PANIC MODE! Board of Education Calls Special Session to Deal with Censorship Crisis

Written By: Robert Cox

Reeling from an avalanche of negative criticism, the New Rochelle Board of Education has called a special session to deal with the censorship crisis that has enveloped the district for the better part of a week.

The Committee of the Whole Meeting originally scheduled for the tiny Carew Room at City Hill has been moved to the much larger Linda E. Kelly Theater in the “new wing” at New Rochelle High School. District officials are expecting a capacity crowd. Students and alumni from the high school have announced plans to protest the actions of the the school and print, TV and radio media outlets are expected to be on hand.

Among those expected to voice their concerns is Tara Baltazar, a former Editor-in-Chief of the Huguenot Herald and long time New Rochelle resident.

“If this happened in my day, I’d personally boycott the class,
stage a rally of some sort and mobilize the entire student body to
protest this,” Baltazar told Talk of the Sound. “In my view, the teachers or the parties responsible for tearing out the pages should be held accountable in some form–perhaps by suspension without pay.”

In a prepared statement first issued on Wednesday, then published on the school district web site today, the Board announced the extra session will be held immediately following the COW meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 at City Hall.

Members of the Board of Education will hold a Special Meeting on Tuesday evening, December 16, 2008, at 8:30 p.m., preceded by a Committee of the Whole Session at 7:30 p.m. at New Rochelle High School, Linda E. Kelly Theater (entrance on Braemar Avenue – off North Avenue), 265 Clove Road, New Rochelle, New York.

The District came under fire from bloggers and traditional media outlets from around the world when news spread that school officials had literally torn pages from 90 copies of Susanna Kaysen’s best-selling memoir Girl, Interrupted which was later made into an Academy Award winning movie starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie who won the Oscar for best-supporting actress.

9 thoughts on “PANIC MODE! Board of Education Calls Special Session to Deal with Censorship Crisis”

  1. Isn’t anonymity wonderful?
    To the unnamed pedantic ghost who’s totally on top of the BOE calendar,

    You can accuse others of self-aggrandizement without being held accountable for your speech. Somewhat like believing you can bowdlerize in private, immune to criticism. Anyway, I know my quote throws out the suggestion of “suspension without pay” but I emphasize “perhaps,” since that action’s very extreme. All I think is necessary for a satisfactory redress of this situation is a definitive statement by Mrs. Altschul regarding her bizarre “we took the liberty of bowdlerizing” quote. The term “liberty” should not appear next to “[manually tearing out pages of a work in the interests of censorship or subjective redaction unapproved by the work’s author].” Maybe “we took the egregious luxury of bowdlerizing” would’ve been appropriate, or in a sentence about New Ro’s Thomas Paine ought “liberty” show face.

    Anyway. My new favorite word is “bowdlerizing.” Thank you Mrs. Altschul.

    T. Baltazar

  2. Nice Try! I have the calendar in my hand…
    The only meeting was the COW meeting on Tuesday in the Carew Room.

    As someone who attends all the board meetings, I am quite familiar with when and where they are and this is a CHANGE for rather obvious reasons.

  3. Check the calendar and try to get your facts right.
    The BOE meeting for Tuesday has always been scheduled for the high school– look at the calendar. Sorry to deflate your incredible sense of self-importance, but the venue has not been changed, it was set back in August.

    1. I have added a link to the Board of Ed Press Release on 12/10
      Board of Education Announces Special Meeting at New Rochelle High School

      If needed I will scan the school calender which clearly states that only a COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting was scheduled for 12/16. However, it should be evident to even our resident school district troll that you do not put out a press release announcing a “Special Meeting” when the meeting was previously scheduled.

      It’s always nice to see how district hacks will do whatever it takes to distract the attention of New Rochelle residents from the substantive issues facing our CIty. The issue here is not my ego or a debate over where COW meetings are held it is about, first and foremost, the decision of a school official to mutilate books in the name of “protecting the children”. For those who have been reading this site for the past few months, you know this is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

      The district routinely tramples on the civil rights of students and parents whether it be the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment, or the New York State Freedom of Information Law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act or other laws or civil rights that the Administration of the School District find “inconvenient”.

