Earlier this week, I received my first “insider tip” from a source at the Isaac E. Young Middle School. My effort to follow up on that tip was rewarded by a knock at the door from two New Rochelle Police detectives carrying
9 mm.40 caliber handguns on their hips.
|Future Member of Mr. Bongo’s Cigar Club?|
My tipster had informed me that school principal Anthony Bongo routinely violates both the School District’s Code of Conduct and New York State’s anti-smoking law by smoking cigars on school grounds. According to my source, he has a daily routine, weather permitting, where at the end of the school day he goes around to the back of the school and smokes cigars. This source also informs me that this is well-known at the school, that some Isaac employees have complained about it to him and to Superintendent Richard Organisciak. This has apparently been going on for years.
Like any good reporter, I want to check out these sorts of tips. Yesterday, I drove by the school to take a look. It is not possible to see the area behind the school where I was told Mr. Bongo likes to smoke his cigars so I drove all the way to the back of the parking lot, looked around, and sure enough saw Mr. Bongo sitting on the back of a pick up truck puffing away. He was speaking with a female security guard as what appeared to be teachers and students walked past. I was looking directly at him when he looked in my direction. I could see from his reaction he recognized me and he appeared startled. He quickly stood up, tossed the cigar away and began walking directly towards me. Satisfied that the tip was accurate, and not wishing to discuss the matter with Mr. Bongo, I got back in my car and began driving out of the parking lot. By then Mr. Bongo and the security guard had moved closer to where I had been standing when I spotted him so that I was no more than 10 feet away from Mr. Bongo as I drove past him.
Mr. Bongo recognized me because just the week before he and I had spent two hours together at a lightly attended board meeting at Isaac Young. I sat in the second row, directly in front of him as he spoke, and repeatedly raised my hand to question the entirely inaccurate slides being presented that night. When I spoke during the public comment period, he twice made rude, loud noises. After the meeting, I went over and introduced myself, shook his hand and spoke with him for about ten minutes. I repeatedly asked him about his making available to me copies of the powerpoint presentations he and his staff had presented to the school board that night (he declined, I have since FOIL’d them). He stood by when Mr. Gulland asked me to explain why his “three year growth” chart was wildly inaccurate.
Despite knowing full well who I am, Mr. Bongo filed a phony police report of an “unknown person with a camera” in the parking lot at Isaac Young Middle School. Responding to this false complaint, two New Rochelle Police Department officers with sidearms, showed up at my doorstep this afternoon to question me. I stated words similar to what I have stated above. I informed the detectives that Mr. Bongo knows who I am and clearly recognized me in the parking lot. I expressed my view that Mr. Bongo had only called the police with a phony report of an “unknown person” in some lame attempt at discouraging me from reporting on his cigar routine. I am not sorry to disappoint Mr. Bongo with this post.
As a cigar smoker myself, I have no problem with Mr. Bongo smoking cigars in his free time but it is not a matter of personal choice for him to be smoking cigars on school grounds, especially during the middle of the workday while children are still present in the building and on school grounds. Mr. Bongo is the person with legal responsibility for the building. He is the person responsible for enforcing the District’s Code of Conduct and has a moral obligation to set an example for this students.
Some might feel this is no big deal and in some circumstances they might be right but what makes Mr. Bongo’s cigar habit particularly pernicious is that teacher complaints about his cigar smoking have fallen on deaf ears. What kind of message does it send to teachers and parents who come forward to complain about illegal and irresponsible behavior by a senior official in the District only to be ignored? My sources tell me that many of the people working at Isaac Young have learned to look away when they see violations of law or district policy. What kind of work environment is that? Is it any surprise that in such an environment the response of a white supervisor to a black janitor taking down a toy stuffed monkey hung from a noose by the supervisor was for the supervisor to hang TWO animals from two other nooses? The message is clear – bad behavior will not just be tolerated by Mr. Bongo (because he engages in it himself), complaints up the chain of command will be ignored, and those who dare complain will be greeted with attempts at retaliation.
Does anyone expect the District to look into allegations that Mr. Bongo filed or caused to be filed a false police report? Or the many reports of his violating state law with his little backdoor cigar lounge? How about endangering the welfare of children with his second-hand smoke? They passed this law for a reason, right?
It would seem to me that there ought to be no question when a senior administrator in the district is violating the law and complaints go up the chain of command that the response should be swift and unequivocal – no violations of state law of any kind will be tolerated by any school district employees. All the more so when it comes to laws intended to protect the health of the students entrusted to our care and especially when the law breaker is a school principal.
Is it not clear that when teachers and students see a school principal like Mr. Bongo set himself up as a law unto himself, this undermines school morale and encourages a breakdown in discipline? Leaders are supposed to lead by setting an example. How can Mr. Bongo effectively instill a respect for and school rules and the law when he refuses to follow them himself?