Education in the post 9/11 world

How do you thank an educator for success? You might give her $25,000.00. Or, you can kick her in the teeth for demonstrating good judgment. If you are New York’s Department of Education, you can do both. According to The New York Times, Curtis High School’s award winning principal, Aurelia Curtis, was transferred from her Staten Island school and reassigned to regional headquarters. Her error? On October 31st, a 16 year old junior, during debate, made a comment which referenced blowing up the school. She did not report it to police.
It seems that the honors student, while debating capitalism with fellow members of the Curtis High School debate team, said something about planting a bomb in the school to protest capitalism. Not a little thing in our post 9/11 climate. And in our knee jerk, damn anyone who says something controversial society, I think the principal acted prudently. Upon hearing the news from the debate team faculty advisor, Ms. Aurelia met with the student and his mother, searched his belongings and found nothing that would be considered a threat. She then, according to the article, met with the school’s crisis intervention team and they jointly decided on a four day suspension and psychiatric evaluation as appropriate precaution. Days later, the police learned of the “threat” and arrested the student- he was charged with making a terroristic threat. He is now suspended until February 1st. But the principal was not transferred at that point. It seems that the principal, whose own children attend Curtis, had the support of other parents.
Fast forward to December 14th. Ms. Curtis was watching a school basketball game when police attempted to arrest three male students for robbery. Ms. Curtis vouched for their whereabouts and refused to allow the boys questioned until their parents were present. She was reassigned the next day. Many parents are upset. Maurice Royster, parent of a student who, partly by Ms. Curtis’s involvement, received a scholarship offered,

“You knuckleheads up there don’t know nothing. I made myself get off the bus after work tonight and come here, and I don’t even like PTA meetings.” A moment later he concluded, “Let the woman come back.”

A comment at inside schools.org states,

Principal Aurelia Curtis has been temporarily removed from the school for mishandling a bomb threat made by a student, the Staten Island Advance reported. The boy was arrested for “naming the school as a hypothetical target during a political debate,” the newspaper reported. “Quite honestly, she’s wonderful,” PTA President Mary Ellen Brown said about Principal Curtis in the article. “She’s very good with the kids and it seems like all the teachers are very happy with her.” A follow-up article reported that teachers and parents planned to stage a rally to call for Curtis’s immediate reinstatement.(December 2005)

Public schools are usually easy targets, ripe for one joke after another. It seems that in this case, the principal cared. She cared about student performance and received not only accolades but financial reward. And she cared about a student enough to suspend the hyper-vigilant tendencies of our post 9/11 America. She evaluated a comment, and acted responsibly. How refreshing her action and how sad the board’s reaction.