A Bronx principal is being investigated amid claims she barred an English teacher from teaching lessons on Black history and fostered a “hostile environment” by singling out Black faculty and students.
The city’s Department of Education launched an investigation into Intermediate School 224 Principal Patricia Catania this month after a laundry list of complaints by students and staff, the New York Daily News reported. The students and staffers, many of whom are nonwhite, alleged that Catania has made things quite uncomfortable since becoming head of school in December 2016.
“She’s racist,” English teacher Mercedes Liriano, who’s worked at IS 224 for more than a decade, told the newspaper. “…She’s trying to stop us from teaching our students about their own culture.”
Liriano, 45, said she was just starting class last Wednesday when Catania pulled her aside and instructed her not to give a lesson on the literary and artistic re-awakening known as the Harlem Renaissance. The English teacher said she was shocked by the request, adding that Catania questioned why she was teaching her students Black history in the first place if she’s not a social studies teacher.
“Her tone was very harsh, as if I committed a heinous crime,” Liriano said.
Despite the principal’s request, Liriano carried on with her lesson.
“She’s attempting to stop the students from learning about their own history, and she’s denying them the right to learn about where they came from,” she said.
News of Liriano’s dust-up with Catania sparked a silent protest by students and colleagues, who wore all-black the next day in a show of solidarity. The Daily News reported that close to 75 percent of the school’s 353 students took part in the event while 71 students signed a petition demanding that Catania allow the Black history lessons to continue.
“I asked her why we shouldn’t learn about Black history?” sixth-grade student Savannah Villagomez said. “She said we weren’t learning anything, but she didn’t even look at our projects.”
Several other students and staffers of color echoed Liriano’s claims of hostility by Catania towards Black and Latinx teachers. Many told the Daily News that like the English teacher, they were targeted. Liriano alleged the principal once told people that Black teachers lack the knowledge required for their subjects and are instead better at controlling classrooms.
“She’s a racist, based on her actions and what she does,” math teacher Jacinth Scott said, adding that she thinks Cantania should be fired immediately. “…She doesn’t belong at this school.”
The disturbing allegations against the principal are the latest in a string of racially charged incidents at New York City schools in the last few months.
A white middle school teacher in the Bronx was removed from the classroom in early February after stepping on Black students’ backs as part of a demeaning Black history lesson. Christ the King High School in Queens was accused of cultural insensitivity just last week after refusing to let a student wear his name, Malcolm X, on his school sweater.