The New York City Department of Education is investigating a white middle school principal in the city’s Bronx borough for racially hostile actions against staff and students of color. The most incendiary charge: that Principal Patricia Catania barred black history month lessons from being taught to the students of Intermediate School 224—95 percent of whom are black and Latinx.
As the New York Daily News reports, eight current or former educators from the Bronx middle school and five students relayed allegations of racism and creating a hostile environment against the 26-year education veteran.
This includes barring a veteran English teacher from presenting a lesson about the Harlem Renaissance to her sixth- and seventh-grade students.
Mercedes Liriano, who has been working at the middle school for more than 10 years, told the Daily News that Catania pulled her aside before the start of her class Wednesday and told her not to give the lesson:
“She said I’m not a social studies teacher so why am I teaching my students about black history?” Liriano said. “Her tone was very harsh, as if I committed a heinous crime.”
Liriano proceeded with her lesson anyway, but the event sparked protest from her students and fellow educators, who wore black the next day to show their disapproval of Catania’s policies. Students told the Daily News that about three quarters of the school’s 353 students participated in the protest.
Catania declined to comment to the Daily News, and referred a reporter to the New York City Education Department. A spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed an investigation was ongoing.
The incident is just the latest in a series of recent and high-profile cases of discrimination and racism in New York’s schools. Last week, Christ the King High School in Queens made headlines after preventing a student from putting his namesake, Malcolm X, on his senior sweater. And at the top of the month, a Bronx middle school teacher sparked outrage after stepping on the backs of black students to give a lesson in “how it feels to be a slave.”
The Daily News reports that protesters have taken to City Hall to ask for expanded anti-bias training for the city schools. They also want an office created for culturally responsive education within the city’s Education Department.
New York City’s focus on diversity in schools has been to target its problem with segregation—one of the worst in the nation. But as last year’s diversity plan shows, the city’s initiatives thus far have focused primarily on creating more access for poor students and students of color. Training and resources for educators to create more inclusive and supportive environments for their students does not appear to be a major part of the integration plan.