PS33 REQUIRES NEW LEADERSHIP THAT ENSURES THE SAFETY OF OUR CHILDREN AND STAFF
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February 7, 2018 Incident
On February 7, 2018, a disgruntled parent entered PS33 and threatened to shoot one of the school safety agents. He had to be escorted from the building against his will and continued to make threats against the officer, necessitating the presence of the NYPD. This incident caused great concern among many families in our community since it could have been a life-or-death situation. Unfortunately, this is only the most recent incident showing the lack of effective leadership by the PS33 administration. Over the last two years there have been many other incidents that demonstrate a consistent and pervasive lack of leadership and transparency by the PS33 administration, which has led many families to lose confidence in the ability of the current administration to competently run the school and keep our children safe and secure.
During and after the February 7 incident, the PS33 administration made the following critical mistakes:
- Principal Wang failed to order a soft lockdown after the parent made the threat. In addition, before the parent was escorted against his will from the building, students and teachers continued to pass in close proximity to him. While we were informed that protocols do not require a lockdown in such a situation, given that this parent had previously been identified as a potential threat and his school access had been limited, we believe that at a minimum the lobby and immediate area should have been cleared until this individual was removed from the building.
- Immediately after the incident, students were allowed to exit the building to attend a field trip even though the parent was still in the immediate vicinity of the school. Principal Wang stated that NYPD had determined that it was safe for students to exit the building after combing the area, and she indicated that she made the decision to allow activities to continue as planned. However, when the students exited the building, they witnessed the parent engaged in threatening conduct and using vulgar language, indicating that he had not vacated the area and was still an active threat.
- On Thursday February 8, the Talent show went on as planned in the evening under NYPD surveillance, but no parent was ever informed about the reason for such presence at school.
- After the incident occurred, information was not shared by the PS33 administration in a timely manner. Instead, on February 9, a full 48 hours after the incident, Principal Wang sent out a vaguely worded statement that a safety incident had occurred at the school and that the NYPD was requested (please see Exhibit 1 for a copy of this communication). This statement omitted critical information such as that the individual threatened to shoot a school safety officer, that he had previous convictions for violent conduct, and that his access to PS33 had been limited based on previous threatening behavior. Most importantly, this statement failed to list any specific measures that school would take in light of this incident to ensure the safety of students and school employees. The lack of specifics in the statement caused a significant amount of concern among parents, who had to determine for themselves whether it was safe for their children to attend PS33.
- At a school safety meeting held on February 15, Principal Wang admitted that her February 9 statement was vague and unhelpful, but failed to share key pieces of information about the incident when asked to do so by parents, such as the specific threats that were made, even though no privacy concerns would be raised by the release of such information.
- At the February 15 meeting, Deputy Safety Superintendent Rasmussen indicated that all proper protocols were followed, including Principal Wang’s decisions to not order a lockdown and to allow students to exit the building immediately after the incident. However, even if this is true, we believe that these protocols require judgment calls to avoid putting students and staff unnecessarily at risk. Principal Wang described the incident as not warranting a lockdown, whereas a Wanted poster released by the NYPD clearly indicates that students and staff feared for their safety as a result of the parent’s threatening behavior, suggesting that a lockdown would have been appropriate, as well as waiting until the parent had vacated the immediate vicinity of the school before allowing children to exit the school (please refer to Exhibit 2 for a copy of the NYPD Wanted Poster).
- At the February 15 meeting, a parent asked for a report demonstrating that all locks on classroom doors are functioning property. The DOE Facilities director indicated that he would produce the requested report that day. No such report has been produced. Moreover, this issue was previously raised at school safety meeting during the 2016-17 school year when it was reported that some locks were broken, which means that after almost one year this administration failed to meet the minimum safety requirements in the school building. This further supports the fact that this community does not have faith that this administration has the right leadership skills to ensure the safety of the community.
- A kindergarten teacher, whose classroom is located near the main entrance, had to take upon herself to establish her own lockdown protocols when she felt her safety and that of the children in the classroom were at risk, highlighting the lack of trust by school employees in the PS33 administration to respond appropriately to such incidents.
