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By Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief
In numerous articles, the NYC Department of Education, through deputy press secretary Will Mantell, has told professional publications that it is continuing to “listen to feedback” from the Townsend Harris High School community regarding the ongoing controversy with Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda. In a New York Times article, Mr. Mantell says that the DOE will “continue to engage” the “school community.” However, we spoke to numerous members of the school community who have been vocal about their concerns and none have been contacted by a member of the DOE looking to hear their side of the story.
In a range of conversations, we spoke with parents, students, teachers, and administrators who feel that the DOE’s claims of “engaging” the community are not truthful.
They believe that representatives from the department should interview them about what has happened at Townsend Harris and about their concerns about Ms. Jahoda. The only time they can recall a DOE official questioning the community about Ms. Jahoda was when Deputy Pineiro questioned students on camera about their reasons for protest–with Ms. Jahoda standing right there. When senior Alex Chen advised Ms. Pineiro to speak to teachers about their concerns, Ms. Pineiro seems surprised by idea, saying “You’re telling me to interview teachers and not kids?”
Parent Teacher Association Co-President Susan Karlic has held meetings, written emails, attended a press conference, and more. No one from the DOE has reached out to her to discuss the controversy and her concerns. She said, “I really don’t know what [the DOE] means in ‘listening to the feedback from the community.’ My only guess is that they are hearing our complaints from 311. To the best of my knowledge, they have not ‘engaged’ the community—we are doing this all on our own.”
In December, the PTA requested the immediate removal of Ms. Jahoda as Interim Acting Principal of THHS and the removal of Ms. Jahoda as a candidate for the permanent principal position. However, Ms. Jahoda is still part of the C-30 applicant pool. There has been no response from the DOE regarding these resolutions, other than the fact that they will “hire a Townsend Harris principal in accordance with the C-30 regulation.” The PTA also requested a formal apology from the DOE and Deputy Superintendent Pineiro over Ms. Pineiro’s treatment of students at the sit-in on December 8. They have not had a response on this matter from the DOE.
At a Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting in January, Ms. Karlic brought her concerns to the Chancellor herself and said that the PTA has not “received even one response to our complaints,” and as of today, she still has not been contacted.
Student Union President Alex Chen also became involved with the controversy once he organized a sit-in in protest of Ms. Jahoda’s presence at the school and directly interacted with Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro during the protest. He informed us that though he has been contacted by media outlets, “[He has] never been contacted [by] the DOE about any interactions with Ms. Jahoda.” He explained, “I haven’t felt the presence [or engagement] of the DOE with our debacle.”
We can now report that after Ms. Pineiro’s interactions with students sparked controversy, four students filed official complaints against Ms. Pineiro with the office of special investigations department (OSI). According to Chancellor’s Regulation A-421, “It is the policy of the [DOE] to prohibit verbal abuse of students by DOE staff members….on school property.” The regulation defines verbal abuse as “language (written or oral) about or directed toward students that belittles, embarrasses or subjects students to ridicule.”
Student Erela Datuowei felt that because of Ms. Pineiro’s “aggressive and dismissive” attitude, she felt as if her “rights as a student were being mocked and degraded.” Alex, who interacted with Ms. Pineiro for most of the sit-in, said, “I felt uncomfortable and even threatened. She [Ms. Pineiro] used such a condescending tone for a school official dealing with students.”
In the two months since filing these complaints, none of these students has been interviewed by the DOE about their concerns. Ms. Karlic claims that when she contacted the OSI office, and she was told that “none of these cases were going to be investigated.” Ms. Karlic said that she was not provided a reason as to why these cases would not be investigated.
United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader Franco Scardino also said that he has not been contacted by the DOE regarding his issues with Ms. Jahoda. He explained that “My only interaction with the DOE and Ms. Jahoda has been two grievance hearings. I am still waiting to hear what the outcome of the first grievance for union animus is…and that hearing took place in late December.”
As for not being contacted by the DOE, Mr. Scardino felt that the “DOE is only concerned about the well-being of principals and not the other stakeholders in schools. Students, parents and staff have been ignored… while the Chancellor has moved the C-30 forward so that a permanent principal can be hired, the fact that she has allowed Ms. Jahoda to remain as IA is not only disturbing but shows a blatant disregard for the many constituents who have delivered a message of no confidence in Jahoda.” However, he remains optimistic and says, “we look to Ms. Fariña and the DOE for support.”
We spoke to two assistant principals who say that between the group of five assistant principals they have been threatened, cursed at, and “brought to tears” by Ms. Jahoda’s “abusive” behavior towards them. They also said that no one from the DOE contacted them. They explained that numerous DOE officials have visited the school since the sit-in, and they thought that some would have wanted to speak to them alone about Ms.Jahoda, since they have had the most interactions with her.
Said one of the APs, “It’s truly distressing. We know that the Chancellor has, on more than one occasion, asked for Ms. Jahoda to write her a letter explaining things. Does she really accept her side of the story without asking anyone here what is going on? The DOE should have called Alex to speak to him. The DOE appears to have ignored students claims of verbal harassment by Pineiro. Where is the superintendent in all of this? Is she really going to give Ms. Jahoda an interview for the job without reaching out to the community and hearing our perspective? Believe me, we have far more stories to tell than The Classic has reported on.”
Yesterday, The Classic published a letter from “gravely concerned parent” Shibrah Jamil who believes the community should consider legal action against the NYC DOE, saying, ” For the DOE leadership to let this situation continue is negligent and abusive and maybe we need to take more definitive action to get this corrected.”
The NYC Department of Education did not return requests for comment.