to know you will go there when it’s necessary, or your classroom will quickly become a chaotic mess. I consider it a personal defeat if I have to remove a student from the classroom.
The last time I did that it was because a girl threatened to beat up a boy, and I was absolutely persuaded she would do it. Removing her removed that possibility. The next day she was a little calmer.
In our school, kids aren’t supposed to wear hats. They aren’t supposed to use their phones without permission, and in my class, they don’t. (Well, they do, but if I give them a look they stop.)
The hallway is a different place altogether. I don’t know the kids in the hall. They don’t know me. I am not a stickler about rules in the hallway. But some things are beyond the pale. A colleague of mine, a rather large man, saw a boy and a girl getting passionate and physical in the hallway. He asked them to go to class.
The boy instructed my colleague to perform a vulgar act that may or may not be possible. My colleague was able to handle it in a professional manner, but found the consequences for the kid’s act to be mild indeed.
Why? Because principals must now get explicit approval from the central Department of Education for suspensions involving student insubordination.
These are new regulations, brought to you by the kinder, gentler Chancellor Carmen Fariña — intended to lessen suspensions that disproportionately remove black and Latino kids from school.
The way things work on the front lines in school buildings, requiring approval from DOE is almost as good as flat-out banning these suspensions.
The new rules are working exactly as intended. Suspensions are way down — by 32% between last year and this year.
De Blasio and Fariña see this as a success, because fewer kids are missing class.
I see it differently, because now, baked into the system, there are only very mild consequences for wearing hats, using prohibited electronic devices or mouthing off to teachers. The most extreme thing you can do in most of these cases is remove a kid from class and schedule a parent conference. Of course if they occur in the hall, as a great many things do, you can’t even remove the kid from class.
I understand the chancellor’s interest in calling in guidance counselors and social workers before using disciplinary measures. I value them greatly, and often seek their help. But they’re overburdened, and some things are simply not their domain.
I understand that in the past, and in some places, suspension was overused. But every problem, like every kid, is different.
I’ve been teaching 32 years, and I’ve had a student suspended exactly once. But suspension was part of my toolkit, and like my classroom, I covet my toolkit. In fact, even talking about suspension was part of my toolkit.
Taking it away is not going to improve the education of even one single New York City schoolkid.
Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School.