Following an uproar at P.S. 193 over a parent’s controversial arrest, the Department of Education (DOE) has removed the teacher involved in the incident.
Parent’s learned that teacher Stephen Avena — who allegedly allowed a seven-year-old student to soil himself at school and then filed charges against the irate father who confronted him the next day — has been taken out of the classroom when they attended a Panel on Education Policy meeting last week.
At the meeting, several parents spoke about how the arrest of the father, Parents’ Association Treasurer Vinny Nemorin, reflected a deeper culture of retaliation and hostility among school staff.
In response, Chancellor Carmen Fariña assured them that “the person who is the most responsible for the incident that happened in the school yard is no longer in your school and will not be returning.”
The arrest, which occurred on February 24, unsettled many members of the school community, who watched news broadcasts of Nemorin being led out of the P.S. 193 in handcuffs.
Nemorin told us he had been called back to the school and arrested hours after confronting Avena and Principal Tami Flynn for not allowing his son to use the bathroom. Nemorin said his child sat in his own feces until he was picked up at the end of the school day.
The DOE confirmed Avena was taken out of the classroom on March 10 while the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) looks into allegations of misconduct. SCI could not provide details about the allegations because the investigation is ongoing — only that it began on March 8 and involved an incident this year at P.S. 193.
However, parents at the meeting interpreted the chancellor’s words to mean Avena had been removed because of his involvement in Nemorin’s arrest.
“This was after one of the parents voiced their concerns about this staff member. She clearly knew who we were talking about and was referencing the incident with Vinny,” said Parents’ Association co-President Jennifer Brown, who attended the meeting.
This isn’t the first time Avena has been investigated for misconduct. While working at Seth Low Intermediate School in Bensonhurst, he was written up three times for “corporal punishment,” according to the DOE. The last investigation, in 2014, resulted in an $8,000 fine.
Brown called Avena’s history of misconduct “alarming,” but said Principal Flynn is ultimately responsible and should also be removed. She pointed out Flynn worked alongside Avena when she was an assistant principal at Seth Low and would have been aware of his previous misconduct.
“I don’t believe he is the person who is ‘most responsible.’ I believe he was involved, but if you want to take a step back, it’s the person who hired him who needs to be held responsible,” Brown said.
In the most recent school quality snapshot, P.S. 193 scored lowest in Effective School Leadership. An online petition calling for Flynn’s removal has also received 653 signatures. The school’s enrollment was 882 students during the last school year.
Nemorin, the father who was arrested last month, said the Flynn’s management style emphasizes discipline, rather than mediation, to resolve disputes and has alienated many parents at P.S. 193. He explained permission to use the bathroom has been an ongoing problem and he had asked the district superintendent to address the issue prior to his arrest.
“We all know that if there’s a problem with a particular vehicle, you cannot blame the shop steward within the dealership. The problem is with the corporate executive,” he said. “[Flynn] is behaving as though she is a prison warden. The slightest thing and it’s the harshest punishment.”
Nemorin said his arrest, which occurred on his son’s birthday, has saddled him with expensive legal fees and caused him to miss work.
“I continue to have to report to court and this is extremely expensive. I’ve hired a private lawyer and financially, I’m taking a big hit. I am suffering right now,” he said.
Nemorin believes his arrest had more to do with previous clashes with Flynn regarding after-school activities, discipline, bus routes, and budget issues, rather than the confrontation last month. He said a culture of retaliation against parents has become pervasive at the school and pointed to an incident less than a week after his arrest, when another staff member threatened to call police on a parent for videotaping a meeting with two city councilmen.
“This is the atmosphere that Tami Flynn brings to the school,” he said. “This is supposed to be a nurturing position, where you actually have to empathize and sympathize. But there is none of that.”
Brown said parents have been further alienated by a policy, announced earlier this month in an email sent by Flynn, that volunteers must go through the same vetting process as school employees and vendors. The DOE said the email is related to an existing city-wide policy requiring parent volunteers be fingerprinted and go through a background checks.
“I’m all for keeping children safe,” Brown said. “But this is going to deter some parents from being involved in the school. And the DOE should be encouraging parent involvement.”
The DOE reported that an investigation of Flynn is ongoing. At the Panel on Education Policy meeting last week, Fariña said there will be more information in two weeks.
“This is a school I’m very well aware of. We are on top of the problems,” she said. “It is something I am aware of and monitoring closely.”