THE CITY is investigating explosive complaints from students and staff at a Bronx school saying their principal barred an English teacher from delving into blackhistory lessons — and targeted black teachers and students for abuse.
The Department of Education launched the probe after kids and educators leveled the allegations against Intermediate School 224 Principal Patricia Catania, who is white, the Daily News has learned.
The 26-year veteran of city schools remains in her $154,257 post even though students and staffers of color say she’s created a hostile environment since she took the top job at IS 224 in December 2016.
“She’s racist,” said English teacher Mercedes Liriano, 45, who’s worked at the school, where 95% of students are black and Hispanic, for more than a decade. “She’s trying to stop us from teaching our students about their own culture.”
The disturbing allegations — relayed to the Daily News by eight current or former employees and five students — come amid a spate of racially-tinged controversies at city schools.
Liriano said she was beginning a class Wednesday when Catania pulled her aside and told her not to give lessons about the famed Harlem Renaissance movement of literature and art in the 1920s. The order shocked Liriano. She teaches the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the writings of Frederick Douglass, to her sixth- and seventh-grade students as part of the officially recommended New York state curriculum standards, she noted.
But Catania made clear she had a far different view of what Liriano should be teaching her students, the incensed educator said.
“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 returned to class and continued her lesson in defiance.
“She’s attempting to stop the students from learning about their own history, and she’s denying them the right to learn about where they came from,” Liriano told The News.
The teacher was so shaken by the experience that she discussed it with her colleagues and students, who responded by wearing all black the next day in protest.
About 75% of the school’s 353 pupils participated in the event,
which was organized by kids using Snapchat, kids said. And 71 students signed a petition calling on Catania to allow the lessons in black culture to continue. Sixth-grader Savannah Villagomez, 11, said she confronted the principal about her double standards on the day of the protest. “I asked her why we shouldn’t learn about black history?” Villagomez said. “She said we weren’t learning anything, but she didn’t even look at our projects. “I was angry,” she added. “She doesn’t know our history and she wants to stop it.” Catania referred a reporter seeking comment to the Education Department.
Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the DOE, who confirmed the investigation was ongoing, said Catania has no prior disciplinary history. Cohen added that some students are getting lessons in black history from other teachers.
“African-American history is an important part of the school’s curriculum,” Cohen said. “Students are currently working on projects related to Black History Month that will be presented and highlighted at the end of February.”
Liriano said she called 311 to file a complaint about the encounter, which she described as the latest in a string of hostile acts by Catania targeting black and Hispanic students and workers. Several other staffers echoed Liriano’s accusations of hostile actions toward educators of color. A number of middle-schoolers told The News they were targeted as well.
According to Liriano, Catania told other people that black instructors have poor knowledge of their subjects and are only good at controlling classrooms.
IS 224 math teacher Jacinth Scott said she thinks Catania should be canned immediately.
“She’s a racist, based on her actions and what she does,” Scott said. “She doesn’t belong in this school.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in on the controversy Saturday.
“This is a disgrace and an insult,” Sharpton said. “(IS 224) needs to know we stand with this teacher and we will be there to do whatever we need to do.”
The Rev. Kevin McCall (photo left), crisis director at the National Action Network, said Catania should be replaced.
The trouble at IS 224 comes after The News reported other shocking claims of racism and cultural insensitivity in city schools.
Patricia Cummings, a white teacher at Middle School 118 in the Bronx, was pulled from the classroom on Feb. 1 after it was revealed that she made black students lie face-down on the floor — and then stepped on them — as a lesson on slavery.
And white administrators at Christ the King, a Queens Catholic school, angered students, alumni and activists for refusing to allow a black teen named after Malcolm X to put the civil rights leader’s name on his class sweatshirt.
In the wake of those stories, protesters have descended on City Hall calling for expanded anti-bias training and the creation of an office for culturally responsive education within the Education Department.
But so far city officials have declined to add resources to address the issue.
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