Staffers quitting NYC school where principal forbade class from singing “God Bless the USA”

Teachers at school, some of whom have now left, dressed in red white and blue in June during God Bless America song controversy. Credit NY Post

25 of the 40 staff members, 11 of the 28 classroom teachers or support staff have left PS 90, the Edna Cohen School,  in Coney Island, New York.

This is the same school that in June caused an uproar when the principal, Greta Hawkins,  forbade children in a kindergarten graduation ceremony from singing the Lee Greenwood song “God Bless the USA”.  She initially said that it could be offensive to people in the school who came from different cultures. Then she claimed the song was too difficult for the children to sing and replaced it with the  Justin Bieber song, “Baby”, which also was ultimately axed from the program.

It appears it is the authoritarian rule of Hawkins that the teachers and staff are fleeing.  “I couldn’t take it anymore,” said a veteran teacher who found a new job in Queens. “Some people were being picked on, and some were waiting to be picked on.” Some referred to the environment as “toxic” since Hawkins took over three years ago. 9 teachers and 3 other classroom support staff transferred over the summer.

Principal Greta Hawkins. Credit NY Post

The NY Post noted both sides of the situation:

“Most who left were disgruntled staff who were either disciplined or lost grievances for incomplete lesson plans,” a [Principal Hawkins] spokeswoman said. Hawkins did not return messages.

But teachers said Hawkins fabricated cases to torment her perceived enemies. On the last day of school, she threatened to slap any teacher with a “U,” or unsatisfactory rating, who didn’t turn in records, keys and other items she demanded at the last minute, staffers said.

The tension is not new.

The hostility goes back to a June 2010 staff meeting, where Hawkins reportedly announced: “I’m black. Your previous principal was white and Jewish. More of us are coming.”

Despite a DOE reprimand, the atmosphere worsened. “It all went downhill after that. She wanted revenge,” a staffer said.

Hawkins used spies and even scolded teachers for talking to each other in the hallway, several said.

“She’s vindictive. She’s malicious. She’ll smile but do things behind your back,” said a teacher leaving PS 90 after 10-plus years.

One exiting aide was accused of harassment after complaining that a teacher favored by Hawkins kept a hamster in a filthy cage.

“She removed me from the classroom instead of the hamster,” the aide said.

Parents upset with the exodus of teachers are appealing to the schools chancellor Dennis Walcott to do something to address the situation.


One response

  1. What a completely toxic environment to teach children in. My sympathies to any families who can’t leave the district and take their children elsewhere. Seems to me the basic tenet in our system of “do no harm” has been grossly violated by this.

    August 20, 2012 at 3:16 am

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