Punishment First at Brooklyn Charter School
My name is Jasmine Crawford and I’m a parent at Achievement First in Crown Heights. On Monday night, after stories surfaced about dozens of children being mistreated, more than 70 parents came together and attended the Achievement First Crown Heights Board meeting to call for a change to the school’s discipline policies. This was the most parents they had ever seen at a board meeting.
As parents, we are outraged at the excessive disciplinary actions taken against our children in Achievement First schools, and, at the meeting, we let our feelings be known. Many of the scholars have had detention almost every day of the year! Trivial infractions such as dropping a pencil, not making eye contact and “slouching” have landed our children in after-school detention. Students have received demerits for having tissues in class if they were sick; one scholar stood up and told of how, after she’d used her asthma inhaler, she laid her head on the desk and received a demerit. Although she was feeling sick, she didn’t want to ask to go to the nurse out of fear that the teacher would call it “talking back” and “being disrespectful.” What kind of environment is this school producing when sick students are scared to ask to see their nurse?
Even at the onset of our press conference, held before the board meeting, AF staff tried to silence parents and challenged students as liars.But we would not be silenced then, and we won’t be now. We entered the meeting and were all given the opportunity to tell our “war stories.” The board chair, Judge Pricilla Hall, was very patient despite the urging of her assistant to close the open floor and go on with the business meeting. Even though the chair did not answer any direct questions, she did listen.
Each war story varied, but each also had a common theme. As parents, we completely agree with and understand the need for a consistent discipline code. But the stories we heard made it clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense that AF has gone overboard. When you are trying to control natural impulses of students such as yawning, you have truly gone off the deep end, and your policies become indefensible. Parents recanted stories of terror on the parts of their children in the school. With each story, a constant theme was being developed: a lack of respect from the school’s administration for parents and students, especially from Principal Blanchard and Dean Solomon.
When my son was sick with bronchitis and missed a couple of days, I gave the school a doctor’s note but was told it was unacceptable. When I reached out to them to discuss the policy, numerous calls and emails are not returned. But when he was missing a belt or had a white stitch in his sock … five minutes after he walked in the door, my phone would be blowing up! Some parents did not even know what Principal Blanchard looked like, because he never met with nor returned calls.
The school does not seem to care when parents declare that the disciplinary policies have had a very detrimental effects on our children’s emotional states, even to the extreme where some students have talked about suicide. Mr. Solomon took a scholar who was supposed to be suspended off the line and made him wait outside in the cold alone while his mother came from Manhattan to pick him up. Does the administration truly care about our students’ welfare?
If that doesn’t raise a flag of concern I don’t know what does.
More alarming and disturbing is that Chi Tschang, who has a history of emotionally and physically abusing children, was brought in as Superintendent of their schools. Mr. Tschang had been reported in California to have put his hands on students and using harsh punishments like sitting out in extreme cold/sun for hours. We are calling for the removal of Mr. Tschang immediately. Although we saw him walk in the build shortly after 5pm, he was not at the meeting.
Judge Hall said she’ll have a meeting with parents and the school’s administration. But I am weary. I can only hope we can work to create a fair and transparent code of conduct. We the parents seek to improve the overall educational atmosphere of the school, but as each day passes and these policies remain in effect, we feel our hands are being tied and our voices being silenced. Although the AF administration may not believe this, parents do know what’s best for their children.
UPDATE: Retribution on our kids was seen the very next day at school. Scholars were forced to sign a statement in support of Mr. Solomon and praise the school and staff on videotape. More disgusting, a teacher denied a scholar a high school recommendation because of the board meeting. All was done without parent knowledge and the penalty for not following was an automatic detention. What lesson is the school teaching our children?
Jasmine Crawford is a New York Communities for Change member and a parent of 2nd and 8th Grade students at AF Crown Heights