Talk of the Sound has learned that on April 18th, 2007, while serving as Assistant Superintendent of Schools for New Rochelle, Dr. Fred Smith went unannounced, late at night, to the home of Arthur Praete, a New Rochelle resident, sought to gain entrance to his home and, when rebuffed, made a hostile, threatening statement to Praete's wife. No charges were filed at the time.
Mr. Praete quoted Smith as saying "Tell your husband to stop writing letters about me".
Informed of the incident in a letter from Praete, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak acknowledged the incident, calling it an "error in judgement" by Dr. Smith:
I am sorry that you took offense at Dr. Smith's visit to your home. He has assured me that his reason for wanting to visit you was to engage you in a personal dialogue regarding your March 30 letter, and that he had no intention of causing you or your wife to feel threatened. However, I agree with you that it was an error in judgement for him to call on you at home without a prior appointment, and I apologize for any discomfort which you wife may have felt. I have communicated both my own views and your concerns about further visits or communications to Dr. Smith, and I believe he understands them.
Organisciak was responding to a letter in which Praete briefly described the incident and asked Organisciak to advise Smith not to attempt any further communication with him.
Mr. Smith had the effrontery to personally appear at my home at 9PM on Thursday, April 18, 2007. Fortunately I was in bed at the time of his visit but my wife later awoke me and advised me of the fact. She was noticeably shaken and upset and described his demeanor as "hostile" and "threatening"...I would ask you to advise Mr. Smith that he is never to intrude himself on my property again or attempt an entrance to my home at any time, day or night, in the future. Nor do I want any telephonic or electronic communication from him...
As Prate's letter makes clear, there is no basis for Organisciak's statement "I agree with you that it was an error in judgement". There is certainly no indication that Smith was attempting to "engage (Praete) in a personal dialogue" and every indication that Smith came for the purpose of threatening Praete in order to discourage Praete from writing letters about Smith to Organisciak.
Smith's bizarre behavior came after Praete sent two letters, both dripping with sarcasm, to the school district, one sent to Smith and one sent to Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak. The letters raised questions about a statement by Smith which had appeared in a Journal News article three weeks earlier. The article, Forum to look at plight of black males in school, was a report on a conference held at Iona College, hosted by African American Men of Westchester, entitled "The Plight of the Black Males in Education".
Fred Smith, assistant superintendent of pupil personnel and curricular services in New Rochelle, said schools must change referral criteria for special education to account for cultural differences among students, such as what he said is more energetic behavior inherent in black males (emphasis added).
Praete, who is white, felt that Smith, who is black, appeared to demean black male students and make a claim about the "inherent" nature of black males that some might find racist. In a maneuver that many New Rochelle residents will recognize, Organisciak later inverted the clear meaning of Praete's original letter to accuse Praete of racism for raising questions about what Prate felt were Smith's possibly racist statement to the Journal News. To this day, Smith has never provided an on the record clarification of those remarks.
Educational experts told Talk of the Sound that Smith's views on culturally-normed referral criteria is well within the mainstream of special education theory and practice. For example, in the Intuit culture children learn to remain silent when adults are speaking and, in some Latino cultures, children learn to avert their eyes when being reprimanded by an adult.
Studies also support the view that black students are over-referred into special education programs. The National Institute for Urban School Improvement, funded by The Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education has this to say:
African-Americans tend to be significantly overrepresented in the two special education categories of mild mental disabilities and emotional/behavioral disabilities (Oswald, Coutinho, Best, and Singh, 1999). At the same time, African American learners are also underrepresented in gifted education programs nationally (Patton, 1998).
Many educators were appalled, however, at Smith's use of the term "energetic behavior" and the claim that it was "inherent" to black male students. They said the term "energetic behavior" might be intended to describe a physical attribute of black males whereby they burn energy at a faster rate than other students (high metabolism) or uses the term as code for loud, disruptive, disrespectful behavior. In either case, Smith's description of so-called "energetic behavior" as being "inherent" to black males is both unsupported within the field of special education and runs contrary to well-established literature. One expert pointed Talk of the Sound to a landmark 1992 study by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found that poverty-level not race or ethnicity best explained placement of students in special education programs. In his initial letter to Smith, Praete stated that the high rate of "illegitimate births" among African-Americans might better explain the over-referral of black students in Special Education, a claim only supported if "illegitimate births" is understood as a proxy for poverty which is not necessarily the case.
Educational experts were not surprised that some might question Smith's remarks and found nothing unusual in Praete's request that Smith clarify his remarks to the Journal News, certainly nothing that would warrant Smith coming to Praete's home and making threats to him or his wife.
The incident is just the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations for Smith who was recently "resigned" as Superintendent of the Pocantico Hills Central School District just four weeks after Talk of the Sound disclosed emails from Smith in which he disclosed the existence of a damning report on inequities in the New Rochelle school system which New Rochelle officials have repeatedly claimed did not exist. Yesterday, Smith was found to have plagiarized books and magazines in articles published by the Journal News. An Op-Ed containing material lifted from a book review by a Canadian professor was written in his capacity as a representative of African American Men of Westchester (AAMW) while serving as Assistant Superintendent in New Rochelle. The AAMW still lists Smith as an active member of their organization.
Praete told Talk of the Sound his wife as badly shaken by Smith's appearance at his home. He says it was after nine o'Clock on a Thursday night. Praete was already in bed, asleep, when his wife heard someone at the door. Not expecting visitors, she did not know what to make of a well-dressed but visibly agitated African-American man, standing outside her house late at night. As she began to open the door, he says, the unknown man attempted to enter the house while demanding to see her husband. To startled to move, she stood her ground and told the man her husband was sleeping. The man then shoved a business card through the open door, into her hand, shouted "tell your husband to stop writing letters about me" before storming off into the night. After he left, Praete's wife went upstairs to wake her husband and tell him about Smith's appearance and the cryptic (to her) threat.