      If the book censorship issue gets more residents asking questions about how the school district abuses basic freedoms of its residents then this incident will result in going beyond replacing 50 copies of a defaced book.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know that the Board of Education has a standing policy that residents are not allowed to criticize school administrators either by name or title at board meetings.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know that the Board of Education purposely withholds information from parents and students about their “due process” rights under the 5th and 14th Amendment; students are subject to disciplinary action only after their parents have been notified in writing, notified in the “dominant language of household”, that parents have the right to request a hearing, that parents have the right to cross examine witnesses, that students have the right to appeal adverse decisions.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know that the Principal of New Rochelle High School demands that the Editors of the school newspaper submit every edition for “prior review” and has the authority to spike stories that he believes “reflect badly on the school”.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know that the District rarely reports violent or disruptive incidents at schools because it “looks bad” on New York State Report Cards.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know that school violence – stabbings, beatings, strong arm robberies – are not “isolated incidents” but are directly related to gang turf wars, drug dealing and gang initiations; that the District has repeatedly ignored warnings from law enforcement that violent national gangs such as Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and MS-13 have affiliated groups that operate in the district’s school system and recruit members all the way down to 6th grade in the middle schools and possibly younger.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know about widespread cheating by district personnel on standardized tests in order to inflate the number reported to the public under the No Child Left Behind law.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know they have been hoodwinked, bamboozled and outright conned by an administration that places PR and propaganda above all else.

      The people of New Rochelle need to know.

      1. Take the time and trouble to learn before you spout
        By now your readers are well-aware that you think yourself smarter than the rest of the world, more righteous, and more honest. But for all your efforts to get inside the school district, you still have a lot to learn.

        The meeting schedule is set every year in the spring. For as long as anyone can remember, the board of education has a “regular” (which means voting) meeting on the first Tuesday of the month, which is preceded by a Committee of the Whole (COW) session. The exceptions to that schedule are if New Years Day falls on the first Tuesday, or July 4, and Election Day. The second meeting of every month, also for as long as anyone can remember, is held on the last Tuesday of the month, with the exception of December when schools are closed on the last Tuesday, and occasionally May with Memorial Day, and I think there might have been an April exception once. All of those meetings are COW meetings.

        However — and pay close attention here, so that you learn something — occasionally the board has to vote on a particular resolution that cannot wait for the first Tuesday of the month. On those occasions, the board calls a “Special” meeting, which means a separate meeting at which some formal vote will be taken. Usually it is no more than a single resolution, or a couple of related resolutions. I am sorry to deflate your self-annointed self-importance (if that is even possible), but the board of education does not call a “special” meeting to deal with issues raised by you. It just does not happen that way. If the December 16 meeting, which has always been on the calendar and which always was scheduled as a COW, now has a “special” meeting add-on, it is because the board will be voting on something and the board does not vote at a COW. So don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back and taking credit for creating a special meeting. As hard as it may be for you to believe, it has nothing to do with you.

        And finally, there is (at least) one more thing for today that you cannot take credit for — the change in location of the December 16 meeting. You already know, from all your previous visits to board meetings, that the last meeting of the month between October and April is held at a school, rather than City Hall. You know this is done so that the meetings will be more accessible to people in the neighborhoods who cannot or do not want to come to City Hall. You did not take credit for the previous meetings which you attended at other schools, and you cannot take credit for the December 16 meeting being at the high school. That schedule was made last September or October, and in fact, for at least the last several years, the second meeting in December has been at the high school. And I can already predict that the second meeting next year in December also will be at the high school, with or without your participation.

        The problem is that your readers who do not attend board meetings have no idea how you skew the facts with half-truths, strategic omissions, and outright misrepresentations. They have no idea how patently disrespectful and provocative you are, such as with your stunt with the cigar and your flat out lie about not having had time to take off your hat at the last meeting. You know, as everyone who was in the room knows, that you were there for quite some time before the first part of the meeting ended, and that there was a recess before the meeting reconvened and you got up to speak. But tell your readers you had no time, and that you had every intention of taking off your hat. And then tell your readers that it was all about the dress code. They will never know the difference, will they.

        Ok – I need to go back to work. Board of Education is only a volunteer job and I need to make a living. I have no intention of this being an anonymous post. But for some reason the blog registration system did not let me register a new account, even in my own name. But this is David Lacher. See you on Tuesday, with your prop of the month. And we always welcome our alumni back to school. In fact, there is a wonderful tradition that former members of the Chorale come back on the night of the vocal Winterfest concert and sing the Hallelujah chorus with the current students (and they come in street clothes, but they take their hats off). But why would you write about anything positive in the schools? That would ruin your reputation.

        [Editor’s Note: per Mr. Lacher’s mention above, I have fixed his account and associated his account with this comment retroactively; the confirm email for new registrations most likely got caught in a spam filter]

      2. Dear Mr. Lacher
        I sent you a direct email but let me mention here that I regret that you had trouble registering. I believe I have fixed the problem and you should be able to login and comment or blog now.

