On March 15, Elis Misaud, the delivery guy for Frank’s Pizzeria, carried two boxes with cheese pies and two liters of soda to the front entrance of Berta Dreyfus Intermediate School 49. Teachers had ordered the refreshments for an after-school tutoring program. The snacks never arrived.
It was 4 p.m., broad daylight, when they pounced. Two girls and five boys, aged 11 to 14, surrounded Misaud and pummeled his face with fists.
“They punched me on my head, grabbed the pizza and soda, and ran,” said Misaud, 21.
The stunned Misaud said he went inside to the report the mugging, and left. The school never paid the $21.50 tab. And his attackers didn’t bother to hide. They sat under a tree on school grounds, munching on their booty.
The brazen robbery by baby-faced bandits has touched off a war on Staten Island, where neighbors and business owners are demanding that the city Department of Education do something about the fight-plagued school — one of the most dangerous in the city.
“There’s a cry from the neighborhood that this school is out of control. We need somebody to take charge,” said Stapleton businessman Peter Lisi, a member of the Staten Island Community Watch Council.
Teachers, afraid of retaliation by their supervisors as well as the young ruffians, are voicing desperation in leaked messages to the media.
The mayhem-filled middle school is the perfect example of how violence and disorder can escalate when school leaders lose trust among staff — and shut out the community.
Principal Linda Hill won’t comment.
The unruly school drew national attention when two of the alleged pizza robbers, Krystal Callender, 13, and Osman Daramy, 12, viciously attacked a 12-year-old classmate — shoving her to the ground, demanding to know if she was Muslim, and yanking her headscarf, cops said. Krystal had just returned from a suspension for swiping $70 from a teacher’s purse during a math lesson. She and Daramy were charged with hate crimes.
The bullying and lawlessness didn’t shock school staffers.
“The inmates are running the asylum. The students know they can do what they want and get away it,” one said. “Staff is fearful for their safety.”
Teachers are assaulted or get hurt breaking up fights. “The hallways are just total chaos. Kids run up and down, yelling profanities. While class is in session, they pound on your door,” a staffer said.
Last month, two sixth-graders broke into a locked closet and stole a teacher’s purse, taking the valuables and trying to flush the bag down the toilet. A 12-year-old girl brought a box-cutter to school in her purse, cops said.
But staffers say school administrators try to hide the discipline problems. They closed the usually busy “suspension room” when a team of city and state officials visited recently. Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said the room was closed that day because of a staff absence.
Dreyfus made the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools in 2007, but was removed in 2008 after reporting fewer incidents.
It then tallied an astounding 339 “violent and disruptive” incidents in 2008-09, the latest data show. That included 183 “minor altercations” — more than any other city school — six sex offenses and 24 assaults, including two with weapons. That was enough to put Dreyfus back on the dreaded list if the crime wave repeated another year, but it improved in 2009-10, said state education department spokesman Tom Dunn.
Not so, one staffer told The Post. “It’s worse than ever.”
There are allegations that administrators are falsely boosting the school. The DOE’s Office of Special Investigations has spent months probing allegations that Principal Hill directed teachers to have students fill out “learning environment” surveys in the names of their parents. The DOE uses the surveys to give points in its school progress reports.
Feinberg said Hill denied the accusation, but did not respond to repeated questions about the probe. One staffer said of Hill, “She’s like Gotti. It’s like she has Teflon around her.”
Feinberg said Hill is working with the Anti-Defamation League and imans at a local mosque to help foster tolerance in school. Dreyfus also held a “We Are One Community” family night.
Lisi’s group is urging the DOE to do more. Lisi said he called Principal Hill to offer the support of his neighborhood watch group. She rudely rebuffed his offer, he said, calling him “racist, biased and prejudiced,” and accusing him of not caring about the school.
A woman who has lived across the street since Dreyfus was built said Hill also ignored her requests to meet. “The kids run rampant after school,” she said. “They scratch the cars with keys and sit on them. If you ask them to move, they curse you out.”
When kids fight, she added, security guards do little but shoo them up or down the street. “They say they’re not responsible if it doesn’t happen on school property. They tell me to call 911.”
Kenneth Trump, a national school safety consultant, said band-aid solutions will backfire.
“If it’s unsolved, the fighting is going to come right back through the school doors in the morning,” he said. A safe school needs structure, order and “supervision, supervision, supervision.”
“Staff needs to feel supported and backed by a strong discipline system, so they’re not afraid to deal with badly behaving kids or don’t over-react,” Trump said. And the school must be “connected and engaged to the broader community.”
For a start, community leaders have one question: How did things get so bad in New York City that middle schoolers are now muggers?
You know how to solve this, right?
Close the school.
Fire the teachers.
Move the students to other schools.
Bring new students in.
Watch the crime rate drop and test scores increase dramatically.
Have President Obama visit and call the "turnaround school" a success, patting himself on the back for an education policy well done.
Meanwhile the same children perpetrating the violence previously will have been moved elsewhere, but the social and emotional problems that underlie the dysfunctional behavior are not addressed and the problems are not solved.
But it will make for a good press story.
Maybe Jonathan Alter can write about it.