As a South Bronx School Prepares to Close, Tensions Rise
A Rough Day
A woman with scratch marks across her right cheek and left arm sat in a small backroom at the New York Police Department’s 40th Precinct building in the South Bronx on March 28, waiting to file a report regarding the chaos that had started earlier inside the Mexicocina restaurant on Jackson Avenue. After a particularly rough day of work at the school across the street, Aixa Rodriguez, a teacher, had sought to take the edge off with a margarita at the quaint corner venue. She had barely indulged in a moment’s peace with her drink when a fight broke out between two teenage girls at another table and dishware began to fly, pelting the restaurant’s terracotta tiled floors with pieces of blue and white porcelain.Rodriguez said that the situation triggered her teacher instincts and she at once stepped in to break up the fight. After leaving the premises, one of the girls began kicking cars parked outside. When Rodriguez ordered the girl to stop damaging private property, she headed for Rodriguez and challenged all of the sturdy 38-year-old’s strength, scratching, kicking, and spitting in her face. Police who discussed the case with Rodriguez said that the girl even spit in officers’ faces and that the mother informed them her daughter was on several medications for bipolar disorder.
Rodriguez’s father had been on the phone with her when the first dish was thrown and she screamed. He immediately ran to the restaurant from his house a few blocks away, along with a colleague who rushed over from the school. Police said that the teenage girl was arrested for assaulting Rodriguez. But the next day, it was Rodriguez who received a surprise notice from the Department of Education (DOE) saying that she had been reassigned, effective immediately. She would no longer teach any of her classes at the Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies high school, and would instead finish out the school year working in a DOE administrative office. The department has 60 days to inform teachers of the reason for reassignment. She hasn’t received an explanation yet.
A Rougher Year
That raucous spring afternoon came on the heels of a year rife with tension at the school across the street, where a month earlier, teachers, students, and parents at the school received their own surprise: a notice from the DOE proposing to close FLAGS, as the South Bronx high school is called for short, by the end of the school year. FLAGS is co-located with a K-12 public school in a three-story building that spans an entire block and faces the largest park in the Bronx. The education department also put forth a separate proposal to allot the space currently occupied by FLAGS to a more academically successful charter school, which would then co-locate with the K-12 school.
The school has been in trouble. Enrollment decreased 74 percent over the last five years from 388 students to just 99 students, and only 19 out of 44 seniors graduated last year. Consequently, on April 20, the DOE’s Panel for Education Policy unanimously passed both proposals at a public meeting. FLAGS will be the fourth public school to close under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña emphasized that the school’s performance issues and low enrollment numbers simply could not sustain the As a South Bronx School Prepares to Close, Tensions Rise - NY City Lens: