Now Playing in New Rochelle, "Book, Interrupted"!

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New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen's harrowing memoir that inspired Academy Award-Winning Film starring Winona Ryder and Angela Jolie.

UPDATE: District Relents, Vows to Replace Books
Publisher Knopf Condemns Censorship in New Rochelle

Winona Ryder Angelina Jolie Girl, Interrupted.jpg

Students at New Rochelle School High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of "Girl, Interrupted" to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachussets mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angelina Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

GirlInterrupted-Torn2.jpg

Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

cindybabcockdeutsch.jpgThe ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, the President of the School Board. Babcock-Deutsch has a well-documented history of practicing censorship in her role as chairperson of board of education meetings. She has repeatedly asserted that "privacy laws" bar criticism of senior school administrators at school board meetings. More recently she has resorted to threats, interruptions and physical intimidation to silence critics at what are public meetings in public buildings.

Ms. Babcock-Deutsch did not respond to repeated requests to explain the actions of the District in censoring the book by tearing out pages. Don Conetta, principal of the school, and Richard Organisciak, schools superintendent, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources at the District who declined to be identified confirmed that the district does have a book selection and book challenge process but those same sources claim the district failed to follow those policies in this case.

"We should either teach a book or not teach book," said one New Rochelle teacher who disagreed with the District's decision. "What sort of message do we send our students when we vandalize books?" While agreeing the content is not be suitable for all students, the teacher pointed out that the student involved were mostly 12th graders including some who were over 18 years of age. "Does someone in the school think these kids don't know about sex?"

The book was originally added to the curriculum at the request of a teacher no longer employed by the district. It was taught without incident at least one year prior to the complaint. The chairperson has admitted she did not read the book before approving it for use and only acted after receiving a complaint.

"The most shocking part of this story," said Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, "is that an English teacher in the 21st century would consciously emulate the example of Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century man who is infamous for his expurgations of Shakespeare!"

For her performance as Lisa in the film "Girl, Interrupted", Angela Jolie won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Jolie also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actor's Guild Award for the role.

If you would like to share your thoughts on the decision of the school district to censor Girl, Interrupted you can reach school district officials here:

Cindy Babcock Deutsch
President
Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle
cindycsdnr@gmail.com
914-576-4300

Richard Organisciak
Superintendent of Schools
City School District of New Rochelle
rorganisciak@newrochelle.k12.ny.us
914-576-4300

Don Conetta
Principal
New Rochelle High School
Dconetta@newrochelle.k12.ny.us
914-576-4500

BLOGOSPHERE REAX:

BoingBoing: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children (very active comments)

Some of the BoingBoing comments:

- Wow, I've never heard someone in the process of actively bowdlerizing use the term directly in defense of their actions.

- I have nothing but contempt for people who spend their time censoring sexual content in literature and movies

- This is a high school. If the administration thinks that their students wouldn't be having sex were it not for the encouragement of this book, they are deluding themselves.

- Books have plenty of other lovely redeeming features aside from their text. They make good coasters, they can be used to level uneven furniture, they provide heat when burned, and if the pages are thin enough, they make excellent toilet paper.

- Someone RIPPING pages from a book needs to be horsewhipped along with the idiots out there that are burning books.

- The little litigator inside me is thinking that a case could be made by the copyright holder for infringement by the production of a derivative work. By intentionally removing a broad swath of the story they have created a derivative work; as it was a registered work that was infringed, they could be liable for hefty damages.

- If the book is so objectionable that they have to tear it apart to protect students, why do they have it in stock in the first place? Ohh dear. If you're going to ask someone to write about a book, at least let them read the book in its entirety first. If I was a teacher at that school, I would have some serious concerns with the management
Did anyone else find "the liberty of bowdlerizing" to be a particularly hilarious turn of phrase?

- "liberty of bowdlerizing." So, they have the liberty to restrict other people's liberties, Sounds about right to me

- Protecting high school students from sexual content is sort of like trying to keep the ocean floor dry.

HotAir: A case of libri interruptus (very active comments)

If New Rochelle High and the school board found this book inappropriate for its students, they could simply have found another book to use in its lesson plan. Requiring students to read the book, and then ripping pages out of it, doesn’t just justify vandalism but also sends a message of incompetence and confusion. They had to have students return the books to get the pages torn out personally by the chair of the English department only after parents complained.

Did the school actually read the book before putting it on the lesson plan? If so, why didn’t they defend it from the complaints? And if they weren’t interested in doing that, why did they not just pull the book out of their library altogether? The same language persists throughout the book, and not just on the excised pages, as a search of the F-word returns more than 70 hits in the Amazon search.

New Rochelle High went too far in this case. Bowdlerizing books is a practice that went out of fashion decades ago, and for good reasons. It’s a poor substitute for proper consideration and preparation of reading and teaching material.

Some of the HotAir comments:

- Is this the real life “The Music Man”? … minus the entertaining song and dance.

- Cutting pages out is horrible…have respect for the written word.
It gives me the chills to think some person sits there a uses scissors to make a book “right”

- Ripping out pages? Really? This is a gross insult to the writer (an artist as well as a craftsperson)…a gross insult to the students’ intelligence, and so much more.

- Destroying or physically defacing books is just so creepy. It’s shiver-inducing creepy.

Crooks and Liars: New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from "Girl, Interrupted"

Seems to me that once again some winger complained and we have censorship as a result. Hey, they didn't like a portion of the book so just rip the pages out and be done with it. This is a "War on Christmas Literature." Why didn't they just burn the book? America should be outraged.

Some of the Crooks and Liars comments:

- That's a pretty astounding response from an English chair.

The Puget News: Bowdlerizing "Girl, Interrupted"

What the hell? An official quote form the school actually mentions “bowdlerizing”? Do they know how this has gone down (pun intended) in the past?

There He Is: Book burning alive and well in West Chester, NY

Well [Bowlder's] philosophy of line-item book burning is being followed by Cindy Babcock Deutsch, President of the Thought Police Board of Education of the New Rochelle School District. What did she censor? A section of the book "Girl, Interrupted" in which a girl discusses oral sex. This being studied by a senior year english class (who have NEVER even CONCEIVED of what oral sex is). You stay progressive, Cindy. I am sure you'll embrace forever having your name equated with book burner on the internet sooner or later.

Liberty's Harbor: High School Book Censorship Silliness

One does not, any circumstances, tear pages out of books. It is just uncivilized and wrong. Period.

Biliophile Bullpen: Thomas Bowdler rides boldy into the 21st century

No offense but if i had kids in that school system, i'd riot - and vote those f---ers out of office.

Censorship is the vile business of bigots and zealots; it is always abhorred by enlightened people. These teachers should be censured publicly and summarily fired immediately. Their teaching credentials should be revoked.

under the covers: good, old-fashioned censorship

While Thomas Bowdler would surely approve, I do not. I hear these stories all the time but still can't quite believe they're real.

OTHER BLOG POSTS OF NOTE

National Coalition Against Censorship Blog: School officials rip pages from Girl, Interrupted

Joanne Jaobs: Ripped

Bookninja: Book, interrupted

Pat Dollard: Bowdlerizing: The New “Tower Of Babel” Is Censorship

Librarian and Information Science News: Mutilating books for Censorship

Bookshelves of Doom: New Rochelle High School is teaching Girl, Interrupted... minus pages 64-70

KTM: New Rochelle Schools Censor "Girl, Interrupted" by Tearing Out Pages

OW: Worst Person in the World? Cindy Babcock Deutsch

YPulse: More book bashing

Vatul: Another Account Of School Censorship

DTMB: NY School District Authorizes HS English Dept. to"Tear Out" Inappropriate Pages

minor topics: Bowdlerizing Alive and Well in New Rochelle

Obscurant 2.0: That’s When I reach For My Revolver

Intercourse with Biscuits: Girl, Interrupted

bmw: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children

Brandywine Parents: libri interruptus

Lessons from the Tortoise: Are we really talking about this again?

UPDATE

Facing Firestorm of Criticism, New Rochelle Schools Relent on "Girl, Interrupted" Censorship

World Reacts with Strong Condemnation to New Rochelle School's Censorship

Two Days Late, Journal News Reports on "Girl, Interrupted" Controversy

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Anonymous on Thu, 06/04/2009 - 15:06

that's interesting post, thanks for the writing!

Anonymous on Sun, 02/08/2009 - 05:04

Members of the public who appear before the school board to speak at City Hall are told they may not mention or indirectly refer to any district personnel including public figures such as the Superintendent of Schools. Attempts to criticize school administrators are gaveled down and security is called.

Anonymous on Mon, 01/19/2009 - 17:35

Your only basis for implicating Ms. Babcock Deutsch is that she asked you to be quiet at a board meeting.

The Bowdlerization is unfortunate, but that was neither committed nor supported by Ms. Babcock Deutsch. This could have been a decent article if:
a) you knew how to write
b) you stayed on point, rather than jamming your personal vendetta down everyone's throat.

MrTalk on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 18:04

I suggest you familiarize yourself with the "book challenge" and "book selection" process for the New Rochelle school district. You might then realize that the book challenge process concludes with the president of the school board putting the issue on the agenda at a school board meeting. She did not do that; the District failed to follow their own process.

With great power comes great responsibility - and as school board president, Cindy Babcock-Deutsch is responsible for what goes on in the district.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/31/2008 - 09:02

I found that my school had cut out a section of a book that we were reading (I can't remember which book it was), was to find an unaltered copy and read the missing sections. Nothing makes a kid want to read something more than telling them that they can't. The school's action to "protect" the students was completely ineffective. Do they think that the students can't get another copy, that they can't just pull up the text online and read it?

This form of censorship is not only wrong, illegal (as mentioned in a (wholesale lingerie) previous comment)and utterly ridiculous, it is also completely unnecessary. No one was forcing the school board to use this text. If they deemed it inappropriate to teach in class, fine don't teach it

Anonymous on Thu, 12/18/2008 - 17:12

I taught English lit a decade ago and the sanctioned text book had eliminated a key passage from Shakespeare's "Othello". My assignment for students was to write the passage, in permanent ink, back into the textbooks.

F*ck censorship. And public schools. They're simply government brainwashing and mind control factories.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 03:46

It appears that the school board has unwillingly relented and will replace to vandalized books.

I find comfort that others are speaking out about the reckless violations that occur within the clown house that is the School District of New Rochelle.

Egregious violations of one's civil, First Amendment, and Disability Act rights, warrants more then just commentary from a town's citizenry. Action is needed and needed now. If not for yourself, then for our children.

I am of the belief that there are those teachers who are honestly good teachers caught in a bad bind. They are drowned and snuffed out by the recklessness and thuggery of the Board of Education. We need only look at what's happening in the state of Illinois, to see where this path will lead us.

We must demand that our state district representatives along with State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo take action on behalf of residents and children of the Town.

It is the only way, that the Fascist who control our Board of Education will stand up and take notice. A collective, "Not here, not now, not ever" is in order.

My wife and I still love it here and we are going to fight for accountability from all those who have influence over our children in our school districts and elsewhere. We owe to them to not let this happen anymore.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:01

It is amusing that this post was made by "anonymous" on behalf of his wife and him. Way to stand up!

New Rochelle Co... on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 11:52

Thank you.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 01:41
Title: Censorship

Changing the subject a little, does anybody find it interesting how the Journal News quoted Mr. Conetta saying "We do not censor..." I wonder if he has ever used a computer to go online at school. Because if he did, he would know that if you try to research something, or your teacher wants to show the class something interesting that happened in the news that has to do with what we are learning, you end up with a nice window that tells you this site is inappropriate. Isn't this a clear example of censorship?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 14:01

Anyone who is in the least familiar with how the District is run knows that the first and last priority is ALWAYS propaganda. No criticism is tolerated, no bad news is every acknowledged, no dissenting voices are welcome.

Welcome to the People's Republic of New Rochelle otherwise known as the City School District of New Rochelle.

Warren Gross on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 17:03
Title: censorship

why is anyone surprised at the subsequent response from the board or administraton. Organisciak is a master of obfuscation and his "bushisms" rank with the best on the internet. Wasn't he the guy who said years earlier in a situation involving a high school initiation prank in Long Island that ' we have zero tolerance for any act of harassment real or imagined." well, take away the quotation marks as memory is a bit off, but it is easily found on the Internet.

As far as this Board of Directors are concerned, none are more arrogant and frankly, less skilled. The stories of heavy handed action, lack of parent access, stonewalling of information and blind obedience to annual tax increases are legendary. Their menu choices in using scarce funds are also legendary --- pay for artificial turf and neglect even a semblance of a capital planning strategy are well known in these parts. You might like to check out the graduate rate, drop in student performance, issues around the number of students in key school like the high school and ward school.

Someone once said "people get the government they deserve." This is more true than ever in this day and age. The board is arrogant, blind to change, non-response, beyond any redemption, and their choices in who they place in charge of some of the schools, especially the choice of Superintendent, are lamentable and speak volumes for the city to assume much more of an oversight role and for the voters to think about what they are doing before pulling down a lever.

Now bowdlerize, or better yet, expurgate this little piece of whimsy --- better yet, enough of scola interruptus -- the kids are alright, but you ain't.

Anonymous on Sat, 02/07/2009 - 13:23

I am of the belief that there are those teachers who are honestly good teachers caught in a bad bind. They are drowned and snuffed out by the recklessness and thuggery of the Board of Education.

Anonymous on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 06:16

facebook encourages school board protest. if you have one, please join this event.
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=40033916271&ref=mf

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 15:27
Title: paul

Gotta love Long Island!

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 20:08

looking better by the day especially since you shipped ol organisciak to westchester a few years earlier. are you less bowdlerized?

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 19:44
Title: What?

Ummm Paul? New Rochelle is not on Long Island. What are you talking about?

