By Kate Pastor
The Department of Education has confirmed two ongoing investigations at Jonas Bronck Academy, MS 228, one over allegations of verbal abuse and harassment and another involving a temporary secretary hired from outside the department.
Parents who called The Press last week say the complaints are only part of the emerging picture of a school that began to sour upon the arrival of Principal Donalda Chumney in the fall.
The principal is openly aggressive and verbally abusive toward teachers, academics have suffered and relationships with parents have deteriorated, they said.
Another sign of the school's turmoil is the three teachers who have been "reassigned" to a place known by educational insiders as "the rubber room," where teachers accused of wrongdoing await their fates.
Ms. Chumney did not return calls for comment and the Department of Education did not say what the reassigned teachers have been accused of. Parents, however, had no such reservations.
One parents' association member, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation at the hands of Ms. Chumney, said the trouble began during the first month of classes. A bus broke down on a school trip and the principal had not arranged for anybody to stay behind in case of an emergency, she said. Parents showed up at the school for dismissal to find their children missing with no explanation.
"It was just her total disconnection from the students and the parents. There's no connection on her part and that's when we knew that something wasn't quite right and things have progressively gotten worse," said one parent.
Then, over the school break in February, parents learned that nearly half of the school's eighth graders received promotion in doubt letters, meaning they would have to improve their academic standings or not graduate. Some parents felt that they should have been notified of any problems sooner and wondered how half the class could be failing.
Marvin Shelton, District 10's Community Education Council president, said that even as he struggled to help parents deal with their academic concerns, he was aware of deeper issues.
"I've been informed of allegations of verbal abuse and intimidation of parents and staff," said Mr. Shelton.
While all this was going on, Ms. Chumney was in the process of getting rid of teachers.
"She went on the warpath and started effectively trying to fire people," said a source close to the investigation who didn't want to be named for fear of retaliation, noting three teachers were sent off between September and January.
"The teachers are terrified. She's been throwing insubordination charges at people like it's confetti," the source said.
MS 228, situated on the Manhattan College campus until it moves to Fordham Road next fall, has about 150 students and about 20 teachers, likely amplifying the impact of a handful of missing teachers. Mr. Shelton said he did not know why Ms. Chumney had taken action against the teachers, but the number of them in the rubber room seemed "disproportionate" for a school of its size.
Sources say teachers are unlikely to speak out because they are afraid for their jobs.
"I've heard it where she was very verbally abusive, very nasty. Especially the ones she got rid of and the other ones are walking around in total fear," said a parent.
The school secretary was also removed, according the sources. She never returned from taking time off after her father's death. Instead she was replaced by a temporary employee and sent to the "rubber room," where she remains.
A temporary worker from an agency used by the department of education filled the position and parents now allege she's had access to personal information that should have been reserved for Department of Education employees' eyes only. Since December, she has handled the most sensitive documents available at a school including medical histories, infuriating some parents over what they see flagrant disregard for their privacy and school regulations.
All of this, say concerned parents who called The Press last week, has started to ware on their children.
"It's really a case study in what personal energy effects can achieve," said the source close to the investigation. "You really do create your environment."