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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PS 398Q Principal Erica Urena is Removed From the School

P.S. 398Q principal Erica Ureña poses for a portait in her office. Credit:

Thanks to the parents of students at PS398Q, Principal Erica Urena leaves the school on December 6, 2023.

The issue is safety of all students. From the news, it appears that a second-grader brought a knife to school and threatened to harm a classmate. The news reports have cited several student witnesses to this little boy saying what he was going to do, but at this point no one knows what actually happened.

Nevertheless, Principal Urena did not explain anything to parents for several days, while rumors flew through PS 398Q. This was not a proper way to deal with the situation, and Urena has to leave her post. This incident is not the first time she has done something that angered parents and staff, but it will be her last.

PS 398, named after the late labor leader Hector Figueroa, is roiled by a battle between its staff and principal.

When staff are united and choose facts to remove a principal, all benefit. See my post on this blog and on about Heather Jansen and her Student Rat Pack:

Former Principal of PS 46 Heather Jansen and Her Student Rat Pack

NYC Rubber Room Reporter, Sept. 4, 2023

Betsy Combier

Elementary School Principal Who ‘Covered Up’ After Student Brought Knife to Attack a Classmate Steps Down

Teachers had been complaining since last summer about the “hostile” environment founding principal Erica Ureña-Thus had created at the public school in Jackson Heights.

by Claudia Irizarry Aponte, The City, December 4, 2023

The embattled principal of P.S. 398Q in Jackson Heights announced on Friday she would step down, weeks after parents mounted a campaign for her ouster over her botched handling of an incident where a second-grader brought a knife to school allegedly with a plan to attack a fellow student.

Erica Ureña-Thus, founding principal of The Héctor Figueroa School, wrote in a letter to the school community on Friday that “it is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to leave PS 398Q.” She added that her departure would be effective December 6.

Ureña-Thus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did her union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Parent and teacher concerns about Ureña-Thus had already been percolating for months before multiple students said a second-grader brought a knife to school Nov. 1, telling students he intended to use it on another second-grader at lunch time.

Parents were only informed about that on Nov. 4, in an online post from Ureña-Thus reporting “nothing untoward was found.” In the days that followed, DOE higher-ups privately discussed in a series of email exchanges keeping additional “detail/context” about the incident private, THE CITY first reported. 

“It was covered up, no one knew,” the aunt of the boy who was allegedly targeted told THE CITY last month, which previously reported that the boy, who’d remained in the school, later threatened students who’d witnessed him with the knife.

(THE CITY is withholding the names of the students, who are all second graders, to respect their privacy. THE CITY was not able to contact the parents of the boy who allegedly brought the knife and made the threats, because he has not been named by the school.)

In a note to parents on Nov. 10, District 30 superintendent Lisa Hidalgo finally acknowledged “a lack of timely communication to families from the school” that she said “resulted in speculation that led to fear and misinformation circulating within the school community.”

By the following week, hundreds of parents had signed a petition calling for Ureña-Thus’ removal.

This summer, teachers had also spoken out about the ‘hostile’ environment at the school, including allegedly retaliating against teachers who signed on to a grievance complaint alleging anti-union actions by Ureña-Thus.

Last Wednesday, parents testifying before the Panel for Education Policy pleaded with city officials to remove and replace her, Gothamist reported. Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg told parents that investigations were underway, and he expected them “to be resolved soon.”

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” panel member Tom Sheppard told Gothamist. “These people have been shouting from the rooftops … and nobody’s been listening to them.”

In her note to the school community on Friday, Ureña-Thus referenced the challenges of founding a brand-new school during the pandemic and her own health struggles after surviving a stroke in 2021. 

“From our modest beginnings with a mere nine staff members to navigating a two-year pandemic and teacher shortages, our close-knit community ensured our children never bore the brunt of these adversities,” she wrote, adding that “[d]espite grappling with health conditions, I returned to continue fostering our exceptional staff and striving to provide a safe and quality education.”

“Serving in the community where I grew up has been an endless source of gratitude, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have nurtured your children.”

Ureña-Thus wrote that she would “transition to a new role” effective her departure, but did not specify what it would be.