Don’t let an abusive principal ban parents
In late April, two activist parents whose children attend Central Park East 1 (CPE1) elementary school in New York City--Jen Roesch and Kaliris Salas-Ramirez--were banned indefinitely from the school, preventing them from dropping off or picking up their children or attending meetings and school events. They are being treated as threats to the welfare of the school that they and others have been trying desperately to protect.
The bans are clearly retaliation for Roesch's and Salas-Ramirez's roles in ongoing protests of concerned parents that early last month included an overnight occupation. The parents were protesting the actions of Principal Monika Garg, who in the year and a half since she was appointed began disciplinary investigations on every experienced teacher at the school, leading to the removal of the school's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) delegate and Marilyn Martinez, the union chapter leader (a position similar to union shop steward).
Below, we reprint a petition describing the facts of the situation and putting forward the demands of concerned parents at CPE1.
On April 27, 2017, Jen Roesch was banned indefinitely from her son's elementary school in East Harlem, NY. On April 28, Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, another parent at the school, was also banned. Each mother received a "limited access letter" signed by Principal Monika Garg. As a result, neither mom is allowed to drop off or pick up her child with the other children at the school. The mothers are also banned from important meetings with teachers and parents and other school events. Other parents at the school fear that they may be next.
What Is a "Limited Access Letter"?
The NYC Department of Education theoretically uses limited access letters to keep out parents who pose a significant security threat in a school; for example, a parent who has threatened or perpetrated violence. However, DNA Info reported that these letters are used to silence and intimidate critics of school administrations, particularly in low-income Black and Latino communities.
Why Jen and Kaliris?
Jen and Kaliris have both been outspoken critics of Principal Garg's leadership. They strongly advocated for teachers who were harassed by Ms. Garg. In the last year, Ms. Garg removed two beloved veteran teachers from their classrooms based on trumped-up charges. Jen and Kaliris have also spoken up about the harmful effects on children created by this environment of intimidation and fear. Kaliris is also the elected co-chair of the Parent Association at CPE1 and has supported parents in that capacity.
What Are the Charges?
Jen was accused of recording on her cell phone in the school. However, she was not videotaping. Instead, she took photographs of hallways to document the absence of mandated materials about the Department of Education's anti-bullying program. There is no stated policy against filming or taking photographs at the school, and many parents have done both. The day after Jen was banned from the school, the mandated materials were finally posted, two months before the end of the school year.
Kaliris was accused of bringing press onto school property without authorization. The person in question was a graduate student who represented herself to Kaliris as conducting a school project. Kaliris arranged to meet with the student offsite, but took her to the school briefly when she needed to drop off her son's glasses. She signed in and presented ID to security. Visitors frequently tour the school. When alerted to concerns about this visitor, Kaliris accompanied the student to the exit.
Are These Bans Retaliation?
Yes. Neither parent poses a security threat, nor has either mom had previous incidents or warnings. The limited access letters are pure retaliation. There is no right of appeal or due process for parents who receive such letters. There is no end date to the bans; they are indefinite. By targeting two of the most visible critics of the principal, in a way that causes harm to their vulnerable children, these bans have a chilling effect on the majority of families who oppose Garg's leadership.
What About the Kids?
The bans will have a heartbreaking effect on two young children with documented special needs. Jen's 8-year old son has significant anxiety and is currently creating a formal IEP (Individualized Education Program) after having been evaluated and approved for services. An IEP is a legal document that spells out the learning needs of a student with a disability. According to professionals who care for Jen's son, this punitive ban will increase his fears, are detrimental to his emotional well-being, and will inhibit his ability to learn. When Jen informed Principal Monika Garg of her upcoming IEP meeting, Garg stated that she refused to speak with her and that she was banned from the school.
Kaliris' 5-year old son also has special needs that are documented on his IEP, including the need for one-to-one paraprofessional support and for undisrupted, predictable routines. These routines include his mother's practice of bringing him directly to the classroom each morning. He already exhibited distress in response to his teacher's abrupt, unexplained removal from the school earlier this year. The ban on his mother will compound his distress.
-- Jen Roesch and Kaliris Salas-Ramirez must be allowed access to their children's school immediately.
The NYC Department of Education and Mayor Bill De Blasio must stop Principal Monika Garg's continuing abuse of power and protect CPE1 families from future bans.
The NYC Department of Education must address the abusive use of limited access letters by principals. Every parent in NYC must be entitled to immediate due process and the right to appeal when issued a limited access letter.