Teacher files grievance against Valley Stream principal

Students petition administration to allow project they claim was stopped

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Students at South High School petitioned Principal Maureen Henry and Superintendent Bill Heidenreich to reinstate a project that was stopped.
Students at South High School petitioned Principal Maureen Henry and Superintendent Bill Heidenreich to reinstate a project that was stopped.
Nick Ciccone/Herald

A history teacher at South High School has filed a grievance against Principal Maureen Henry, after she allegedly interfered with a class project that tasked students with making change in their community.

The teacher, Franco Visone, referred comment to Patrick Naglieri, president of the Valley Stream Teachers’ association. The original grievance, filed on May 24, was denied by Henry and has since been appealed to Superintendent Bill Heidenreich, according to both Naglieri and Heidenreich. If Visone is dissatisfied with Heidenreich’s decision, he could then file litigation.

The project tasked students with coming up with a plan to affect change in the schools, the community or local government. Visone claimed in the grievance that Henry’s interference with the project violated the portion of his contract that deals with academic freedom.

Henry said that she learned of the assignment after another faculty member approached her with a concern “that it was not going to be a positive thing for South,” but denied that she told Visone to stop. Visone sent a message to his Advanced Placement U.S. History class on May 22 via a messaging app for teachers that said that he was directed to cancel the assignment by the principal.

“I know many students are working on meaningful assignments,” he wrote. “This was not my decision. Enjoy your day.”

That message apparently prompted a student from the class, Ariel Mangual, 16, to draft a petition that same day on change.org urging Henry to reconsider. She said she didn’t approach Henry before publishing the petition because she “knew that she would dismiss me unless we had mass support.” Mangual, and others, saw the project’s halt as the latest in a series of adversarial relationships Henry has had with students and teachers.

“We weren’t coming at her maliciously,” Mangual said. “We just wanted change.”

The comments section of the petition, which as of press time had more than 700 signatures, quickly became a hotbed of abusive language targeting Henry, and was later shut down altogether by change.org because commenters violated its terms of service.

“They were disgusting,” Heidenreich said. “They were perverted.”

Mangual said that she decided to approach Henry to tell her that the intent of the petition was not to defame or attack her, and that she did not support the comments that were piled on. She and her classmate, Fatima Moien, 16, met with Henry, assistant principals Kara Feigenbaum and Jacquelin Allen, and each of their guidance counselors, Patricia Antonelli and Philip Corsentino.

“We were all really, as a class, really heartbroken, I guess,” Moien said. “We were all shocked that she could do that. It was just a project.”

Henry told the girls that she did not want to be recorded, and ordered them to put their cell phones face down on a table in her office. “All it was was, ‘I want my project. I want my project,’” Henry said of Mangual. “And I kept saying, ‘I didn’t stop your project. Your teacher stopped your project.’”

Mangual’s project would have explored the idea that the school’s dress code, as written, is sexist. “I just believe that the dress code that we have perpetuates rape culture, and teaches young women that it’s their responsibility to cover up for men,” she explained.

All of the forbidden clothing items — tube tops, spaghetti straps, garments with plunging necklines — are traditionally worn by women. Henry said, however, she does not think the dress code, which was adopted in 2001, is sexist.

Heidenreich said he thought the dress code would have been a great topic for her project, but added that he wished Mangual had gone through the proper channels. “There are avenues in place where people can effectuate change by following a process or a system,” he said. “That’s how it works.”

“To the best of my recollection, this is the first formal grievance [against Henry] that we’ve filed,” Naglieri said. “However, not every matter is subject to the grievance procedure.”

He said that there have been a number of faculty members who have expressed their dissatisfaction with Henry, and that the union has shared that information with the administration.

A 56-year-old parent, who declined to be identified, believed that Henry selectively bullied students who challenged her in some way. His daughter graduated from South High School in 2010.

“I have no doubt that my daughter was targeted,” he said, adding that his daughter was a strong student. “She wasn’t exactly a slacker.”

The parent recalled an incident in which Henry allegedly became furious with a group of student journalists with the Falcon Report — the school’s broadcast news program — who did a story on the water pressure in school fountains in 2009. He said Henry was “screaming like a mad woman” in the hallway that the students were trying to undermine her with their coverage of the issue.

Henry said that she did not recall the incident.

By the time his daughter graduated and his son started attending South High School, he said he avoided confronting Henry altogether.

“We didn’t want him to go through some of the stuff that [my daughter] went through, so we backed off considerably,” he said. “I sometimes feel bad about that, but for my family it was the right thing to do.”

A 16-year teacher in the district, who currently works at North High School and declined to be identified, said that district officials — including Henry — have been retaliatory to him and others in the past.

“I don’t like to continually see the way things going where they are,” he said. “Every opportunity that comes around where you get to push back against the culture of coercion, you should take that opportunity.”

He said that if he were Visone, he would be worried “about the retaliation effort” that would likely follow his challenging Henry.

Carolyn Torres, a trustee on the District 30 Board of Education who served on the high school board from 2008 to 2015, said that she witnessed Henry’s combative behavior with her two children — which escalated to the point where she briefly removed them from the school and enrolled them at Lawrence Woodmere Academy. They have since returned to South, but Torres said she was unsure whether they would attend the school up through their graduations.

Torres said her 16-year-old daughter and Henry have “this very negative, disrespectful relationship.” Henry has criticized her daughter’s wardrobe unnecessarily, she added.

Henry did not recall disciplining Torres’s daughter specifically, but said that it’s possible she has said something to the effect of, “Remember, I have to educate the boys — please, let’s not distract them,” when enforcing the dress code.

“I am given a code of conduct that the school board puts forward, and I follow that code of conduct,” Henry said. “And please remember that every time a student is disciplined, they have a right to appeal, and even if I deny the appeal, then they can appeal to the superintendent. There’s a process.”

Heidenreich said that he received calls about Henry from parents, teachers and students “on occasion,” but not an abnormally high number. He said that Henry has never been disciplined in her time as an employee.

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