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Two Queens high schools have the dubious distinction of being listed among the 12 most violent schools in the city. Moms and dads of children attending Franklin K. Lane High School in Woodhaven and Far Rockaway High School in Far Rockaway will be less than proud to know that their childrens schools are considered to be among the citys most dangerous.
The good news is that the city has recognized that these schools have a problem and is taking action. The police and other law enforcement agencies will target the dirty dozen high schools and middle schools providing badly needed supported for the unarmed, poorly trained and even more poorly paid school safety officers.
In unveiling the list of targeted schools, the mayor declared, Disruptive students will not be tolerated. Students who engage in actions that seriously threaten the safety of students or teachers will be immediately removed and placed in schools created for disruptive kids.
We applaud the commitment to make the schools safe for the children who want to learn. However, there is a missing piece in the mayors solution for problem behavior. Although the law-enforcement presence will be increased, school counselors will remain completely overwhelmed. The counselors are the real front line. It is their job to help kids before frustration turns to violence. And there are not nearly enough counselors.
In a case that is shocking for its senselessness and stupidity, police have arrested three 14-year-olds and charged them with taking part in a massive graffiti and vandalism spree inside two vacant apartments on Myrtle Avenue. The suspects allegedly broke windows and spray-painted their infantile bubble letters on nearly every wall in the two apartments.
The district attorney has to know that a great many young eyes will be watching to see how the alleged vandals are punished, should they be convicted. It is critically important that the judge make an example of the person or persons responsible for this crime.
Whether or not the law can hold parents liable for the damage that was done remains unclear. Wed like to think that responsible parents would want to step up to the plate and offer to pay for the destruction. Should they be convicted, at 14 the boys are old enough to perform hundreds of hours of community service. They should be required to paint over graffiti on public property where other graffiti vandals could see them.
Most important no one should look for excuses for this crime. This is not art or self-expression. Its mindless destruction of someone else's property.
When it came to compensating the families of three of the workers slain in the Flushing massacre, Wendys went to the dollar menu. Lawyers for the national food retailer were able to convince a civil court judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by three of the families whose loved ones were killed in the May 2000 massacre.
In part the judge threw out the wrongful death suit because the Worker's Compensation Law, which is designed to provide a swift and sure source of benefits to injured employees in exchange for the loss of the common-law tort action in which greater benefits might be obtained, was adequate to take care of the victims survivors.
Wendys cannot be blamed for the vicious murders committed by John Taylor and Craig Godineaux. However, it seems to us that the families should have the right to question before a court of law whether the corporation could have done more to protect its workers. Should the restaurant have hired a guard for the evening hours? Could Wendys be blamed for at one time hiring Taylor without adequately checking his criminal record? Did Wendys warn the staff about the risk they were taking working late at night in downtown Flushing ?
These are questions that might have been raised at trial. Thanks to a slick legal team that wont happen.
Last week the Justice Department gave the critical go-ahead to a plan that will replace the existing community school boards with community district education councils appointed by the mayor. With this decision an era has come to an end. The mayor will now have total control of the citys public education system and total responsibility.
If the new system works as planned, parents will have greater access to that system. The seven community school boards in Queens will be replaced by community education councils. Each council will be staffed by nine parents serving two-year terms, one nonvoting student member serving a one-year term and two business owners appointed by the Borough President.
We welcome this change, which was made possible by legislation introduced by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), but not without some reservation. Queens is home to two of the most successful school districts in the city SD 25 and SD 26. The school boards share in the credit for the success of the schools in these districts. Furthermore we believe that a great many of the men and women who served on the citys community school boards were truly dedicated to creating the best possible schools under the most difficult circumstances.
But the school board system only mirrored the confusion and inertia at 110 Livingston Street, former home of the central Board of Education. And although the community boards were elected, the process was hardly democratic. Most people didnt vote. And many of those who did vote were baffled by the complex election process. Special interest groups found it easy to dominate the elections and control the boards.
Until now, when things went wrong in the school system, there was no one to blame. From now on the buck stops at the mayors desk. We are hopeful that the new system will usher in an age of accountability.
Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26, warns that change will result in a circus and a final evisceration. For the sake of the children, we hope she is wrong. Ms. Maurer can take great pride in what she and her board have accomplished. At the same time she should recognize that fundamental change was desperately needed.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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