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 05:51

I actually went to New Rochelle High School, and I don't see how this is breaking news, since I read a bowdlerized copy of the book five years ago. Knowing that pages were missing, I immediately bought a copy and used that one in class instead.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 04:24

I am saddened to hear that in 2008, censorship is alive and well in the New Rochelle school district.

As a recent newcomer to the town, my wife and I debated on whether or not to live in a town that is more representative of the fabric of our country, or a town that didn't. Basically, Scarsdale or New Rochelle.

Our decision was based on several factors, chief amongst them, the educational system of the district.
We had strong arguments from various friends of ours to choose Scarsdale over New Rochelle, for several reasons.

They suggested that the NR school district was seriously lacking in several areas as opposed to other districts. After reading about the actions of Ms. Deutsch, who in my opinion is a fascist, my wife and I are seriously thinking about relocating to Scarsdale.

We love it here, but to think that she was elected to her current position by the people of this community, is quite frankly disturbing and utterly shameful.

As history has shown us, a person or a people who would censor or destroy books, is capable of doing anything.

Tis truly a sad day for New Rochelle.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:07
Title: Fascism?

Oh puhleeze. If you want to move to Scarsdale, go right ahead, but at least be honest about your reasons. You love it here, but you cannot live among the citizens of New Rochelle becuase they elected a particular woman to the board of ed? Perhaps you should take a look at the tiny turnout for school board elections. The people who so disgust you are a tiny minority of the citizenship of the city.

Grow up or get lost. No fascists in Scarsdale, I'm sure. We won't miss you.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 19:07

Scarsdale has another whole set of problems. You'd be trading one for another. I know this first hand.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 14:03

I do not know whether Scarsdale is better or worse on civil rights but the actions of the district may have violated the First Amendment rights of the students based on a 25 year old Supreme Court decision, Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982). It would depend on the motivation and intention of the people who sought to have the book and/or the pages removed from the school.

The First Amendment Center wrote about Pico:

...the Court recognized that the First Amendment rights of students are “directly and sharply implicated” when a book is removed from a school library. Therefore, the discretion of school boards to remove books from school libraries is limited. The law requires that if a book is to be removed, an inquiry must be made as to the motivation and intention of the party calling for its removal. If the party’s intention is to deny students access to ideas with which the party disagrees, it is a violation of the First Amendment.

Before publishing this story I repeatedly asked Superintendent Richard Organisciak to provide me a copy of the school districts policy on book selection and on book challenge. I have contacted Richard Organisciak, Cindy Babcock-Deutsch and Don Conetta in an attempt to get comment and determine whether the book challenge policy, if any, was followed. There has not been a single response.

This is hardly a unique case of the District trampling on the civil rights of students and parents in New Rochelle, just part of a broader pattern of suppression of rights in New Rochelle schools.

My daughter was the editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper. She was required to meet with the principal before each edition was published for what is called "prior review". The principal has the authority to edit or spike any story in the school paper. This is widely viewed among First Amendment advocates of a denial of the civil rights of students and having a "chilling effect" on speech.

Members of the public who appear before the school board to speak at City Hall are told they may not mention or indirectly refer to any district personnel including public figures such as the Superintendent of Schools. Attempts to criticize school administrators are gaveled down and security is called.

The district routinely fails to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and thereby violates the civil rights of special needs students.

Disciplinary action in the school system falls disproportionately on minority students, many of whom do not have parents in a position to effectively advocate for their children.

It is hard to pick just one but perhaps the most flagrant and egregious violation of civil rights revolves on the denial of due process, the 5th and 14th Amendment. The full version of the school district's "Code of Conduct" contains several pages about the due process rights of parents and students in cases of suspensions and expulsions - things like the right to be notified BEFORE a suspension is given, the right to be notified in "dominant language of household", the right to a hearing, the right to call witnesses, the right to an appeal. The district routinely suspends students without due process. Few parents know this because the heavily expurgated "Summary" version of the Code of Conduct sent to parents once a year has all of the pages on due process removed (sound familiar?). In my experience, few district personnel even know that students and parents HAVE due process rights.

The list goes on and on.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:12

I'll vote for you.

You are seething with such outrage, but you are not willing to even post your name here, let alone try to convince your neighbors - who elected Deutsch and all the others - to change course.

How seriously do you expect to be taken? At least your daughter put her name (I assume) on the paper she edited. You don't even have the courage to sign an obscure blog post, as important as you say this issue is to you? Coward.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 03:54
Title: Censorship

I am outraged by this! As a mother of 3 NRHS grdauates and a New Rochelle taxpayer, I think this act takes us back to the Dark Ages! This is 2008! If a book is objectionable, eliminate it, don't vandalize it.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:14
Title: Outrage!

So outraged you won't even sign your post!

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 02:30

Can someone post what grade level this book was assigned to and what was the title of the class?

