[Marxism] A Principal Is Accused of Being a Communist, Rattling a Brooklyn School

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 4 16:34:31 MDT 2017

(Progressive Labor is a bizarre sect but I strongly support the teacher 
under attack. If PLP had its act together, they could mount an important 
political defense. That's a big if.)

NY Times, May 4, 2017
A Principal Is Accused of Being a Communist, Rattling a Brooklyn School

It was early March when a representative from the New York City 
Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations sat down with 
Jill Bloomberg, the longtime principal of Park Slope Collegiate in 
Brooklyn, a combined middle and high school, to inform her that she was 
under investigation.

The representative told Ms. Bloomberg that she could not tell her the 
nature of any allegations, nor who had made them, but said that she 
would need to interview Ms. Bloomberg’s staff.

Then one of her assistant principals, who had met with an investigator, 
revealed to her exactly what the allegation was, one that seemed a 
throwback to another era: Communist organizing.

“I think I just said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is something 
O.S.I. investigates?’” Ms. Bloomberg said, using an abbreviation for the 
Office of Special Investigations. “I mean, what decade are we living in?”

But after the initial shock, she said she realized she had been waiting 
for something like this to happen for a long time.

Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg has become one of the most outspoken and 
visible critics of New York City’s public schools, regularly castigating 
the Education Department’s leadership at forums and in the news media. 
Most of her criticism is aimed at actions that she says perpetuate a 
segregated and unequal educational system and that penalize black and 
Latino students. Through the years, she has helped organize protests and 
assemblies to push for integration and equal resources and treatment for 
her almost entirely black and Latino student body.

Last Friday, Ms. Bloomberg filed a lawsuit against the school system 
saying it violated her rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 
1964, which protects an individual’s civil rights and the right to free 
speech under the First Amendment. Ms. Bloomberg was seeking an 
injunction to stop the investigation until her lawsuit is resolved.

In filings with the court, the city denies her claim, saying the 
investigation is unrelated to her activism, but that Department of 
Education policies ban political organizing and fund-raising of any type 
during school hours or on school grounds.

The department “was obligated” to open an investigation “after 
allegations of misconduct were brought to its attention,” Nick Paolucci, 
a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in an email. “Based upon 
the facts and the evidence, we believe this lawsuit has no merit.”

According to a letter sent to Ms. Bloomberg’s lawyers from the general 
counsel for the Education Department, Ms. Bloomberg and two unnamed 
teachers at the school are accused of belonging to the Progressive Labor 
Party, a Communist organization. They are also accused of recruiting 
students and inviting them to participate in the party’s activities, 
including marches.

Ms. Bloomberg, 53, denies those allegations.

A diminutive woman whose students often tower over her, Ms. Bloomberg 
did not set out to become an activist against her employer. She started 
her career teaching in Chicago before coming to work in New York City’s 
schools. When she was named principal of Park Slope Collegiate in 2004 — 
at the time, it was one of three small high schools in the former John 
Jay High School building in Park Slope — she said she found a deeply 
neglected school with a leaky roof, toilets that overflowed, moldy walls 
and doors that would not open properly. The student body was being 
neglected as well, she said, with few of its graduates ready for the 
rigors of college.

But, she said, she did not think much about integration or equal 
resources at the time and focused on teaching.

“I taught Brown v. Board, I taught about this landmark case on 
integration in segregated schools, with no irony,” she said as she sat 
in her sparsely decorated office earlier this week. “We all just took 
for granted that there was something broken about the system and we have 
to do the best we can.”

But that changed in 2010, when she learned the education department 
wanted to open a new high school in her building to serve white middle- 
and upper-class families in the neighborhood who shunned Park Slope 
Collegiate. City officials proposed creating a selective secondary 
school to be called Millennium Brooklyn High School as a sister school 
to the overwhelmingly white Millennium High School in Manhattan.

Ms. Bloomberg said she did not understand why the white parents in the 
neighborhood could not simply send their children to one of the existing 
high schools. She said she thought the district had an excellent 
opportunity to integrate this black and Latino high school with white 
students from Park Slope and neighborhoods nearby.

But department officials were adamant about creating the new high 
school, which would screen students for test scores and behavior. As an 
enticement, the department promised to fix up the dilapidated John Jay 
building if Millennium came in.

“That really did it,” Ms. Bloomberg said.

She had been begging, for years for money to fix up her school. “You 
mean there is money? They’ve been sitting on money or they can find 
money if it’s for white students?” Ms. Bloomberg recalled thinking. 
“This was too much. It was right in our faces. It became clear to the 
students: ‘You’re not good enough.’”

