Amid Headlock Allegations, Parents Complain About Disciplining at Girls Prep

IMG_8205Rachel Ohm

A new disciplinary system at Girls Prep Middle School has left many parents unhappy at the start of the school year.

Since the dismissal of founding principal Kimberly Morcate last March, the school has gone through administrative changes, including the hiring of an interim principal and then a new principal, as well as the normal coming and going of teachers. Some parents feel that a new disciplinary system, called the “demerit system,” has only made the changes harder on their children.

“There are a lot of things these kids are going through emotionally, and it has taken a toll on them, with the principal as well as other teachers leaving,” said Ayodele Carnegie, whose daughter is in the sixth grade. “It’s a lot to transition through. I feel like they are a little too strict on rules.”

Kaitlin SeaverPrincipal Kaitlin Seaver. Courtesy of Girls Prep.

The new demerit system has been overseen by Kevin Harris, hired as Director of Family and Student Affairs earlier this year. Previously, Mr. Harris worked with K.I.P.P., a national charter network known for its successful student graduation rate but also scrutinized for an educational model that pours thousands of extra dollars per student into its schools.

Some parents think their daughters are being disciplined too harshly under the system, which gives each student ten points at the start of the day and subtracts points for offenses such as speaking in class or making inappropriate facial expressions.

Last week, one parent alleged that her daughter was put in a headlock after talking in class.

Jamila Banks said she took her daughter, Jayla, 11, to Bellevue Hospital, where she said the girl was treated for “minor head trauma” and “midline neck tenderness.”

The N.Y.P.D., Department of Education and the school looked into the incident and found the claims to be unsubstantiated.

“We have no confirmation that this incident occurred,” said Margie Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education.

Tiffany Liston, the Managing Director of Strategy and Development for the Public Prep Network, said the network could not comment on “internal practices” or individual student situations to the media. She did not comment on Mrs. Banks’s claim that her daughter was suspended for five days owing to the incident.

Regardless of whether or not the story they heard was true, many parents seemed disappointed that the school did not address the community about it.

Mrs. Banks said the school did not notify her of what had happened until the next day. “When something of this caliber goes on, a parent should be notified right away,” she said.

Another mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said she heard about the incident from other parents. “I’m shocked that would even happen,” she said. “But I’m even more shocked that we were not notified as a parent body of what happened. The rest of the school year depends on how the administration handles things like this. Parents are upset because they haven’t been told.”

Other parents said they were fine with the demerit system. “Girls Prep is just like any school,” said Gwen Singelton, the mother of a fifth-grader. “There are some girls who are quiet and some who highly need discipline. They’re not making them stand on razor blades or anything. It’s fine.”

In a statement from the school, Ms. Liston wrote, “We are committed to working together and directly with parents to address the concerns related to the positive behavior system to make it stronger. Our goal is to ensure that our girls embody the Girls Prep core values of sisterhood, merit, responsibility and scholarship, and that they are on a path to success in high school, college and personally, as individuals.”