A pair of passionate protests Monday took aim at a Bronx middle school principal who’s accused of barring a teacher from giving black history lessons.
Parents, activists and educators gathered at Intermediate School 224 at opening bell and again at dismissal to call for the removal of Principal Patricia Catania.
The Daily News reported Sunday that IS 224 staffers and students said Catania prohibited a teacher from giving lessons on topics such as the Harlem Renaissance.
The NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, which organized the morning rally at IS 224, drew about 20 protesters as students arrived for class around 8 a.m.
NYC Coalition for Educational Justice coordinator Natasha Capers, a Brooklyn mother of two, spelled out the reason why city parents woke up early to protest at IS 224.
“A black teacher was told she could not continue her Black History Month lesson,” Capers said. “She was told that was not her subject area. She was told that is a social studies subject. We all know that black history is a part of every subject.”
The morning rally, organized by Capers, also included Bronx Public School 118 parents. That school made international news after The News reported Feb. 1 that a teacher there was removed for stepping on black kids’ backs during a lesson on slavery. Teacher Patricia Cummings was reassigned away from children after News reporters asked city Education Department officials about her actions. She continues to draw her $68,934-a-year paycheck.
Former city teacher Cheryl Demmitt, 59, of the Bronx, whose goddaughter attends PS 118, said the incidents at PS 118 and MS 224 show the city needs to step in with training to prevent bias.
“As an African-American, I want to see things done right for everyone,” Demmitt said. “We need to get more sensitivity training for all teachers so they can teach these subjects in way that doesn’t offend anybody.”
The afternoon protest at PS 224, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, drew about 50 concerned parents and activists who chanted and called for Catania’s ouster.“We are sending a message to the Department of Education that you cannot disrespect our culture,” said the Rev. Kevin McCall, NAN’s crisis director. “If she is not removed, we are taking it to the street.
“We will respond by any means necessary,” he said, invoking civil rights activist Malcolm X, who in a 1964 speech called for freedom, justice and equality “by any means necessary.”
Among those at the NAN rally was Mychelle Combs, the mother of 17-year-old Malcolm Xavier Combs, a senior at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, Queens. The teen grabbed headlines last week after school officials refused to allow him to display “Malcolm X” on his senior sweater. His mom said she’s had enough of racism in the city’s public and private schools.
“My son was named after an icon. Yet he’s being mistreated and laughed at,” said Combs. “I’m here to stand with these students because this is all our fight.”
Catania was at work Monday but didn’t respond to a request for comment. Education Department spokesman Douglas Cohen said the allegations against her are being investigated.
“The superintendent and his staff are working closely with the school community to address these concerns,” he said.