        As for the rest of your comment, me doth think he protests too much!

        With all that is wrong with the school district, this is your biggest concern?

        Well, that IS the eauty of having an open forum like this web site. So, different from a Board of Ed meeting, isn’t it? Anyone including you, can come in and have their say without interruption. Although I cannot ever recall insulting you or calling you names or even having any sort of discussion with you, you continue to use this platform to engage in that sort of behavior all while accusing me of the same. Isn’t this a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. I would also note that you have REPEATEDLY commented on this site anonymously and this is the first time you have made any mention of wanting to register and stand behind your own words.

        I am displeased with the district because of many bad things that have been done by the district. You are unhappy with me because I wear a hat when I express my displeasure. Rest assured that knowing how poorly some families are treated in this district, I am not shedding many tears over your offended sensibilities based on my dress or tone of voice.

        Readers can decide for themselves who is being honest and who is being arrogant here. In case you forgot, you are an elected official and are accountable to the people of New Rochelle. You might also then remember that as a U.S. citizen I have every right to speak, dress and act in any manner I choose whether you find it distasteful or not. You do not, however, have the right to interfere with my attempt to speak at a public meeting. Yet, this is precisely what you did – repeatedly – at the last board meeting. It does not matter one whit one reason you give for interrupting me. The simple fact is that when the board granted me my time to speak you repeatedly sought to prevent me from speaking because you don’t like what I have to say. Unless, we are supposed to take you seriously that you were so gravely offended by my wearing a hat as I approached the podium. Why is that I doubt you would be far less concerned about my millinery splendor if my purpose in attending board meeting was to applaud every decision made by the board.

        As for the meeting next week, rather than go back and forth, why don’t you just answer a simple question. The agenda will be made public at some point, right? Tell the readers here whether there an item on that agenda that has anything to do with books or censorship?

        If so, was that a topic that was on the agenda since last spring or will that be on the agenda in December of 2009?

        Or is it possible that the agenda for next Tueday does now include something it did not before – a discussion of the issue of censorship at the high school which is, after all, the point of this post?

      3. Don’t mischaracterize the facts
        All I ask is that you not mischaracterize the facts. It is patently not true that “the New Rochelle Board of Education has called a special session to deal with the censorship crisis,” as you have suggested. You know that meeting has been on the calendar since the beginning of the year. Now, I hope I have explained the meaning of a “special meeting.”

        And while all meetings initially are scheduled for the “default” Carew Room at City Hall, I also hope I have provided some enlightenment on how we have a discussion every year in late summer or early fall, at which we assign meeting dates to each of our schools. It may even be that, because we have more school buildings than we have months between October and April, even a few of our first-of-the-month meetings might be held away from City Hall. But that schedule has been fixed for months already, and has nothing to do with current events. Your post has suggested a different motivation which you know is simply not true. If we have a “capacity crowd” at the Carew Room, we do have the facility to move into the official room where we conduct our voting meetings.

        I do not for one moment disparage your First Amendment rights, even to defame certain individuals if that is your desire. But in creating and publishing your blog, you have taken upon yourself a certain responsibility for complete integrity which is no less than the mainstream press. You broke a big story. What happened is an embarrassment to all of us. The fact is, the Board did not know about it, did not condone it, does not endorse that kind of curriculum development, and will not permit it in the future. We ordered the books pulled immediately, and we directed that new books be purchased.

        I do not expect this story to die any time soon. But all I ask is that you not mischaracterize the facts. Even when you broke the story, you wrote that “the ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with . . . the President of the School Board.” You know that is patently not true. You have the right to be critical of any and all of us. You have the right to organize e-mail campaigns and any other forms of protest. But you also have an ethical responsibility to be truthful. Your story was not enhanced in any way by pointing the finger at the board president. Your story was potent enough with the fact that the thing happened. You did not have to juice it up with something that you know is not true. That is all I am saying. There is no argument that the Board of Education, as an elected body, has obligations and responsibilities and accountability to the entire community. But so, too, you have a responsibility as well.

        Thank you for the opportunity to post here. I acknowledge again my position as a member of the New Rochelle Board of Education, but I have not been designated to speak for any of my colleagues and I do not purport to do so.

