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NYC Booker T. Washington Principal Dr. Elana Elster and her AP Bertha Mcgee (or McGhee) Racially Discriminate Among Their Students and Practice Disability Harassment
Seven Years of documentation on the abuse, neglect, and discrimination of children with special needs and who are african-american students at Booker T. have been given to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Michelle Cahill, Kathleen Grimm, General Counsel Michael Best, and NY City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson. Not one of these people care about the crimes being committed there. Now we can add the Manhattan Suspension Office Director Shirley Rowe, NYC BOE Suspension Chair Les Matuk, and Hearing Officer Audrey Isaacs. by Betsy Combier
November 10, 2006: Suspension Hearing for Jonathan Gomez, student with special needs, Booker T. Washington, MS 54 shows once again the illegal racial discrimination policies of Dr. Elana Elster, Principal of Booker T. Washington MS 54 in NYC, and her administration, in collusion with Shirley Rowe (Manhattan Suspension Office), Lester Matuk (NYC BOE Suspension Office Administrator), and hearing officer Audrey Isaacs.

The charge: Jonathan pushed Salimate, causing her to fall to the ground and injure herself.

The facts: Jonathan has an Individualized Education Plan and a 1:1 crisis management paraprofessional, "won" at an Impartial Hearing in June, 2006, after both Dr. Elster and her AP, Bertha McGee, lied under oath, and prevented him from getting his services. On October 26, 2006, Jonathan was walking to his music class at approximately 2:15 PM, and walked by a classroom where a teacher from last year was talking on the telephone. But Jonathan and his friend wanted to say "Hi!" Jonathan's paraprofessional, Ms. Bennett, was not with him. Salimate, a girl in the room, came over to Jonathan and started poking him on the forehead with her finger, yelling at him. Jonathan gently pushed her hand away, and Salimate twisted her body to stage a fall between two desks. She started crying. The para for the class, Ms. Velasquez - who is not certified to work in special education - testified that she took Salimate to the nurse. She said that she saw an ambulance.

At the hearing, Bertha McGee admitted she was not there that day, and no one ever asked either Salimate or Jonathan for a statement. There were no reports of any injuries, either from the nurse or from a hospital. No ambulance records were brought. Parentadvocates asked that the assigned hearing officer, Audrey Isaacs, be removed, as she was the hearing officer at the previous suspension hearing for Jonathan. Ms. Isaacs did not allow any evidence to be presented by Jonathan, and then suspended him for 70 days for doing something he didnt do. 70 days is 25 days more than the law allows.

Manhattan Suspension Office Director Shirley Rowe would not remove Ms. Isaacs, nor would she allow into evidence the Decision of Mr. Cohen, the Hearing officer of the Impartial Hearing in June, showing the exact same process of disability harassment and racial discrimination by Dr. Elster and AP Bertha McGee in the current case and the suspension of Jonathan in April, also on false claims.

The school threw Jonathan into the Y at West 135th Street, where he does nothing but sit and wait for the day to end. He ges no homework, and is taught by no one. Dr. Elster would not send his paraprofessional to the Y, saying she was needed at Booker T.

October 25, 2006: Jonathan's mom called us today. Evidently Jonathan's paraprofessional has been nasty to him, and "disappearing" for periods of time. jonathan has been told to take his work and sit in the library.

Region 10 officials and Joel Klein: is this a new student "rubber room" policy for special education students?

Betsy Combier

From the desk of the Editor, Betsy Combier, with assistance from P. Wilbur and P. Posr

Racial segregation is thriving in New York City's public school. And if you tell anyone, you will be attacked, or family members will be harmed. This is the legacy of Joel Klein and his group of non-educators, who are robbing the poor to give to the rich in New York City, by means of no-bid contracts, secret deals, and other clandestine actions too numerous to list, and awaiting reasonable scrutiny by prosecutors. We hope.