Other Safety Incidents
Unfortunately, this is only one of many safety incidents that have occurred during the 2017-18 school year. The PS33 administration has ignored requests by concerned parents and PTA officials to communicate and address these incidents. Following are some of the incidents we have been made aware of by concerned students and staff, which has led to a general deterioration of the school’s environment and students’ and staff’s sense of safety:
- On October 25, 2017, two fourth graders attacked another fourth grader during lunch time, causing him injuries and distress. Many students witnessed the incident and told their parents, but the parents of the attacked student were not informed by the PS33 administration as required by the DOE discipline code.
- On November 2, 2017, a student intruded the Rock Band class in the school auditorium without permission. When reprimanded by the teacher the student threatened to physically attack him. The security guards had to restrain and drag the student out of the auditorium. The PS33 administration denies any knowledge about this incident.
- School staff is also concerned with the current state of the school. Several teachers have expressed concern about disruptive behavior by students that is going unaddressed. The attached confidential note was sent to the PTA and lists some of these incidents that have gone unaddressed (please refer to Exhibit 3).
- When asked about the increasing number of disruptive incidents taking place at school, the PS33 administration has constantly stated that they cannot release information about such incidents because of confidentiality rules, even though we are not aware of any such rules that would bar the release of certain information, such as the number and types of such incidents. The PS33 administration’s refusal to release such information creates the impression that it is trying to hide what is really happening rather than take steps to address it.
On numerous occasions the PTA has attempted to propose solutions to address these disruptive events, including a recent attempt to form a steering committee to work on these issues with the PS33 administration. A copy of this proposal is attached to this letter as Exhibit 4. However, this and previously proposals have been ignored by the PS33 administration
Lack of Transparency
At a PTA meeting on December 1, 2017, PTA President Rafael Cervantes informed the parents in attendance that pursuant to DOE regulations incident reports are supposed to be filed electronically by the administration with DOE and can be shared with the affected parents if requested. Several parents subsequently requested information about these reports. The PTA prepared and attempted to distribute a flyer about this DOE regulation via teachers’ in-boxes, but the PS33 administration censored this flyer on the grounds that it was not the PTA’s job to address DOE regulations (the censored communication is attached as Exhibit 5). The PTA thereafter filed an appeal with the Superintendent, who determined that Principal Wang would be required to include a message about reporting incidents in her monthly communications to parents. A brief line was shared in Principal Wang’s February 2018 communication.
Poor Planning and Administration
In addition to these inadequately handled safety and behavioral incidents, a deteriorating environment at PS33, and a lack of transparency by the PS33 administration, the school has been plagued by consistent poor planning and administration that has resulted in cost overruns on crucial programs as well as the inability to carry out simple administrative tasks. These include the following:
- Poor planning by the PS33 administration and last-minute changes in scheduling of teachers required more staff to be recruited and resulted in a cost overrun of $18,000 to keep the music program running for all grades for the 2017-18 school year.
- The PS33 administration treats the Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP) as simple paperwork that needs to be filled out, rather than as a tool to guide continuous improvement planning tools. Furthermore, Principal Wang cannot explain basic questions about the school budget and how it aligns with the CEP, which violates the Student Leadership Team (SLT) mandate. The administration uploaded in the iPlan Portal a 2017-18 version that does not reflect any of the updates made by the SLT in previous months. Principal Wang’s purported explanation failed to address why these updates were not made.
- SLT has not been able to complete a mid-year evaluation as required by DOE. The last two SLT meetings have been cancelled, and the PS33 administration has failed to provide indicators and benchmarks to review school progress towards meeting the CEP annual goals.
- Lack of planning has resulted in books in most grades being out of date. The PS33 administration has asked for help to update the libraries, but after two months has been unable to provide a plan to replenish books with help from parents.
These failures, along with the failure to properly respond to safety and behavioral incidents as well as to create a safe environment at PS33, demonstrates that the current administration is not up to the task of running the school in a competent manner. Unfortunately, this has already taken a toll in the past several years, with parents deciding to enroll their children in other schools and well-regarded teachers choosing to go elsewhere. Last year’s school survey for PS33 reflects this sentiment, with “school quality” ratings well below the district average. In addition, since the 2014-15 school year there has been a consistent decline in this metric, demonstrating an increasing number of parents who have lost faith in the PS33 to competently run the school (please refer to Exhibit 6).
We believe that if action is not taken today, these trends will continue and will result in Chelsea Prep becoming a mediocre school that will not attract talented students and teachers. However, there is still time to act. We demand a new administration that can provide competent leadership at Chelsea Prep.
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