EAST HARLEM— A pair of parents involved in a campaign by a larger group to oust the principal of a progressive elementary school have been barred from the school, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Central Park East 1 parents Jennifer Roesch and Kaliris Salas-Ramirez said they received “letters of limited access” last week from school principal Monika Garg accusing them of putting the school at risk.
The letter is a little-known method that's supposed to be used to protect schools from unruly parents following aggressive incidents, but critics say the letters are used by school administrators to ban outspoken parents without any recourse.
Ramirez told DNAinfo New York that her letter arrived after she escorted a student from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism into the building, at 1573 Madison Ave., this past Wednesday.
She claimed she was meeting the student outside to head to a café, when she had to quickly run inside the school to return her son’s glasses. While doing that, she also brought the student journalist inside for a brief tour, she said.
“I’m [parent association] co-chair and so I bring in guests all the time," she explained. "I’ve never been told that I needed to consult with the principal before allowing guests in."
However, Garg confronted her and told her that press was not allowed on the premises without permission. Ramirez shared the letter Garg wrote, which stated that “bringing press on site without authorization put[s] children and teachers at risk.”
The letter also noted that surveillance cameras caught the student journalist ducking into empty classrooms, snapping photos and taking notes in the hallway.
Ramirez said she is concerned about what the ban will do to her 5-year-old son, who is a special education student at the school.
“You can’t break his routines,” she said of her son. “I’m a single parent… I don’t have the ability, time or resources to have other people pick him up from school.”
Roesch said her letter was prompted by an accusation that she was taking video of a school staff member two weeks ago, an act she denied.
“I was taking photos of the hallways and bulletin boards,” she said, explaining that Garg had not been “not in compliance” with putting up posters for a DOE-mandated anti-bullying initiative.
However, the principal handed her the letter this past Friday, saying the recording created a safety concern.
Roesch described the incident as “extremely detrimental," since her son’s routine would also be disrupted.
"As outlined in our safety protocols, individuals may not record video of students inside a school building without consent, and visitors must sign in, identify themselves, and comply with visitor procedures when visiting any school," a DOE spokesman said.
"Following recent incidents, the school has temporarily asked two parents to register at the front security desk and be escorted into the building by a staff member when visiting, and drop their children at the front security desk."
Both parents said they plan to fight the action, and they created an online petition calling on the city Department of Education, Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio to step in.
It marks the latest in a series of fights between CPE 1's principal and parents, who accuse Garg of ruining the school’s legacy of progressive education. Earlier this month, a group of parents occupied the school’s auditorium overnight to push for her removal.
In a press release, opponents claimed 12 parents had been arrested, but the NYPD did not report any arrests. On the morning after the sit-in, a parent said school children had to be escorted into the building by police.
This has caused other parents who denounce those pushing for Garg’s ouster to worry about their children’s welfare because of the tactics being used. Garg previously said her detractors have induced fear among the school community.
In a letter dated April 18 that was shared with DNAinfo by a parent, District 4 Superintendent Alexandra Estrella echoed those concerns, saying the sit-in “created a security concern” and reinforcing the Department of Education's support for Garg.
Hours before the sit-in, Garg told parents at a School Leadership Team meeting: “I’m not going anywhere, I’m here for the children.