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and in force between 1876 and 1964 that required racial segregation, especially of African-Americans, in all public facilities. “The ‘Jim Crow period’ or the ‘Jim Crow era’ refers to the time during which this practice occurred. The most important laws required that public schools be segregated by race, and that most public places (including trains and buses) have separate facilities for whites and blacks. School segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. All the other Jim Crow laws were repealed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Wikipedia)
Many school districts, however, have continued the practice of inequality in education by promoting segregation creatively in secret, or by subterfuge, hiding racial discrimination behind lies and deceit to escape blame.

Booker T. Washington MS 54 (“Booker T”) in Manhattan is an example of this practice, and we can hold Principal Elana Elster accountable as the person behind the current racial inequality there. The New York City Department of Education has been presented with the documentation of racial discrimination and has ignored the issue by not responding to constant telephone calls and letters…for seven years. We were given Dr. Elter's per session payments from 1997-2000 by a staff member in the office at the school.

Booker T. Washington Middle School 54 is located officially at 103 West 107th Street in Manhattan, but the main entrance is on 108th street. The area is called "Manhattan Valley" and has a large Hispanic and growing West Indian population. Booker T., as we call the school, has been almost on the SURR school list 'School Under Registration Review' for many years. The Delta Honors Program was placed there more than 20 years ago to mask the failures of the school to meet state standards and keep the school under local control. The 2005-2006 Comprehensive Education Plan of the school, prepared by the School Leadership Team (but when submitted to the District was never signed by any member) lists 1027 students, of which 34.8% are white, 32.3% are Hispanic, 27.2% are black, 5.7% Asian or Pacific Islanders, and .6% are American Indian. There are now 4 programs under the watch of Principal Dr. Elster: Delta Honors (whose students are mostly white), and 3 others that have minority children, Manhattan Valley/VISTA, Morningside Heritage, and Dr. Charles Drew Center For Medical & Health Sciences.

Booker T. Washington MS 54 Comprehensive Education Plan, 2005-2006 (given to Betsy Combier by a member of the School Leadership Team at MS 54 who, upon reading the document and seeing that her african-american student was being given a second-rate education in deference to The Delta program children, resigned from the team and took her child out of the school:

Part I and II
Part III and IVa
Part IVb
Part V

The Delta Honors Program students have textbooks for every subject, take pre-algebra and algebra in sixth grade, the Math A Regents Prep in 7th and 8th grades, Earth Science Regents in 8th grade, and have a choice of three languages (Spanish, French, Latin) for the required 8th grade Regents in Foreign Language. Students have music, art, drama, attend Moot Court, and go on many trips during the year. There is no mandated curriculum, and the ‘workshop model’ so disliked by teachers is not used. All Delta students are expected to take the SSHAT, or Specialized Science High School Admissions Test for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and the other three science high schools considered the best public schools in New York City. No Delta student is ever suspended from the school. 95% of the students are at or above grade level.

Students in the other 3 programs often do not get textbooks for any subject, or the school does not order enough to go around, so large groups have to share; usually there is one teacher for all subjects, students are rarely given homework, there are no trips, no language classes – although Spanish may be taught in the eighth grade so that native Spanish speakers can take the Spanish Regents – and a majority of students fall below or way below grade level or level 3 (In Dr. Charles Drew, 75% fall below level 3, and in Morningside Heights, 80% are below Level 3). The students in the non-Delta programs are told that they cannot sit for the SSHAT, and that this test is “not for them”. There is a mandated curriculum and Impact, or constructivist, mathematics is taught. Due to the poor performance of these three programs, the 2003-2004 Annual School Report Card indicates that the school requires academic progress in English Language Arts (Year 1) and in Mathematics (year 3). The three non-Delta programs occupy the basement, 1st and 2nd floors of the school building, while the Delta Program has the third floor, with the toilet paper and the working Xerox machines ( in Administrator Fred La Senna’s office). The students in the self-contained special education program in the basement are told never to go to the lobby where somebody might see them. They are supposed to be invisible.

