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Forced Marches as Collective Punishment: Bad in New Jersey, OK in New Rochelle

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Forced Marches as Collective Punishment: Bad in New Jersey, OK in New Rochelle

April 03, 2015 - 17:51
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This week, Lou Young of CBS2 News reported that middle school students in Perth Amboy were collectively punished by a forced march through the halls of their school building as teachers and administrators barked at them like drill sergeants. The incident allegedly involved an unruly class.

In 2008, we reported that elementary school students at Trinity Elementary School were collectively punished by a forced march outdoors on a cold day as teachers and administrators barked at them like drill sergeants. The incident allegedly involved an unruly class.

What’s the difference?

In New Jersey, the students were older and kept indoors; in New Rochelle, the students were younger and forced outside on a cold day.

In New Jersey, the school’s top two administrators along with five teachers were reassigned to another school pending an investigation by state authorities; in New Rochelle, no administrators or teachers were disciplined and there was no investigation by state authorities.

In New Jersey, the Perth Amboy School District issued a statement explaining the disciplinary action against administrators and teachers, “The district expects its staff to adhere to policies and procedures relating to student discipline”; in New Rochelle, the District did not issue a statement but then-Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak did tell a Journal News reporter that the forced march was “nothing more than a way to get in some exercise on a chilly day.”

In New Jersey, no one is defending what took place or those who criticized those involved; in New Rochelle, the entire “New Rochelle Pep Squad” machine piled on the parents who brought the incident to the public’s attention.

Emery Schweig, then-co-president of the New Rochelle High School PTSA said “there are people in New Rochelle who seem to enjoy stirring up the "north vs. south" debate”, claiming to take offense to the allegations and adding "We work our fingers to the bone trying to improve things for all children. I don't know what they can base that sort of criticism on because it's always easier to look across town and see that the grass looks greener, but that's sometimes an illusion. And I know within the district, the administration has bent over backwards trying to offer the same educational opportunities to every child.”

After seven years of reporting by Talk of the Sound, residents now know the claim that all students are offered the same educational opportunities is false, that the district does not bend over backwards, in fact quite the opposite.

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson was so incensed with the Journal News article that he wrote an Op-Ed for the paper, not only attacking the parents but questioning the “journalistic judgment that produced your recent article on supposed north-south disparities in the New Rochelle school system” and accusing the paper of “playing with fire” by “stoking resentments” and describing Eastchester Road as New Rochelle’s "Mason-Dixon line” (a term commonly used in New Rochelle for decades).

Mayor Bramson and Schweig, now a trustee of the New Rochelle Public Library, accused the paper and the parents of portraying a “false narrative of geographic favoritism”.

The key phrase in Bramson’s Op-Ed is “available evidence”.

Bramson writes:

All the available evidence suggests that the New Rochelle schools distribute financial, human and programmatic resources in a fair and appropriate fashion, aimed at providing each child in every part of our city with academic enrichment and an opportunity for success.

Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak made similar claims in the Journal News article.

He claimed that each of the city's schools had been recognized by the state Education Department as "high-performing” and this demonstrated "there has to be something right to how we direct resources and support our schools for them to achieve that level".

This was and is utterly false. NYSED does not even make such a desgination and never has. The use of the AYP claim by Organisciak as "proof" was typical of the sort of false representations by school officials before Talk of the Sound came along.

What Organisciak was referring to was the oft-repeated canard that the desigination "AYP" for a school by the New York State Education Department meant that the school was considered to be "high-performing”. This was based on the false claim that "AYP" stands for "Annual Yearly Progress".  The "A" in "AYP" actually stands for "Adequate" not "Annual. You would think they might know that. See here and here for details on why members of the New Rochelle Board of Education used the phrase "Annual Yearly Progress" and why they stopped.

AYP never meant "Annual Yearly Progress" or been an indication that a school was designated as "high-performing"; it actually meant nothing more than "not failing".

At that time 89% of all public schools in New York State made AYP and 93% of public schools in Westchester County. 95% of all school districts in New York State made AYP. In other words, making AYP was near-unviersal in New York, a rather meaningless "achievement" considering almost all schools "made AYP". Within a few years it no longer mattered anyway because most New Rochelle schools were no longer "making AYP"; once the state tightened up on test scores the number dropped to zero. This is similar to the bogus claims that New Rochelle is full of Blue Ribbon Schools (the most recent National Blue Ribbon Award winner is Isaac E. Young Middle School which won its award in the 1996-97 school year.)

Organisciak added "...if they have evidence, please bring it."

Residents now know that much of what would be evidence to suggest otherwise (graduation rates, violence and disruptive incident reporting, test scores) is not available because it is suppressed or fabricated. The school district budget is intentionally opaque, failing to break out costs related to captital projects or special education or school security or other big ticket items on a school-by-school basis that would show the true allocation of resources. Instead, administrators cite the equitable salaries paid to teachers as "proof" of equity when teacher salaries are mandated to be uniform districtwide under the union contract.

Perhaps the most risible statement in the Op-Ed is Bramson’s claim that “an honest discussion about fairness in the delivery of services is always appropriate”. Organisciak made a similar claim, saying "yhere's nothing about this district or this community that people should fear speaking about publicly. This has been an open forum for both pleasant and unpleasant comments".

Yeah, right.

Everyone in New Rochelle knows that if you raise a problem in the school district you become the problem -- and are targeted for it. Residents, especially parents, live in fear of board members and administrators who are well-known for using their positions to exact revenge against anyone who might point out their failings or those of the district. This in a school district that earlier this school year reduced the available public comment period by almost 80%.

A lot has changed since 2008 when Talk of the Sound first launched and this sort of demagoguery from that time carries little weight in New Rochelle where most residents have come to accept that the North-South divide is quite real after extensive documentation of the facts in our articles over the years.

There is a particular irony in listening to Bramson in this current election cycle pontificate about the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases while decrying how “diversity also brings with it a vulnerability to divisive appeals”. This as Bramson lectures the public on what he calls “unconscious racism”.

He writes: 

Is it the enduring, poisonous legacy of slavery and Jim Crow?  Is it a cultural or social breakdown? Is it persistent, institutional racism in housing, banking, employment, and criminal justice?

Are these not "divisive appeals?"

Note how Bramson leaves out institutional racism in schools. All while ignoring rather obvious examples of institutional racism in New Rochelle including within the government he purports to lead.

In his Op-Ed, Bramson dismissed the idea that there was any North-South divide in New Rochelle schools by declaring that he was a graduate of the New Rochelle schools and that he would soon “proudly send two children to the New Rochelle public schools”.

He failed to mention that he and his children have or will exclusively attend schools north of Eastchester Road, whether Bramson wants to call it a “Mason-Dixon” line or not. Bramson attended Roosevelt Elementary School and Albert Leonard Middle School; his children are on the Davis Elementary School and Albert Leonard Middle School track.

Bramson not only lives in the Davis School district, the least diverse of New Rochelle’s elementary schools but lives in the 10804 zip code, which is one of the least racially diverse zip codes in Westchester County, less racially diverse than even Scarsdale which is not widely known as a bastion of racial inclusion.

New Rochelle has a YMCA which is located in the South End. When Bramson wanted to send his children to a YMCA summer camp he sent them to Rye. The City of New Rochelle, in partnership with the New Rochelle Board of Education, also has summer camp programs. Bramson did not send his children there either.

As Mayor Bramson sings the praises of a group called New Rochelle Against Racism or “NewRoAR” the City Council he leads formally endorsed a program to reduce the black population of New Rochelle in the South End by tearing down the entirely black Hartley Houses and replacing those apartments with Heritage Homes townhouses.

In June 2008, the City Council, led by Bramson, adopted “Analysis to Impediments to Fair Housing Choice”, a document required to be filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which reads:

The NRMHA is also involved in pre-development activities for the redevelopment of the Hartley House complex. The redevelopment is intended to reduce minority concentration by providing a choice in new location to current residents of two of the buildings to be demolished in preparation for construction of new affordable townhouses. Residents are able to use their relocation benefits to obtain housing in other communities or other parts of New Rochelle. The goal of the Hartley House redevelopment is to create a mixed-income development that would attract persons of other racial backgrounds to purchase affordable housing in the complex in an effort to reduce minority concentration.

When you tear down buildings to "attract persons of other racial backgrounds " in order to "reduce minority concentration" in buildings that are 100% African-American, what do you call that?