What other books are on the list for the semester? I am just curious. Doesn't anybody read The Outsiders anymore or Huck Finn? Diary of Ann Frank? Wuthering Heights? Tess of the D'urbervilles? Shakespeare? Gulliver's Travels? Treasure Island?

It sounds like the head of the English department didn't even read the book that was assigned for even more than one year.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 13:47

...or classpersons if you prefer.

The book was assigned to 11th and 12th graders.

By way of comparison, 10th graders were assigned The Kite Runner which contains scenes depicting male rape. In the case of "Girl, Interrupted", the pages torn out depict a DISCUSSION about sex.

Anonymous on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 23:44

Hello, I am an alumni of the New Rochelle school system and a resident and citizen of New Rochelle. I am of course upset about this terrible act of censorship and violence to a book. I am beginning a letter writing campaign to the schoolboard and NRHS. I think the goals of such a campaign should set aside the complicated and sensitive issue of what material is and isn't appropriate in a school setting, and instead focus on eliciting a guarantee from the school board that they will not physically damage a book in their possession. If teachers choose not to teach certain parts of a book, they can simply not assign those parts, or make xeroxes of the parts they wish to assign, both of which do not necessitate permanently vandalizing an existing book. This post provides several of the e-mails it would be prudent to contact in such a letter writing campaign. I would also add to that list Maggie Skau, the school board public information officer, at mskau@nred.org and the head of the NRHS English Department, Leslie Altschul, laltschul@nred.org.
If you have further interest or suggestions on how to approach a community response to this matter, please feel free to contact me at askmartin@gmail.com
-Andrew Martin

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 14:53

The next board meeting will be held next Tuesday on the second floor at City Hall. At the end of each board meeting there is a public comment period where anyone can speak for a limited time (it varies from 3-5 minutes). Anyone who is concerned should come to the meeting and give a few minutes of their time to explain to the board why the district's actions here were wrong.

As someone who DOES attend school board meetings I can tell you that unless teachers are getting tenure or there is some other special event, there are typically close to zero members of the public present. The board prefers to operate in the dark so this suits them fine. Most people who attend the school board meetings come away dismayed at the lack of a democratic process (e.g. the board votes on resolutions BEFORE the public comment period and good luck in getting your hands on the resolutions before the day of a board meeting) so do not get your hopes up. The board's policy is to say nothing during or after the public comment period, they do not respond to questions or otherwise engage with the public. It is the policy of the board that you are not permitted to MENTION district personnel by name (or even refer to them indirectly) so you will not be able to mention Ms. Altschul, Don Conetta, or any other district personnel in your remarks.

Now that you know what you are up against let me suggest the following as a plan of action:

1) Require the district to make public on their web site the "book selection" and "book challenge" process. According to the people from the National Coalition Against Censorship almost every district has these policies on the books. Let's see what they are in New Rochelle.

2) Determine whether either process was followed in the case of "Girl, Interrupted".

3) Determine how many other books have been similarly challenged, what sort of hearings took place, whether other books were banned, restricted or bowdlerized.

4) Fix or replace any books that have been defaced in any way; remove restrictions or bans on any books where the book challenge process was not followed. If someone then wants to follow the process for a book challenge let them do so openly.

5) Invite the National Coalition Against Censorship (or similar group) to present on this topic to a student assembly at the high school and run workshops for teachers at the next Superintedent's Day.

6) Get a pledge from each board member to never let this happen again.

That would be a start. I would welcome any additional goals and objectives folks might add to this list.

Writing emails is good - and people should - but shining a light on the conduct of the board is the most effective means of brining about change.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:17

Someone at last who is willing to act instead of complain, and willing to post under a (presumably) real name, rather than anonymously.

I will bet a lot of money that hardly anyone shows up to the board meeting you are urging them to attend. If people were as outraged by this as they claim to be, the school board meetings would be packed, and the current board would be thrown out of office.

Let's see what happens.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Sat, 12/13/2008 - 00:07

Define "a lot of money" and "hardly anyone"!!!! :-)

That said, you are certainly right to say that if most people really knew what was going on in New Rochelle they would be outraged. Most don't want to know and those in charge like it that way.

Case in point, if Don Conetta is to believed, district personnel knew about this book censorship issue four years ago and said nothing. Students knew about it and said nothing. We put up a little blog post and all of a sudden the school district's switchboard lights up.

Don't get me wrong, this is an egregious case of censorship but is nothing compared to the theft, fraud and mismanagement which defines the district. Imagine what would happen if people got a transparent accounting for how the district spends the quarter billion dollars a year that sloshes around their coffers. Anyone here ever try to decipher the school district's budget? Ha!

