‘School Terrorizing My Son’

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On May 13th social worker Levin escalated the matter by calling the ACS's emergency phone number and "reported that my son threatened to go get a gun and come back and shoot two students," the mother said, noting that her six-year-old son doesn't even own a toy gun. She says she was humiliated when ACS investigators arrived at her house late that evening. They wanted to know if the boy was a "victim of child neglect," she said.

Teachers and the head of a Harlem charter school falsely accused a six-year old of making a gun threat and called ACS because they wanted to kick their son from the school, the boy's parents claim. The boy has been suspended on numerous occasions for "acting up" the parents, who say school officials have no experience in handling children and have singled out their boy for harsh treatment, say.

The parents say they take the matter seriously; in April, a five-year-old African American kindergartner was handcuffed and arrested by police in Florida after teachers said she threw a “tantrum.� After The Black Star News called the Harlem school last week, teachers retaliated against the boy by excluding him from a day trip this past Monday, the mother said. A school official did not return a call inquiring about the alleged retaliation.

The boy's mother, Tamanika James, says her attempts to resolve problems with the head of the school and a member of the Board of Directors have been rebuffed. Calls to a school's board member, Harvey Newman, seeking comment went unreturned by press time—the mother says she previously discussed the matter with him.

Keith Meacham, the school’s director of development said school policy barred comments on a student’s private record. The school’s chairman and founder is Benjamin V. Lambert, Chair and CEO of Eastdil Realty Co. LLC. In an interview, Gwendolyn Stephens, head of Harlem Day Charter School, located on 240 East 123rd Street, denied the school had targeted the boy. She says the boy is intelligent but has "anger management problems" and that officials had advised the mother to seek counseling. She also says she had referred the boy to be evaluated for special education. She contends the mother has been "uncooperative." T

he Black Star News is withholding the boy's name due to his age. The mother said after a school social worker sent her a letter stating that her son need psychiatric evaluation, she took the boy to a Harlem psychologist Dr. Leon Dickerson, who examined the boy twice. Dr. Dickerson accompanied the mother back to school where he met with officials, including Stephens. In an interview with The Black Star, Dr. Dickerson said the boy needs to be in a school for gifted children.

He described the boy was extremely intelligent and said his “acting up� was a result of inappropriate punishment from the school. He noted that the boy was sometimes punished for incidents from days earlier and that children cannot properly correlate such treatment to wrongdoings. "Basically, it looks like the school is punishing the boy because the mother is standing up for him," Dr. Dickerson said. He raised the possibility of people from “outside the community� misinterpreting the boy’s behavior.

The doctor expressed shock and dismay at the letter by the social worker, Sharyn Levine, which included the six-year-old boy’s name, and was addressed "to whom it may concern." He said it was "unprofessional." Stephens when asked said Levine wouldn’t be available to comment on the letter. She conceded that James’s son wasn’t the only boy who “acts up� at school. She was unable to produce similar letters written by Levine about other boys when asked to by this newspaper.

The boy has attended the school for two years since Kindergarten. Students are primarily Blacks and Latinos; all but one of the primary 10 teachers is white, with a single Black primary teacher (and other Black assistant teachers), the mother said. James owns and operates Brock Financial Services, a seasonal income tax service and works full time as a collection agent for a major publishing company. The boy's father, Derrick James, works for a cable installation company.

"Rather than deal with my son, the Head of School wants us to remove him from school before the end of the school year," James says. She insists the school ganged up on her boy following an incident involving her husband and teachers. According to James, her husband had gone to pick up the son.

While he was tying his son's shoelaces an assistant teacher called out his name. "The teacher said 'get your things.' His father said 'Can't you see I'm tying his strings?' Words were exchanged and the teacher ended up running to the office,'" James says. The next day the school sent a letter to the parents banning Derrick from the school premises, she said. Eventually the parents met with Stephens, Nina Farrell, the boy’s teacher, and Natasha Walkcowitz, the School Administrator, she says.

"The meeting never addressed the alleged situation between my husband and the staffers... They said the child throws temper tantrums. He would hide under the desk when upset and was very defiant," she said, recalling the meeting. The school then kept a "behavior log" documenting all of the boy's activities with entries such as "had a good day," "helped his classmate," "took a long time to write three sentences," etc., the mother said. But mind games continued, the mother says, recalling an incident on March 22 with Ms. Farrell.
 
"He was working on a computer and the work was really repetitious and he didn't want to do it. The teacher put a clock next to him and said 'Once the big hand reaches two you can get up.' When it reached two he said 'Can I get up?' She said 'no, two more minutes.' He got upset and he knocked the chair and it hit her foot and she got real upset and ran to tell Stephens that he had thrown a chair at her." After that incident, the boy was suspended for three days.
 
Her son has most trouble with Farrell, she said. When he returned to school after the suspension, Ms. Farrell was sick and the boy went to Amy Charron's first grade class, James said. When Farrell returned, she sent him to Charron's class where he apparently had no problem. At lunch time, the boy returned to Farrell's class to collect his belongings, the mother said. "The school's security prevented him from going out following orders from Ms. Farrell," James says.
 
"He was not allowed to go out to play with the other kids. So he got upset. He crawled under a desk and would not come out. A little boy tried to help him out and he kicked the little boy." It was then that an assistant to social worker Levine, called and said the boy wouldn't be allowed back until the psychiatric evaluation, James said, prompting the visit to Dr. Dickerson.

She says she is not against finding a new school for her son but that she won't allow him to be hounded away. The Harlem Day Charter school has about 20 students per teacher while regular public schools nearby average 25 to 28 students, she says. "I'm not going to rush my son into a bad school," she says.

On May 13th social worker Levin escalated the matter by calling the ACS's emergency phone number and "reported that my son threatened to go get a gun and come back and shoot two students," James said, noting that her son doesn't even own a toy gun. James says she was humiliated when ACS investigators arrived at her house late that evening.

They wanted to know if the boy was a "victim of child neglect," James said. She received a letter from the Head of School describing his behavior on May 13, and threatening to "shoot his peers" was not mentioned, she said. She believes Levine concocted the story. “I am exploring all my options,� she said. James concedes - and her son admits - that he had an argument with a female classmate on that date.

The boy told James that he threatened to "knock the legs off the whiteboard," a reference to the contraption which has replaced the traditional blackboard. Asked about the alleged gun threat, Stephens said she investigated the matter and that the boy also "confirmed it." Then she quickly added that she would have to consult her notes.

ACS visited her family again on May 18th, James says; a report is due in two months. A source at ACS confirmed that investigators visited the parents. "The boy seems normal," the source told The Black Star News, noting that investigations weren’t over. James says she is doing what any mother would do for a son. She stormed back into the school and placed him in another class—unfortunately for the boy and the mother, it's a kindergarten class.

"That's the only teacher who will take him. Everything is going backward for my son," the despondent mother said. "They don't care about my son as they claim. How do you threaten to call 911 on a six year old? How do you make false allegations to ACS?" Stephens, in the interview, claimed the boy currently was in a first grade class. She declined to provide the name of the teacher of that class.

For more reports please call (212) 481-7745 or click on “subscribe� on the homepage to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News, the world’s leading Pan African news weekly. Send comments to letters@blackstarnews.com

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