Reports in The Post on JHS 80, a middle school in The Bronx, are horrifying. “We are in fear for our lives and safety,” one teacher told a union rep. The union didn’t help. The principal poses “an extreme danger,” another teacher told the FBI. The FBI didn’t help. “President Trump, you seem to be my last hope,” wrote another. The Trump administration said it couldn’t intervene.
His predecessor, however, did — and Barack Obama’s intervention is making this school, as well as thousands of schools across the country, more dangerous.
In 2014, the Obama administration’s Department of Education issued threatening “guidance” on school discipline: Even if your rules are fair and administered equally, we may accuse you of “unlawful discrimination” if some groups get punished more than others.
School leaders got the memo: Don’t punish kids, especially not minority kids. Because if you do, you may face a never-ending civil-rights investigation and the threat of losing federal funding.
Thousands of schools serving millions of students tripped over themselves to comply. But Mayor de Blasio stood out: He made reducing school suspensions a social-justice crusade. And every time he reported fewer suspensions, his activist allies applauded.
But how exactly did he make those numbers go down?
Consider this story, currently being investigated by the DOE, from JHS 80: In November, two eighth-grade boys allegedly did a head-first pile-driver on a sixth-grader, causing him to pass out and convulse. The administrators allegedly delayed calling an ambulance until the students and a teacher gave statements that it was just an accident.
This might seem like reckless endangerment. But the administrators were just following instructions: keep the numbers down. In that moment, they had to weigh the life of a child against their own professional interests. They made their choice.
They also made it clear that teachers should keep the city Department of Education in the dark about safety. A teacher recorded JHS 80’s dean, Miguel Benitez, telling teachers not to enter disciplinary problems into the school’s tracking software — because the DOE might find out. If that happened, he warned, the higher ups would “come after” them all.
The feds were pressuring the schools to get their numbers down, by hook or by crook. According to state data, 73 students were suspended at JHS 80 in 2011. Under de Blasio, in 2015 and 2016, only 17 students were suspended (a dubious coincidence). Whatever the horrifying reality, the stats said progress.
So long as kids aren’t physically endangered, administrators win by lowering suspension stats — genuine or not.
The stats also showed progress at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation. In 2010-11, 71 students were suspended. Under de Blasio, in 2014 and 2015, only six students were suspended (another dubious coincidence). In 2016, only 10 students were suspended. And in 2017, after one student attempted suicide, another, high-school junior Matthew McCree, was stabbed to death by a classmate.
The incentives are out of joint. So long as kids aren’t physically endangered, administrators win by lowering suspension stats — genuine or not. If you’re a principal and your numbers go up, the DOE could swoop in and threaten your job — because the feds could swoop in and threaten its funding.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must end this madness by rescinding the Obama administration’s school-discipline dictate. But that won’t be nearly enough.
JHS 80 removed itself from de Blasio’s bad list by “fixing” the statistics. In the years ahead, New York state will grade schools on their suspension stats. As with JHS 80, New York’s worst schools will have an incentive to become even less safe.
Teachers describe JHS 80 Principal Emmanuel Polanco as a bully, and there’s little wonder why. He allegedly body-slammed a seventh-grade girl and threatened to delay her progression in school if she complained, according to the student and a teacher who witnessed the event. After all, just so long as she doesn’t report it, he’ll be recognized as a star for his statistics.
Men like Polanco must be made to fear the law. The Trump administration must open a civil-rights investigation into JHS 80. Someone must help the teachers and students at this school — and at schools like it across America.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post