Ms. Bloomberg, parents and students at the school began to protest the 
new Millennium Brooklyn school. In the end, they lost, and the new 
Millennium went in.

But a fire had been lit. Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg supported her 
students in fighting the installation of metal detectors in their 
school, helped organize school assemblies to talk about police violence, 
and had spoken out passionately against segregation and what she 
considers racist Education Department policies.

Some teachers at Park Slope Collegiate disagreed with the assemblies and 
other protests that Ms. Bloomberg, who is extremely popular among her 
students and their parents — had supported and refused to participate.

Ms. Bloomberg has been admonished several times by her supervisors for 
speaking out, but never disciplined.

Then in January, Ms. Bloomberg sent an email to department officials 
accusing them of discriminating against the predominantly black and 
Latino schools at John Jay by allotting Millennium twice as many sports 
teams as the other schools. Not long after that, the investigator 
visited her school.

The inquiry has fractured the school community, evoking for some the era 
of McCarthyism in the 1950s when people were falsely accused of being 
Communists. Many teachers and staff believe that the accusations came 
from people inside the building, now split into Bloomberg supporters and 
those who stand with her accusers.

Rhonda Hendrickson teaches social studies at Park Slope Collegiate. She 
is a model teacher, a designation given to exemplary instructors. “I was 
shocked by the accusations,” she said. “I think this investigation has 
unearthed an undercurrent of division and now people are taking sides.”

Ms. Hendrickson said there was now a sense of distrust at staff 
meetings. When the allegations first came out, Ms. Hendrickson was 
teaching a unit on the Cold War and a student asked her a question about 
communism as a form of government. “I felt caught, should I answer? How 
should I answer? I can’t even teach it because I am scared,” she said. 
“I felt like I was in some type of twilight zone because we teach this 
as something that happened in the past, but that we’re smarter than that 

Ms. Hendrickson said she had never seen any signs of communist or other 
political activity at the school, but that some teachers were 
uncomfortable with Ms. Bloomberg’s efforts to fight racism.

A small number of staff members, who would speak only on the condition 
of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the allegations against Ms. 
Bloomberg might be justified. They point to posts on the Progressive 
Labor Party website that claim students have joined a study group 
sponsored by the party, which is “using this struggle as a school to 
build communist ideas and raise class consciousness.”

Ms. Bloomberg denies any knowledge of the Progressive Labor Party or any 
organizing efforts for it. She said she could not control what groups 
other school workers or parents might belong to. She also said all 
events at Park Slope Collegiate were organized by the school and not by 
any outside organization.

Nathan Maybloom, a gym teacher, said Ms. Bloomberg created the 
atmosphere of fear by revealing to her staff the nature of an 
investigation that was supposed to be confidential. The investigation 
should go forward, he said. “When O.S.I. comes in, they are not usually 
coming in for a small little thing,” he said.

Mr. Maybloom said some teachers did not support Ms. Bloomberg but were 
afraid to speak out. He said some staff members believed that Colleen 
Siegel, the chairwoman for the teachers union chapter at the school, was 
one of the people who complained about Ms. Bloomberg to school officials 
and that there was now an effort to force her from her union position.

Ms. Siegel would not say whether she was one of the accusers, but said 
she had been elected chapter chairwoman twice and no one had tried to 
remove her until now. She said the investigation was not about “anything 
other than allegations of political organizing in public schools, and if 
there has been political organizing, that is a violation of the public 
trust and the public needs to know.”

In Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday, Ms. Bloomberg’s 
lawyers argued that the atmosphere of division and fear from a baseless 
accusation was reason for a federal judge to order the city’s education 
department to halt the investigation.

So many teachers, parents, former and current students filed into the 
courtroom to support Ms. Bloomberg that Judge Paul G. Gardephe invited 
the dozens standing along the walls to take seats in the jurors’ box and 
in chairs near the lawyers’ tables.

On Wednesday, Judge Gardephe declined to issue an injunction, saying 
that Ms. Bloomberg had not proved in the preliminary hearing that her 
rights were being violated, that the investigation had a chilling effect 
on her free speech or that of other workers at the school.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties 
Union, found the McCarthy-era echoes of the investigation shocking. “The 
use of that language just sounded the alarm,” she said, adding that the 
city was walking a fine line in trying to parse what it considered 
political activity. “Teachers and principals don’t check their rights at 
the schoolhouse door.”

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