The Delta program was started by Mr. Fred La Senna, who remains the Administrator today, and former District 3 Superintendent Patricia Romandetto, who was forced into ‘retirement’ in 2002 after serious questions of financial improprieties were raised. The Delta program was set up to please the parents of the advanced students who attended the K-5 Anderson Program, housed within PS 9 on West 84th Street. Mrs. Romandetto and Mr. Fred La Senna were very successful in establishing a much sought after program because he was given the freedom to accept anyone he wanted and could hire any teachers and get funded for textbooks and resources, all with the continued blessing of the NYC DOE, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, and Mayor Bloomberg.

The students of Booker T know that if you are black or Hispanic, you are a second-class citizen. Dr. Elster makes sure of that, with the help of Assistant Principal Bertha McGee and Parent Coordinator Anne Pejovich. Our sources tell us that the segregation, inequality of education and gap between white and black students are reaching a boiling point. Something must be done.

When Joel Klein began his reign as Chancellor of the NYC DOE, he is quoted as saying, “I don’t care how you do it, or who you get rid of…give me the numbers.” Thus, Principals have been given a green light to not protect the rights of teachers, parents and/or students.; if they don’t like a child, then they suspend the child unfairly for committing crimes that never happened. Only non-Delta students are suspended from the school.

When numbers are this important to an administration, children that just “cant make it” (because they are prevented from getting support, translated books, or good teachers, etc.) are charged with various outrageous behaviors and suspended…if, that is, he/she is black or Hispanic. If a black or Hispanic student has special needs and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), then he/she has a 70% chance of being harassed or thrown out. Dr. Elster has implemented a campaign to remove many of the black boys with special needs from Booker T as fast as she can make up incidences to falsely report.

The case of Jonathan is an example.

Jonathan is a very bright boy who was in 6th grade during the 2005-2006 school year. His oldest sister died three years ago, and he misses her. His mother is very involved in his care, and takes him to school every day. Either she or her daughter pick him up. He has some emotional problems partially due to the death, yet wants to learn.

Dr. Elster does not want him in her school. Mrs. McGee, AP for the program Jonathan is in, Morningside Heights, keeps him in her office several days a week, and for the entire day, simply for walking too slowly/quickly down the hallway. At the middle of December, 2005, Jonathan told his teacher, Ms. Virgina Young, that he needed to go to the bathroom. She grabbed his wrist and told him he could not go, but Jonathan had to go, and wrenched himself free from her grasp, but not before she scratched his wrist badly. Jonathan was accused of hurting the teacher, and was suspended by Dr. Elster.

In New York City, when a child with an IEP is suspended, the law requires that a hearing take place within 5 days, and the parent may ask for an advocate. Jonathan’s mother asked that I help her at the hearing. Despite hospital records and testimony of Jonathan at the hearing, the Hearing Officer refused to believe Jonathan, and sustained the suspension. When a suspension of a child with a disability is sustained, a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) is set up by the Regional office. This meeting looks at whether or not the incident causing the suspension is related to the disability. If so, then the suspension is vacated. We were successful. The MDR result was that the incident was determined by his disability, and he was returned to school and Mrs. McGee.

From that point on it seemed that nothing Jonathan could do was correct, making it seem to those who were following his case that Dr. Elster was determined to throw him out of Booker T, no matter what. The school called his mother several times / week, and she always came to find out what happened. On or about April 4, Jonathan’s mother had had enough of the stories she was hearing about the segregation in the yard at Booker T at lunch time and how her son was being harassed by Mrs. McGee and Dr. Elster, who told him, “You are forbidden from going into the yard” that she hid behind a car to watch what happened. Dr. Elster has implemented a policy whereby the Delta kids are supposed to play on one side of the yard, and the black and Hispanic kids are to stay away from these kids and play something at the other end of the yard.

Jonathan’s mom arrived at the school early, and hid behind a car outside the gate to the yard and waited for Jonathan to come out to play. She saw him come out, and watched as a security guard and Mrs. McGee followed him around. She confronted Mrs. McGee, who was shocked. A few days later, when school was over and Jonathan’s sister went to pick him up, she heard that he had been accused of going over to the “white kids” and asking for a ball. Then, when Julian, the “white boy” holding the ball said ‘no’, Jonathan was accused of hitting the head of this Delta student against a pole, and then throwing him down on the ground and kicking him several times. Magically, Julian testified at Jonathan’s suspension hearing that he [Julian] needed no help, never went to the school nurse or the hospital, and simply went back to class. No one saw any wounds on Julian. No one saw the incident. Basically, it seems that this incident never happened.

