Op_Ed: FOIL Requests Foiled By DOE

FOIL Requests Foiled By DOE

By Shamona Kirkland

Right now, New York City’s public school parents have no way of knowing that our children are safe at school. In fact, we have good reason to believe they are not: in the last several months, story after story of horrific violence perpetrated on school grounds has come to light, reflecting a larger crisis plaguing the city’s district schools. Sometimes, this abuse has been at the hands of district school teachers and staff, who parents like me once trusted to protect our children.


Over a month ago, I stood on the steps of City Hall and asked the Department of Education to release a list of abusive teachers and staff members currently employed by New York City district schools. To access this information, long hidden from concerned parents by the city, I filed a FOIL request. On March 31st, I received a form letter from the department’s lawyers saying that they would be delaying the process, and couldn’t give me an answer until April 28th.


The city’s failure to reply to my request in a timely manner isn’t just frustrating — it’s dangerous. Since the time I first filed my FOIL request, more and more students fell victim to violence on school grounds. At P.S. 373R on Staten Island, a paraprofessional threw a five-year-old autistic boy to the ground. At P.S. 198 in Harlem, school staff cruelly disciplined a four-year-old boy by pinning him to a wall and leaving him alone in a stairwell with piles of trash. And these are only the incidents we know about.


The mothers of these students, devastated by the physical and emotional trauma their children have suffered, are speaking out, echoing my frustration with the city’s inaction. Sitting in their homes or standing at that same spot outside City Hall, they’re asking a critical question: why does the DOE allow teachers and staff with violent tendencies and a history of abuse to remain in the classroom, where they can — and do — take advantage of their power, lashing out at innocent children?


Every time the DOE keeps one of these abusive educators on payroll, a precedent is set: you can harm students without fear of retribution, keeping your job and your city salary. This status quo is simply unacceptable, which is why parents like me have taken a stand. We recently launched the #SafeSchoolsNow campaign, including a website where parents can report stories of abuse and a petition calling on the city to solve the crisis of violence that endangers students on a daily basis.


By demanding transparency and action from the city, we’re sending Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education a clear message: the safety of vulnerable children is more important than the careers of abusive adults. Every parent deserves to know what kind of people are around their children during the school day, and every child deserves to be kept safe in and outside the classroom.


The city may continue burying my FOIL request in a stack of paperwork and ignoring the voices of district school parents, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to back down. Instead, our calls for action are only going to get louder. The Department of Education can’t turn back time and erase the abuse that has happened in the weeks since I first stood outside City Hall, but it’s not too late for them to step up and prevent future violence against our children. By releasing the names of abusive teachers and staff members, the city can take a critical step towards ending a vicious cycle that has already claimed too many victims.

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