The federal government accused the New York City Department of Education in a lawsuit on Thursday of engaging in a pattern and practice of discrimination against the three black teachers who worked at the Pan American International High School in Queens.The lawsuit, filed by the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, made it clear that the government believed that the school’s principal, Minerva Zanca, had targeted the three teachers with the goal of having them removed from their jobs.Ms. Zanca once told the school’s assistant principal, Anthony Riccardo, that one of the black teachers “looked like a gorilla in a sweater,” and that she could never have “nappy hair” like another of the teachers, the lawsuit said.The lawsuit also claims that Ms. Zanca retaliated against Mr. Riccardo for his complaints about her treatment of the black teachers. Once, when he refused to give an unsatisfactory rating to a lesson by one of the teachers, Ms. Zanca yelled at Mr. Riccardo, accusing him of “sabotaging her plan,” and calling school security to have him removed from the building, the lawsuit says.The Pan American school, on 94th Street in Elmhurst, says on its website that it serves “374 recently immigrated English language learners from Latin America.” The lawsuit says that during the 2012-13 school year, when it says the discrimination occurred, the school had a total of 27 teachers. Three of the teachers were black, the suit notes.Mr. Bharara, in a statement, said, “It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish.”
At schools all over the city, principals and assistant principals are going into observations with pre-conceived notions of who will be given negative ratings and who will be given positive ratings.
This is the official policy of the Bill de Blasio/Carmen Farina DOE (though the discrimination detailed above took place under the Bloomberg/Walcott DOE.)
The NYCDOE is telling school administrators that there are a certain number of "ineffective" and "developing" ratings that each school must have and that it will be held against a principal if a school does not comply with that directive.
Any principal or assistant principal not on board with the increased "ineffective/developing ratings" plan is retaliated against - either by the DOE (if the person not on board with the policy is a principal) or by a higher school administrator (if the person not on board with the policy is an assistant principal but the principal at the school is on board.)
What happened at the Pan American International High School is particularly egregious because of the vile racism attached to the pre-decided negative ratings.
But the truth is, this same kind of thing is happening across the city to other teachers, based perhaps not on blatant racism, but on other criteria that have nothing to do with teaching effectiveness.
Sometimes it's based on more subtle racism, sometimes it's based on ageism, sometimes it's based on cronyism, sometimes it's based on "Well, we have to throw somebody under the bus because that's what the DOE wants - who should that be this time?"
The UFT has done nothing to protect its members against the egregious assaults being waged by the de Blasio/Farina DOE because they've been brought in by the mayor to co-manage the system.
Despite the silence of the UFT in these matters, a terrible war against teachers goes on in schools, with the Danielson drive-bys as the weapon of choice for knocking people off.
I once hoped that things would get better in NYC schools once Bloomberg was gone, tried to take Carmen Farina at her word when she said she wanted to bring joy back to school.
But quite frankly, things are worse now than under Bloomberg because the UFT leadership is completely complicit in the insanity being waged out of Tweed, turning their eyes from the increased "developing" and "ineffective" ratings and ignoring the stories from rank and file about how bad it has gotten in individual schools.
The New York City school system is rife with FEAR these days, and while the Pan American International High School case occurred during the Bloomberg Years, much the same is happening now in the de Blasio Years, perhaps not as blatantly racist, but no less as discriminatory or retaliatory.
Any system that runs with a quota for how many negative ratings must be given is discriminatory and retaliatory - and that's exactly what we have under de Blasio and Farina.
Preet Bharara should dig deeper into the way the NYCDOE operates and he'll find patterns of discrimination and retaliation throughout the school system.