breaking news

Murry Bergtraum students riot after bathroom access denied

Hundreds of students at Murry Bergtraum High School rioted through the hallways today after the school’s principal told teachers not to give out bathroom passes.

Teachers at the lower Manhattan school said that the day began with a fight between two students on the building’s third floor. After the fight, Bergtraum principal Andrea Lewis reportedly announced over the school’s loud speaker that in the future, students who fought would be arrested. Lewis reportedly told students and staff that for the rest of the day, the school’s bathrooms would be closed and teachers should not issue bathroom passes.

In a school of over 2,600 students, this news did not sit well.

“She also said that in the case of emergency, kids could use the bathrooms in the nurse’s office, but by then, given the nature of adolescents, the message had been delivered that the bathrooms would be shut,” a teacher said.

Within minutes, students were on their cell phones, which they are not allowed to bring into the school. Messages traveled from student to student, saying there would be a riot. During fifth period, hundreds of students began running through the fourth floor hallways at top speed, screaming and shouting. By the beginning of sixth period it had spread to the basement. Teachers said they locked their classrooms to keep their students inside while school safety officers tried to end the riot, which teachers said went on for about 20 minutes.

“They actually filled the halls from one side to the other,” said a teacher. He said one of his students had an asthma attack as she tried to make her way up a staircase while students poured down.

Formerly the principal of Acorn Community High School, Lewis came to Bergtraum this year. As an executive principal, she received a $25,000 yearly bonus for agreeing to lead the struggling school for at least three years. Though Murry Bergtraum has received low grades on its annual progress reports, the city does not have plans to close it.

“This was a principal that was sent to the school to turn the school around, however her record has been one of success in academics,” said teachers union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana.

“She has failing grades for security from her previous school. That is a concern of the staff,” he said.

After the riot, students went on Twitter to broadcast the news and threaten to riot again tomorrow.

“Bergtraum is gonna get closed down, there was riots in every floor every period,” wrote one student.

“Riotin all day cause the f-n principal is blowin ours and cut off the bathroom use all day,” wrote another.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that one of the two students in the initial fight was sent to the hospital and released, but no other injuries have been reported. She said the incident is under investigation.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”