A New York City high school principal is under fire after reportedly allowing pot smoking in the building to go on unabated. In a New York Post article on Sunday, teachers said that Ben Sherman, the principal of Forest Hills High School in Queens, has been ineffective in preventing students from smoking marijuana in school bathrooms and even hallways. An unidentified teacher reported once having to move students to the auditorium when the classroom filled with the odor of burning marijuana.
“The smell was so bad you could taste it on your tongue,” the teacher said, noting that there was no instruction that class period but “at least we weren’t breathing it in.”
Teachers said that when they complained to Sherman about marijuana smoking in the school, he failed to take action.
“Marijuana is going to be legal soon, so what can we do?” Sherman reportedly said.
One teacher said that the problem at Forest Hills is the worse they’ve seen.
“Never in my 15 years of teaching have I been bombarded with the strong scent of pot in the school hallways — and even in my classroom,” the teacher said.
Adam Bergstein, an English teacher and the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said that the New York City Department of Education is discouraging suspending students and treating cannabis less strictly than before. Under a new department policy, marijuana is still banned in all schools but police or safety officers may give a “warning card” instead of a summons to violators.
“They want to eliminate any punishment related to marijuana,” Bergstein said.
School ‘Spiraling Downhill’
Bergstein said that changes initiated by Sherman since he became principal in 2017 have caused discipline at Forest Hills to slide. Sherman changed the school’s bathroom policy, keeping facilities open at all times during the day and eliminating monitors who signed students in and out of restrooms to cut costs. Teachers say that move and a decision to remove at least eight door alarms that sounded constantly as students entered and left the building have led to the marijuana smoking, fights, vandalism, and other problems. Thefts also increased at the school when locker room attendants were eliminated.
“With the decisions he’s made, our school is definitely spiraling downhill,” said Bergstein.
Last month, Sherman agreed the bathroom policy change was a mistake and admitted in a memo to staff that it had led to students vaping and smoking weed, cutting class, and to “relieve themselves on the floor.”
The situation at Forest Hills has led teachers to lose faith in Sherman’s leadership. On February 14, they declared no confidence in the principal by a vote of 195-21. The union will present the results of the no-confidence vote and a list of faculty concerns and demands to Queens High Schools Superintendent Juan Mendez on Monday. If Mendez is not able to resolve the issues, the plans to share the information with local politicians and school leaders as a way to encourage action from the department of education.
Sherman referred questions to department of education spokesman Doug Cohen.
“Principal Sherman has been an effective leader for Forest Hills High School, and the superintendent is continuing to support the school,” Cohen said. “We take these complaints seriously and will continue to ensure a supportive environment for all students and staff.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that it is “unacceptable” to allow students to smoke pot at city schools.
“If something like that is happening there will be serious consequences for anyone involved,” de Blasio said. “It is not legal and it’s not acceptable.”
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