That is where the Internet becomes such a powerful tool. No one person in New Rochelle knows the full extent of corruption but each of us adds our little bit of what we know to a central web site like this one, the pieces of the puzzle can start to sort themselves out. A favorite trick of the district is to avoid putting things in writing and talk to parents alone so there is no record and no good way for parents to compare notes. As a result, parents can be told pretty much anything and they typically have no good way to know they've been told a lie.

It's why the entrenched interests are so threatened by this web site.

Warren Gross on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 17:28

all sensible and sound. recently the city administration has been getting a little more concerned about the deficits in the school district and this latest incident should just about turn the tide in terms of installing more accountability. Mayor Bramson is decent and intelligent enough to recognize that a growing city burdened with a failing district, a board with little or no oversight or policy skills, one which practices censorship as you have reported even at public meetigs, and one which has even asked an ex councilman to leave a meeting even though his presence was to advocate for his child, has no, repeat no place in any strategic plan for our city's growth. an earlier blog reply from a recent resident speaks volumes to the issue as that family is debating moving to scarsdale.

Bob, send your blog ideas and any other indicators that you feel are important to noam and to chuck strome. noam is a advocate of open communication and as indicated, is beginning to look at the district with fresh ideas.

My idea if you want something to add to your list is that the mayor appoint a formal organizational arrangement headed up by someone of impeccable moral credentials as well as decent business skills, to attend all board meetings and other matters and report back to Chuck and he. The other part of the formal arrangement would be some for of ombudsman who would have an open door policy to hear parent and other grievances and report such to the individual who attends the board meetings. My personal wish list is to replace the entire board with appointments made by mayor and council, augmented by one or two "community appointments as soon as possible. While that perculates, I would strongly advise the dismissal of Organisciak who has produced to my knowledge anything resembling a coherent business plan for the district, a critical review of principal criteria especially at the key middle school level, a total revamping of policy and process that produce a opaque as opposed to a transparent system.

Bob, if it came to anything, I would love to see Carlos Sanchez and you holding either an appointed post or serving as one of the community advocates. And, finally, get the union out of a non-collective bargaining role by not allowing the union to participate in district budget presentations to community as well as removal from head of PTA post. This is absurd!

best mr g

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:22

If you think Noam is going to help you battle the school board, you have not been paying attention to New Rochelle politics for the last 10 yrs. Noam has no courage to do anything controversial, and if he did, it wouldn't be in opposition to the schools. Look who he picked as his successor to his city council seat: a former board member.

You want change in this town? Throw out all incumbent city council members and board of ed members. End the dynastic rule of these people.

Warren Gross on Tue, 12/16/2008 - 19:23

I hope you're wrong and I think you may be at this point. You seem to suggest that Noam is most ameniable to what and who he knows and, thus, Barry Fertel, etc.. I concede that was the case, but I think less so today. People grow and politics is a dirty business, and we all want people around us we know and feel comfortable with. I have personally asked Noam on several occasions to broaden his net of advisors and be more active in seeking contributors from opposing voices. He is starting to do that I think and is seeing some things with a different set of perspectives than he did a year or so ago. Times change people on occasion and our Mayor loves this city as much as I do and think you do. He is beginning to see the effects of significant propositions, such as a school district and system, on the growth and development of our city.

Mr A, maybe I am wrong, but lets suspend judgment for a while and try to help move this city forward in as many ways as we can. Bob Cox, Carlos Sanchez and others open shut eyes to the school district something I have challenged for several years. Bob, is literally an asset to our community and I never met the man. He knows the power of positive work.

I have just finished the lengthy Suozzi report on Property taxes, school districts, STAR ex.... it is all there and suggest you see the enormity of this challenge from that perspective. And, it might be fun to see what Organisciak says about "appropriate" material at the 12-18 meeting. Maybe we all should try to make it and unlace our shoes in the event he begins something analogous to his performance shortly after the unavoidable fire at the high school in the summer. Took him about 48 hours to provide a plaque for Noam and Chuck Strome for God knows what reason -- he could have done better by giving them to the first responders.

That is what you are facing here --- "appropriate, educators, professionals, diversity, ..... the list of pedagogic buzz words go on as a substitute for solid change and community accountability. Noam Bramson will be fine --- even if not, he really needs to slide behind the people in the community entrusted with lots of our money and most of our hopes to ensure the kids are alright. What they don't need is "dark sarcasm in the classroom" as seen by censoring what they read and affixing a label called "appropriate on an agenda item. What is literally up with that?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 18:08

The idea of an ombudsman to help parents contend with the district bureaucracy is a very good one - something I have spoken about myself. At least parents would theoretically have an ally who could explain why various statements from school officials to parents are untrue. Parents are routinely lied to by district employees. This is why the district goes to great length to discourage parents from comparing notes. It is why they are threatened by this web site.

