UPDATE 02-17-2018 2:53 AM A sixth Long Island high school has joined the boycott. This story has been updated.
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Six Long Island School Districts will not attended the New Rochelle High School Model Congress on March 23-24 over safety concerns, as first reported by Tony Aiello of WCBS-TV Channel 2 News.
The boycott comes in the wake of school violence at the largest high school in Westchester that left one student dead - stabbed through the heart with a steak knife by a classmate - another student stabbed twice in the chest by another student in a classroom. The assailant, himself a victim of a 7 on 1 assault at a pizza joint the day before, fled the scene and disappeared. Police have had a felony warrant out for his arrest for a month. There has been a series of follow on violence and arrests that have left the reputation of the New Rochelle School District in tatters.
In a letter to Hewlett parents, Interim Principal Jack Lenson of Hewlett High School said that his school plus those in Lawrence, Oceanside, Wantagh, and Seaford will skip the event over concerns of the recent spate of violence involving New Rochelle High School students.
“The safety of our students and staff is our first priority,” said Lenson. “There is too much uncertainty (in New Rochelle) at this time.”
Colleen Wilson of the Journal News reported late Friday that New Rochelle school officials said that a sixth school Long Beach High School had joined the boycott.
Wilson said she contacted Barbara Giese, a communications official at the Hewlett-Woodmere school district who refused further comment, referring her to the Lenson letter.
Tony Aiello interviewed New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, himself a product of the Model Congress program, in front of the high school earlier today.
"I think it’s enormously disappointing,” said Bramson. “I have to believe (the boycott decision) was made in an impulsive fashion.”
Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne, reflecting a sense of betrayal by his fellow New York State school superintendents, told News12 reporter Tara Jakeway he his peers in Long Island should experience New Rochelle High School for themselves.
“Come and see for yourself. Come see what our school is about,” said Osborne. “Interact with us and come see for themselves that our school will be a welcoming and nurturing place for their kids to come.
Students expressed feeling wounded by the boycott.
“They're saying the place where we learn is unsafe," Andrew Sorota of New Rochelle High School Model Congress NRHS told News12.
“It makes me very upset to know that other people don’t share the same love I have for my school,” said another NRHS Model Congress member.
The students have invited the parents of Model Congress participants from the Long Island schools, as well as advisors or school administrators for a tour and discussion at New Rochelle High School at 10 a.m. on Monday February 26, the first day back after Winter Break which began on Friday February 16th. The students have yet to receive a response to invitation. All of the schools involved are closed until the morning of February 26th.
In a subsequent statement, Osborne and New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson described the invitation differently, as limited to Osborne's counterparts in the league that comprises the United Model Congress, saying "our students..have invited the 8 superintendents to visit New Rochelle."
The City School District of New Rochelle put out a statement attributed to the Executive Board of the New Rochelle High School Model Congress in reference to the March 23-24 Model Congress event scheduled to include participation by the Hewlett-Woodmere Union Free School District, Oceanside Union Free School District, Seaford Union Free School District, Long Beach City School District, Herricks Union Free School District, East Meadow Union Free School District, Lawrence Union Free School District and Wantagh Union Free School District.
The letter states New Rochelle High School has been "deemed unsafe by members of other school communities" and admits that fear of New Rochelle is "reasonable”. The letter goes on to say that school officials including New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson, and model congress advisors, sent numerous letters and made phone calls asserting that New Rochelle High School and the City of New Rochelle is a safe place. The leadership at the five high schools rejected Richardson's claim.
In an interview with Aiello at WCBS, Richardson appeared to contradict the letter posted on the District website.
“I didn’t hear anything from the schools regarding them having concerns,” said Richardson who expressed feeling let down by his counterparts at the Long Island high schools. “Faced with challenging times, that’s when people need support the most, and so it was rather disappointing.”
In a co-signed letter to Model Congress parents, Richardson and Brian Osborne went further in contradicting the letter from students of the New Rochelle High School Model Congress Executive Board, saying "the decision was made without warning and with virtually no communication."
Richardson told Wilson at the Journal News that he spoke with Interim Principal Jack Lenson of Hewlett High School on Thursday, the date on Lenson’s letter to parents, in an attempt to change his mind.
"I asked him to reconsider, I assured him that they would be absolutely safe," Richardson told Colleen Wilson. "They're familiar with the students because they've worked together on Model Congress for the last three years.
“I thought it was very disappointing for that to be the decision,” Richardson added.
The letter from the Students of New Rochelle Model Congress LIV Executive Board reads in full:
Dear Advisors and Parents of United Model Congress,
It has come to our attention that many of you have reservations with sending your students to New Rochelle Model Congress this year in light of the adversity that our city has recently faced. In fact, we have been informed that several delegations will not be attending the event this year, despite numerous letters and phone calls from our advisors and principal, reaffirming that our school, and city at large, are indeed safe places to send your students.
Your reluctance is reasonable — over the past few months, New Rochelle has been painted with a broad brush. Local and national news outlets have falsely portrayed New Rochelle High School as a being school that is plagued with chaos and violence. If this is all you knew about New Rochelle High School, we would understand why you would not want to send your students to New Rochelle Model Congress this year. However, this is not the case. This will be New Rochelle’s 54th Model Congress event, making it the oldest Model Congress organization in the country. New Rochelle Model Congress has existed for 54 years, devoid of any scandals or problems. Model Congress plays such an integral role in the lives of so many of its participants, and every year, students from across the State of New York look forward to New Rochelle Model Congress, an event that culminates our successful year of debating and growing as individuals. Seniors cherish their time at New Rochelle Model Congress when they are able to deliver their senior speeches, one last expression of how much the club means to them.
It saddens us that this year will be different. It saddens us that students will not be able to experience their last Model Congress event, something many look forward to from their freshman year onward. And, of course, it saddens us that we will not be able to enjoy our own Model Congress event in the presence of many of our peers from other delegations. But, most of all, it saddens us that our school, the place where we spend most of our time, has been deemed unsafe by members of other school communities that we have grown so close to over the past four years. We admire the lengths you all would go to to keep your children safe. And if we thought New Rochelle’s newfound portrayal was warranted, we would not blame you for telling your children not to attend our event. But all we ask of you is this: please do not let the acts of a handful of children, none of whom are involved with Model Congress, determine the reputation of a school that has over 3500 students. Please do not deduce that New Rochelle, our home, is a dangerous place, simply because that is how it has been portrayed by the media. Finally, please permit your students to attend New Rochelle Model Congress this year.
If any parent, advisor or school administrator has reservations about sending their child to our Model Congress event, we encourage them to visit New Rochelle High School at 10 a.m. on February 26 for a tour and discussion.
Our deepest regards,
The Students of New Rochelle Model Congress LIV Executive Board
Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and New Rochelle Principal Reggie Richardson sent a letter to parents of New Rochelle High School Model Congress participants which reads:
Dear New Rochelle Parents of Model Congress participants,
For more than 50 years New Rochelle has hosted our Model Congress, educating our students to become our next generation of leaders.
Model Congress teaches students about how our democracy functions, providing them with lessons in how to put forward and advocate ideas, resolve differences through compromise and diplomacy, and forge life-long bonds with students from different backgrounds and different homes. In short, it teaches them how to effectively communicate, advocate, and seek resolution.
That’s why we were disappointed and outraged to learn that several schools on Long Island were declining to send delegations to New Rochelle’s Model Congress on March 23rd and 24th. This decision was made without warning and with virtually no communication. It runs counter to every lesson that our students learn at Model Congress.
Our student leaders in New Rochelle High School’s Model Congress have been communicating with students at Hewlett, Oceanside, and Lawrence who believe New Rochelle has a great model Congress and want to attend. Consider this quote from Austin Kornbluth from Wantagh who says:
“I've been going to congresses for 4 years now. The new Rochelle delegates have been nothing but kind and respectful no matter where they are....I feel completely safe in going to New Rochelle as do my parents. I have welcomed dozens of New Rochelle delegates into my home in the past 4 years and they have been some of the most respectful, kind, safe people I have met. It is a shame to see that schools are pulling out but if we were allowed to go, myself and the members of tri-d Wantagh would feel nothing but safe and overjoyed to be there for the full weekend.”
We couldn’t agree more.
That’s why we are proud to stand behind our students who have invited the 8 superintendents to visit New Rochelle High School at 10 a.m. on February 26. True to the lessons of Model Congress, they believe if a school administrator is going to walk back on a commitment to send a delegation, they should at least visit the school first to so the decision is an informed one.
We have been reaching out to the Principals and Superintendents of the Long Island schools to reinforce our students' message that their decision should be thoughtful and well-informed, and to urge them to reconsider for the benefit of both our school communities. Model Congress is about bringing people together to engage in discourse; to self-isolate as a reaction to unvalidated perception is antithetical to that purpose.
We will keep you posted about these efforts, and how you might also lend your voice if needed to encourage a higher quality dialogue.
Dr. Brian G. Osborne Superintendent
Reggie Richardson Principal
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson posted comments on his blog which reads:
I could not be more proud of the leadership of New Rochelle High School’s Model Congress for writing this outstanding letter to the superintendents of eight Long Island school districts.
(An additional note, see above) to parents from Superintendent Brian Osborne and Principal Reggie Richardson captures my feelings about the disappointing (and I have used much, much stronger adjectives in private) decision of several Long Island schools to skip this year’s Model Congress weekend in New Rochelle, and our collective determination to have this impulsive and unwarranted decision reversed.
In my public comments in recent weeks, I have called on adults to serve as role models for youngsters. But sometimes, it’s the other way around; in this case, it’s the kids who are demonstrating wisdom, kindness, and rationality, and I hope that the educators on Long Island are listening closely. Their own students are eager to return to New Rochelle — let them come!
Let me confess that I am a little (well, a lot) biased when it comes to this subject. Model Congress was the primary focus of my extra-curricular activities as a student and had a pretty powerful influence on my life. Now in its fifty-fourth year, NRHS Model Congress remains a terrific organization that gives countless students an opportunity to learn about issues, debate opinions, and grow into more thoughtful, informed human beings.
This is a moment when adults need to be as good as the kids we serve, and I will do everything in my power to support the terrific leaders and members of an outstanding and valuable New Rochelle club.
NEWSDAY: LI schools to skip Model Congress event in New Rochelle