HARLEM — A group of angry parents picketed in front of P.S. 153 Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem Wednesday morning, saying they feel they and their children are being punished by school administrators for speaking out about issues that concern them.
About 15 parents gathered in front of the school on Amsterdam Avenue between 146th and 147th streets before being moved across the street by police. They held signs that read "Children aren't the only ones who get bullied in school!" in a silent protest.
Among the complaints from parents were that the PTA president was banned from having access to the school after using harsh language in criticizing the school and later arrested. Another parent says her son was treated unfairly after she called authorities when he wandered away from school one day last month.
"If you don't do what they want or are not quiet they penalize you," said parent Kiya Becote, 35, a freelance hairdresser whose 9-year-old son attends the school. "It's a power struggle between parents and administrators.
P.S. 153 Parent Teacher Association president Patricia Padilla, 46, said she has had her access to the school restricted after questioning why $7,000 in federal money for educational activities at schools with a large number of low-income students allegedly wasn't deployed.
"They are stifling any dissent, any inquiries by pitting parents against parents," said Padilla who has a 6-year-old son who attends first grade at the school.
Department of Education documents accuse Padilla of shouting racial statements about the school and principal Karen Bailey comparing her to Auschwitz, a "slave plantation" and Guantanamo Bay at a February meeting.
In a letter later that month restricting her access at the school, Bailey said that Padilla's alleged comments "presents a threat and risk at the school." Padilla was restricted to the security desk to drop off and pick up her child and to meet with school officials.
Padilla says her words were misinterpreted and that she did not threaten anyone.
On May 31, Padilla was arrested for trespassing, assault on an assistant principal and endangering the welfare of a child after she entered the school to pick her child up.
Padilla denies the charges and claims the school official is the one who physically intimidated her. The charges, which Padilla is fighting, have cost her her job as a special education consultant.
Bailey declined to speak to a reporter at the school this morning and did not respond to a request for comment.
DOE officials said Bailey says she has not heard from any parents who feel retaliated against.
"She is available to address any concern a parent may have," said DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.
Padilla says she is not the only parent to be punished for speaking out.
Parent Isabel Paz says her 8-year-old son was suspended from field trips after she called 311 when he wandered away from the school a month ago.
"They could not find him and I was like a crazy woman," Paz said through a Spanish translator.
Paz claims her son was suspended from an upcoming field trip after she called 311 when her son wandered off. She says her son was allowed to go on the field trip only after she began to question the administration about the decision.
"I felt it was retribution," said Paz. "They should pay attention to the parents because we are being ignored."
Feinberg said Bailey would be glad to meet with Paz but has not "heard from the parent."
P.S. 153 received an A on it's most recent progress report with a grade of 65 out of 100, including an A for school environment and student performance. The school received a B for student progress.
"This school has been rated as an A school on its Progress Reports for the past three years," said Feinberg.
Padilla said the teachers at the school are "phenomenal" and she loves the dual language program her son is a part of but the administration is less than welcoming.
Paul Hogan, a recently retired teacher, said the grading system can't account for the issues parents at the school are raising.
"There is a culture of retribution. There is no free speech. You cannot criticize," said Hogan. "Teachers are being shut out, parents are being shut out."
Padilla says many parents at the school are undocumented immigrants who are afraid to speak up because they see the issues she is having, so she's doing so on their behalf.
"Something has to be done. The environment is toxic and parents are fearful," said Padilla.