There are MANY good teachers in New Rochelle and some in the administration who are disgusted by the behavior of those who control what goes on in the New Rochelle school district. These people have learned, however, that to get along you have to go along - and the district plays the hardest of hardball with district personnel who don't drink the Kool-Aid. As is always the case in a dysfunctional organization, the problems start with bad leadership. The old saying "a fish rots from the head down" was never more true than in the City School District of New Rochelle

There is not enough time in the day for me to post every store I hear about malfeasance and inappropriate conduct within the schools - ripping pages out of books, smoking cigars at the school, collective punishments of young children, racially insensitive remarks, physical abuse of students by staff, drug dealing my district employees, gang activity, sexual improprieties, CPS violations, forging records, falsifying records, perjury, obstruction of justice. Really, there is no end to the list. I for one, have no intention of publishing things here that I cannot fully document as the leadership in New Rochelle will have no problem in using taxpayer dollars to finance legal action against me and this site should I give them an opening.

That is also why we allow residents to register and report what they know about goings on in New Rochelle. First hand accounts of the truth are an absolute defense against legal threats from the district.

If anyone in New Rochelle were seriously interested in holding the school board and the administration to account I can offer a few VERY SIMPLE and CHEAP ways to make that happen.

1) Remove all postal meters in school buildings so that all outbound mail must be stamped at the post office - this will end the common practice of back-dating legal communications between parents and school officials. The postal meters used by the school district can be easily manipulated to print ANY DATE desired by the sender.

2) Broadcast every public meeting of the school board on public access TV

3) Require that all documents presented at school board meetings be published on the web at least one week prior to the board meeting without exception; likewise allow the public to obtain hard copies at City Hall.

4) Move the public comment period at meetings to the beginning of all school board meetings, display the timer used to limit public comments, fix the amount of time allowed for public comment at 5 minutes (it changes from meeting to meeting)

5) Send parents the FULL code of conduct not the censored "summary" version that has been sent out for years. Maybe then parents will realize that school officials and staff have various legal obligations to parents and students and then families in New Rochelle have complete "due process" rights.

6) Term Limits - Limit board members to three terms during their lifetime, apply this limit to spouses as well, reduce the length of the terms of office from 5 years to 4 years for board members, stagger the elections so that half the board is up for election every two years, hold a separate election for school board president so this position is an elected position with a two year term, exclude any sitting board member from running for school board president so the board president is accountable directly to residents of New Rochelle not board members who appoint their own President.

8 ) Consolidate school board elections to insure maximum turn out, hold elections on weekends instead of during the week.

9) Geographical representation - elect board members by each of the 10 elementary school sub-districts, this might help end the disproportionate representation of the North End on the school board.

Anyone care to add to this list of simple steps to bring transparency

Anonymous on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 22:35

I graduated from NRHS a few years ago and I can tell you that my MANDATORY Health course discussed oral sex.

If this is a senior ELECTIVE (since all 12th grade classes are electives), then I think they should have the right to read the book. Give a warning to parents at the beginning of the year saying sexual content may be present in books. More importantly most of the students are (as said) 18 and can legally see a rated R movie which is probably more graphic than whatever description is in the book.

purplepride on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 04:28
Title: Health

In case anyone forgot, Health is required junior or senior year in order to graduate with a NYS Regents Diploma, so oral sex must have been touched upon, even briefly, as an alternative to intercourse.

When did NRHS become fascist?

Anonymous on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 01:59

Dear Sir and the parents of New Rochelle,

This is not a fight about a bowdlerized text but rather it is about a lack of trust. You claim teachers/admins do not trust the students; it is quite the contrary. Parents don't trust the teachers and the teachers therefore opt to present less controversial material to prevent their careers being blasted on the internet. Case in point.

We continue to blame others rather than take responsibility for raising our children with a sense of morality and open mindedness.

Let us not ruin the careers of those who have devoted their lives to educating your children.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 20:38

I don't think this has much to do with trusting teachers. the front line classroom teacher in new rochelle is, in the greatest preponderance of cases, excellent and i have seen them take on roles that others should perform, be they administrtors or parents. I have been to many schools in the district and say this with absolute confidence.

A department head made a dreadful choice and instead of dealing properly with it, the acministration and board simply demonstrated a continuation of poor judgement, arrogant "we are eductors, etc.. all of the stuff you expect from people who haven't got much of an idea of the need to partner with a community and join in the growth of the city in a positive way. this has even reached Keith Olbermann's notice; not a good thing indeed as it points New Roc as a neanderthal community instead of one that has a heritage beginning with a group of people, the Huguenots who actually were fleeing from this very form of oppression.

In respnse, we get a cryptic respnse of a poorly chosen thought (as always) from our resident pedagogue Mister Organisciak who continues to inflate the term of "educator" and who deals in form more than substance -- when the High School experienced a recent fire, he rushed to present plaques to the Mayor and City Manager and who knows why. His presentations on the need for tax inceases are to present a lengthy series of presentations from school personnel (as if they have any view but approve the budget) while taxpayers chafe in the audience waiting for their turn to speak. the school board does little to encourate collective bargaining rather obfuscating the appearnce of the Union Head at such meetings as "openness" -- no, that is why the NLRB takes pains to separate interests to keep bargaining open and without blemish. The net effect seems to be that the school district has operated under a old paradigm that excludes the community from an active partnership and worthy of transparency in the system. In sum, they have become like house members entrenched in the system for 15 or so years who block access, make questionable decisions, etc.

Recently I mailed a video tape to a teacher and chess club advisor of chess moves to a middle school that i did a great deal of substitute teaching in and it appears as if it was somehow blocked from reaching his desk. For crying out loud, it was a chess video for kids to challenge their skills -- it wasn't the little red book of Mao or the Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. This is more than censorship; this is ..... well fill it in yourself, it is not an isolated incident and it will be alleged that it never reached the school.

I love this city, I do a lot of volunteer work with both adults and children on ESL and I do volunteer tutoring for any youngster who might benefit from my services. I say this only because the kids are substantially fine as is our teaching base. Like the UAW and other unions we need to look at give backs; at the State and Federal Leveil we need to cut down on mandates, but at the district level we need a new paradigm; new people, new administrators, new policies, and new relationships with a city administration who, arguably I know, have done a fine and fair job. And, we need parents and children to have an OMSBUDSMAN --- one who will represent their interests; not one to coddle kids or neglect to remind parents of their responsbilities, but one who will listen and respond.

Sorry for the length but I am passionate over this subject. I do not think Cindy or any other other board member is a bad person; sone of the attacks were out of line, but she and the others are in need of stepping down or accepting support. It would help if the board had a more business oriented SOP and a much better and non political management team; the need for 4 or 5 replacements is very very evident.

if the city administration pops in on this blog; I repeat my frequent call for a formal arrangement with the school board. You know who I am and what that represents. hell, I would do it pro bono and believe me, I can do it.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 04:47

This IS a "fight" about a bowdlerized text.

The district is being criticized for the exact opposite of what you claim. The people involved DESERVE whatever criticism they get.

It's simple. You do not EVER tear pages out of a book. Ever.

Got it?

Anonymous on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 00:12
Title: PC mayhem

You can watch the movie or or buy the DVD at age 17, but can't read the book at 18? Just another example of PC mayhem in our education system. If these are the educators, I'm suprised that a twelth grader in their school system can read the book.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 23:02

A few non-profit orgs to support if you care about the fight against "thoughtcrime":

The American Library Association: http://www.ala.org
The Freedom from Religion Foundation: http://www.ffrf.org
The Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org
The American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org

Any others I'm leaving out?

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 23:26

...is involved already which brings many good groups to bear on this problem.

Also the booksellers are involved.

I believe Random House will be heard from too.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 22:51
Title: Hilarity

This is what people look like who have no confidence in the kids they're supposed to be teaching. Education is supposed to equip the kids to make their own decisions. Censoring materials for them achieves the opposite effect and the kids will respect these administrators much less than they did before the incident, which probably looks *comical* to a bunch of 18 year-olds. It is a blatant attempt to keep US teenagers in the dark, something US schools appear to be notorious for.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 21:44

If it's a problem, choose another book. Had the teachers/admins read the full book in the first place, this wouldn't have happened.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 21:04

The fact that the book sucks to begin with shouldn't influence the English department in any way. They really should have started at page one and tore each page out to the back cover. What a waste of taxpayer money to supply this trash to our students.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 20:29
Title: Ka-Ching!

They just sold a whole lot more copies of that book in the NY area! You can't BUY this kind of advertising.

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 18:49

Ms. Babcock-Deutsch needs to censor herself from SuperCuts. And while we're at it, maybe her biography oughta be called "Dessert, Interrupted."

Bring back the old New Rochelle!

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 21:28

Gee, with people like you posting garbage like this, is it any wonder that the board would restrict speakers at its meetings from speaking about individuals?

Anonymous on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 18:43

Your news story has been linked to boingboing, so expect quite a bit of traffic.

As a former resident of New Rochelle of over 30 years (and my immediate close family are sill residents) I was dismayed to read about the draconian measures being utilized by the school board and this Ms. Babcock-Deutsche in this and other matters. For a city that prides itself as the home of Thomas Paine, to treat such basic things in this manner is simply a disgrace and a petty display of two-bit power.

I will be speaking to my family who still resides in New Rochelle of this and urge them to do what is necessary to have a change of leadership on the Board.

Keep up the good fight!

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