The city Department of Education on Monday unveiled a plan to deal with growing tensions in public schools after a series of high-profile incidents over the Israel-Hamas war — including one that left a Queens teacher cowering in fear from a mob of students.
Schools Chancellor David Banks unveiled the three pronged approach of “education, safety and engagement,” which includes “tangible consequences” for students and training and support workshops for educators and parents.
“These trainings are important because I’ve heard that some of our school principals feel disempowered from taking meaningful disciplinary action against any egregious student behavior, even in clear-cut common sense cases,” Banks said during the announcement at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan.
“We cannot and we will not have schools where students feel like they can do whatever they want without accountability for their actions. That is no way to run a school system, and we will not allow that to happen, certainly not on my watch,” he vowed.
Banks specifically described the mayhem that erupted in November at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica — where a Jewish teacher was forced to go into hiding — as “deeply concerning.
“When hate rears its head in our schools, be it Islamophobia, antisemitism or any form of bigotry, we will respond,” he said.
Specifics on what consequences students would face and further detail about the workshops remained scant at the DOE announcement.
The DOE has had a slow and rocky response to school incidents arising from the Middle East conflict, which broke out Oct. 7 when Hamas launched its brutal surprise attack on Israel.
Just this month, the department was slammed for its lackluster response to a controversial map that omitted Israel yet was hanging in a classroom of Brooklyn elementary school PS261.
“Why would it not be?” DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said at the time when asked by the Free Press if the map was still up in the classroom. “This is a map of countries that speak Arabic.”
Arabic is the second most common language in Israel after Hebrew, spoken by at least 20% of the population, including Arab citizens and Jews from Arab countries.
“As soon as we were made aware of concerns regarding the map, it was removed,” Styer later said as he attempted to backtrack from his previously published statement.
“We are committed to fostering a welcoming environment here at NYC Public Schools that supports all cultures and communities,” he said.
But that “welcoming environment” apparently doesn’t include all reporters.
The Post attended Monday’s event despite being told by Styer that it was not among a select group of three news outlets to have been invited. Styer, who earns $140,000 for his role as a media liaison, cited “limited space” at the Tweed Courthouse venue, which has a maximum capacity of 300 according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
Approximately 150 people attended the event, including members of the Panel for Educational Policy, lawmakers and advocates. Some teachers were also asked to attend, according to an invitation obtained by The Post.
After the announcement, Banks made a swift exit without taking questions from invited press. When a Post reporter tried to speak to attendees, she was followed by a DOE staffer and asked to leave the venue by security.
Starting in the spring, the DOE’s new plan will see all middle and high school principals participate in professional learning courses focused on “navigating difficult conversations” and will be provided with resources and materials on Islamophobia and antisemitism to facilitate “student discussions on sensitive topics,” the department and Banks said.
Principals will also be receiving new tips on how to apply the schools Discipline Code in the aim of cracking down on bullying and bigotry.
This will include prioritizing investigations into antisemitism and Islamophobia allegations so no child or staff member “feel bullied or harassed” at school.
An interfaith advisory council to support city public schools, chaired by Reverend Jacques DeGraff, will also be established.
“From my years as a school safety officer, a teacher, a principal, and perhaps most importantly, as a parent, raising four children of my own, I know that it is possible and critical to find balance when it comes to discipline to provide both restorative conversations, as well as tangible consequences,” Banks said.