      4. thanks for actually discussing issues in the school district
        Mr. Lacher,

        Let me first say that it is refreshing to have someone on the school board actually discuss the school district publicly. While it may have happened to others, this is the first time that this has happened in the 15 years since I moved to New Rochelle and certainly since May when I first brought my most recent concerns about my son doctored Regents Exam to the attention of the district.

        As to what is fair or not, let me say that it is experience that the school district does not deal with parents fairly. That perception is widespread in New Rochelle. If you think otherwise you are either delusional or commenting in bad faith. I am regularly in contact with parents throughout the district and nearly every single one is terrified of coming forward with complaints or problems out of fear of retaliation. Given the track record of the district, their fears are hardly irrational. The same could be said for teachers.

        Now you want to complain that I am treating the school board unfairly? All I can say to that is “boo-friggin-hoo”. District officials have repeatedly lied to me to and that includes your precious board president who did so in August prior to a board meeting. My family has been treated quite badly. You have not shown the slightest concern for them so I have no idea why you would imagine I would have any concern for the welfare of you or other elected officials who have the ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the district. You know what to do if you can’t stand the heat, right?

        This brings me to your rather odd complaint that I somehow misled readers by writing “the ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with the President of the School Board”. If the board is not responsible for book selection and hearing book challenges then who is responsible? As the President of the School Board, is Ms. Babcock Deutsch not the person who would convene a book challenge hearing?

        In my conversations with the folks from the National Coalition Against Censorship they suggested I obtain a copy of the district’s policies on book selection and book challenges. I made that request of the Superintendent a week ago and have still never heard from him. I made REPEATED requests before running my story asking Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, Richard Organisciak and Don Conetta asking them to comment on this matter and was, as is typical, ignored. Perhaps they failed to mention that to you?

        Now you claim I “know that is patently not true”.

        Actually, I do not know not that. Do you know why? I do not know because the school district has refused to explain to me how their book selection and book policy works – and I have been asking for more than a week. What I have learned is that in most districts the book challenge process includes a public hearing specifically so that members can judge the motives of the person or group challenging a book. Motive is an important factor because of the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Pico which makes motive a determining factor in whether the ban or restriction violates the First Amendment rights of students.

        To shift gears, I can assure you that I am not interested in lectures on “integrity” or “ethical responsibility” from anyone associated with the City School District of New Rochelle.

        Let me also address this rather amusing statement:

        “I do not for one moment disparage your First Amendment rights, even to defame certain individuals if that is your desire.”

        As a lawyer I am sure you must have heard that there is no constitutional right to defame someone. There is, of course, a higher bar for public figures to prove defamation (New York Times v. Sullivan) but the First Amendment does not protect the right to slander or libel people. So when you say that I am using “free speech” to “defame certain individuals” you are disparaging my First Amendment rights.

        In fact, you sit on a board with authority over a school district that routinely tramples on the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights of New Rochelle residents. You have personally sought to block me from speaking at board meetings with lectures on my attire when addressing the board as if I have some obligation to dress to suit your tastes when speaking at a public meeting.

        You and your fellow board members are responsible for the Code of Conduct, which contains pages of information on the due process rights of students and parents, and yet the version distributed by the school district has those pages ripped out – just as was done with Susanna Kaysen’s memoir. The difference being her pages describe a discussion about sex and the pages torn from the Code of Conduct explain the constitutional rights of parents and students in a document sent to many parents who might not otherwise be familiar with constitutional rights, if you catch my meaning. The failure to distribute the COMPLETE Code of Conduct is an egregious civil rights violation on more than one level.

        Yet you have now spent more time complaining about the unfairness of this blog than you have about building consensus on the school board to adopt a policy of only distributing the COMPLETE Code of Conduct and making it freely and widely available through mailings, at City Hall, at every school and on the district web site. When I see that then MAYBE you can talk to me about your not disparaging the constitutional rights of me or any other New Rochelle resident.

        Finally, let me assure you that I do not need your advice on how to get a story out, what makes a good story or what enhances a story. I am certainly not interested in your definition of fairness or journalism. I am interested in standing up for all of the people in New Rochelle who feel put down by this school district. Regardless, whatever differences we may have, I can’t imagine after the pounding I have given you and the rest of the board in the media, you want to argue that you have something to teach me about how to craft and promote a story into the blogs or traditional media? I have been doing this for a long time. The only difference now is, after six years of putting up with garbage in the way my family has been treated by the district, you all have nudged me across the line. I am now going to make it my business to apply all that I know about the media to shining a very bright light on the board and the administrators in this district. So, you had better get used to it because we’re not even through Round One and I am going to carry the lot of you the full fifteen rounds before I drop you.

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