But about 1 hour after the “incident” Fred La Senna went into the classroom of Jonathan, and asked the boy sitting next to Jonathan to come with him upstairs. In Fred’s office, the boy was petrified. Fred told him, in so many words, “if you don’t write a statement that your friend hit the head of the Delta student against a pole and threw him to the ground and kicked him, you will be suspended.” The boy wrote the statement and returned to class. He told Jonathan what Fred had told him, and Jonathan told his mother.

But Jonathan was suspended on April 11, and on May 19, 2006 he had the suspension hearing. The Delta student testified that he had been beaten by Jonathan, but there were no records. Jonathan’s friend’s statement was presented, and this statement convinced the hearing officer that Jonathan was indeed guilty. There was no possibility of changing her mind. A few days later, an MDR was held, and the result was that the incident had nothing to do with Jonathan’s IEP. Rose Haferd, the NYC DOE decision maker, knew nothing about Jonathan or the case, and at the end of the MDR meeting called her “Supervisor” (dubious at best, as Rose never worked at the Region 10 CSE, according to statements of CSE employees there) Dr. Mark Talent, who supposedly told her, secretly, to deny Jonathan the MDR. Ms. Haferd hung up the telephone and told everyone that Dr. Talent had decided to deny the request of Jonathan’s mom and me, his advocate, “based upon the circumstances”. I asked why Ms. Haferd had kept the conversation with Dr. Talent secret, and she refused to answer. Dr. Elster started insulting me and Jonathan’s mom, saying that she was right, and Jonathan would have to stay at Choir Academy. She added that he must be suspended until September 5, 2006, the first day of the Fall term.

The suspension site, Choir Academy, warehouses the kids who are suspended, and treats them like prisoners in a federal prison. The day that I accompanied Jonathan and his mom for the intake, we sat with the Guidance Counselor and I asked her what services she would be providing Jonathan. I showed her his IEP. She said, “We don’t have any services here for him, why is he here?”

The Law states that no child with an IEP may be suspended for more than 45 days unless the actions include a dangerous weapon. Surprisingly, the suspension office suspended Jonathan for more than 70 days. Fortunately, he won in the Impartial Hearing because both Bertha McGee and Dr. Elster were inconsistent in their testimony and showed in their statements that they had deliberately misled Ruth Haferd, the person who led the MDR. The “judge” was Morton A. Cohen, Esq, and he saw immediately that Dr. Elster and Ms. Mcgee had not told the truth about their providing a free and appropriate education for Jonathan. Jonathan was ordered immediately back to school.

At Choir Academy of Harlem’s suspension site for the intake interview, the Guidance Counselor told us, when I asked why there were 47 pictures of African-American boys and girls on the wall next to us and no pictures of ‘white’ kids, “There are no white kids here…white kids don’t get suspended, it’s a sign of the times.”

Within 10 days, Jonathan was joined by 6 more African-American boys suspended from Booker T. Washington MS 54 by Dr. Elana Elster. None of the parents believed that their children were suspended fairly. They, and the parents of the children with special needs held in the basement of Booker T. and told never to go to the lobby, want Dr. Elster and AP Bertha McGee to be fired.

Testimony and documents hand delivered to New York City Council Chair Robert Jackson for six years have been ignored. Robert Jackson is African American.

He has turned his back on the minority children in the non-Delta Programs of Booker T. Washington MS 54, and he has ignored the discrimination against the Chinese parents at Stuyvesant High School. His actions call for a city-wide protest, and his resignation, along with the Chancellor Joel Klein, his colleagues in this mess Michelle Cahill, Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Region 10 Superintendent Gail Reeves, and Dr. Elster and her AP, Bertha McGee or McGhee).

Booker T. Washington Middle School 54, Grievance Brings Retaliation

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation