Parents of first graders at a New York City public school are outraged, saying their children were coerced into a “fight club” type of environment and abused by eighth-grade tutors at the school.
NBC-New York reports Department of Education officials are now investigating the March 10 incident after a group of parents complained.
Mulazim Woods was one of those parents. He said his 6-year-old daughter, Khamani Jones, was roughed up by students more than twice her age. The assistant principal at the school — Public School 111 in Queens — showed Woods a 30-minute surveillance video in which Woods can clearly see his daughter and another student being dragged along the floor and slammed into a wall.
“To see your baby being dragged on the floor by somebody twice her age, I mean, I can't even explain it, it was devastating to see that,” Woods told WABC News.
The school has not released the entire surveillance video but a small portion of it (shown below), which appears to have been recorded by a cellphone, has leaked out. In the clip, larger students can be seen dragging smaller children around by their arms.
Woods’ attorney, Pamela Roth said all of the students were part of a tutoring program called “Each One Teach One.” On at least one occasion the eighth-graders were left alone with the younger students. That led to a dangerous environment, she said.
“These eighth-graders actually coerce and force the first-graders to fight with each other,” Roth told NBC-New York. “They were dragging them on the floor, harassing them and intimidating them.”
With no adult supervision the older students were basically running a “fight club,” said attorney Scott Rynecki. He is representing Latoya Gore, whose 7-year-old daughter Taniya Jules was allegedly injured during the fighting.
Gore said she got a call from the school, saying her daughter was with the nurse because she had bumped her head. She told the New York Daily News she didn’t learn about the tutoring program and the fighting until the next day when another parent told her about it at Taniya’s bus stop.
Gore said her daughter is traumatized by the event.
“She still won’t tell it all because she’s still shook up by the situation,” she told the New York Daily News.
Rynecki and Gore filed a notice of claim recently, informing officials of their intent to file a $5.5 million lawsuit against the school. Rynecki says school officials tried to cover up the whole thing.
“It is despicable that the school authorities attempted to cover up this incident by lying to Ms. Gore as to how her daughter was truly hurt,” he said. “There was a clear lack of supervision so as to allow these first-grade children to be assaulted in a fight club type of atmosphere.”
Roth told the New York Daily News the students in the program were typically supervised by one teacher and a paraprofessional. It is still unclear why, on March 10, the students weren’t under adult supervision.
The New York City Department of Education released a statement Friday.
“The safety of our students is our first priority,” the statement read. “What was depicted in that video is completely unacceptable. The DOE has referred this matter to the Special Commissioner of Investigation. The teachers who were responsible for these students are being removed from the classroom pending the investigation.”