Townsend Harris PTA 'demands' removal of interim acting principal

Rosemarie Jahoda, interim acting principal at Townsend Harris High School, addresses the school's Parent-Teacher Association. 

The Parent-Teacher Association of Townsend Harris High School voted unanimously on Thursday to demand the "immediate removal" of interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda, citing alleged acts of intimidation and harassment of educators and students.

"This school cannot afford someone who thinks in hindsight," said student union President Alex Chen said at the PTA meeting before the vote was held. "We need someone who is proactive and forward-thinking. This is our school, we need to care for our students."

The group also listed other demands related to the hiring process of a permanent principal at the school, the removal of Jahoda as a potential candidate and the school's relationship with the Department of Education and called for an apology from an agency official they felt demeaned students during a sit-in held on Dec. 8.

The DOE's press office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Jahoda, who was not in the room at the time of the vote, was given 30 minutes to defend herself amidst a rash of accusations that under her leadership morale at the school has plummeted and teachers are threatening to quit en masse.

"What I hope is that you take the time to know me," she said. "I'm trying to do what I can to be supportive … I do believe I'm the best person for the job."

The interim acting principal replaced Antony Barbetta at the beginning of the school year with an already questionable track record — having been accused of harassment by 20 out of 22 math teachers at her former school, Bronx High school of Science.

Although an independent fact checker from the American Arbitration Association found there was "substantiation" for some of the complaints, a DOE official disagreed with the assessment saying in part that the report "was not fairly based upon all the evidence in this case."

Jahoda, addressing the complaint on Thursday, defended her actions at her former school.

"That complaint was made at a time when teachers were unable to grieve observations," she said. "This was the only avenue at that time."

Furthermore, she said, the two teachers who didn't sign on to the complaint were more pertinent than the other 20 that did.

"The fact that two of the of the 22 had the courage not to sign it speaks volumes," she said.

Other issues were addressed but at the top of everyone's minds was the video of the Dec. 8 sit-in — when students protested the possible appointment of the interim acting principal to the permanent role — in which Jahoda stood by as DOE Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro can be seen having tense conversations with students, at times seeming confrontational.

"We feel they were threatened," said PTA Co-President Susan Karlic.

Jahoda was asked why she didn't interfere on behalf of the students and responded that she felt it would have been inappropriate to interrupt a conversation about her.

The Classic, the student newspaper at the school, has reported teachers are threatening to leave the school in protest of Jahoda's actions., to which she responded "I don't know specifically of any teachers who are threatening to leave."

But according to the educators, Jahoda knows little of what teachers are doing — or sometimes what their names are.

"She has no idea who the teachers are or what they teach," said Social Studies teacher Franco Scardino.

Dean Robin Figelman told the crowd she is often called "Figelbaum" by her boss.

Scardino, the school's UFT chapter leader, said he has had several confrontations with Jahoda, including one occasion when she told him missing a school leadership team meeting to care for his sick mother was "your decision."

Earlier in the meeting, Jahoda addressed complaints of field trip and professional development requests being filled out — in her words — incorrectly.

Scardino responded to that, when Jahoda was no longer in the room, saying "Are you telling me we've been filling it out incorrectly for eight years?"

The interim acting principal also spoke to an incident in which two Muslim students left her office upset, one in tears, because she refused to send a letter to the student body addressing an alleged Islamophobic incident on campus in which a student yelled "F--k Muslims" at a bake sale hosted by the Muslim Students Association.

The students believed Jahoda, who said she was told not to send the letter by the DOE, was putting the image of the school over their concerns.

"Maybe it would have been better just to send it out," Jahoda said about the letter. "I never meant to offend those children."

But her defense did little to quell the frustrations of PTA members, who vowed to call the DOE's office, as well as elected officials, by the hundreds to make their opinions known.

"That is how we're going to get results," Karlic said. "Because this unfit woman cannot be assigned to our wonderful school."