Saturday, April 18, 2015

John Breish Lt. P. Clayre Sullivan School Principal Targets & Criminalizes Children and Parents of Color

This year Nani's fifth grade homeroom teacher, Patricia Moriarty, is teaching my daughter she should keep quiet about injustices in her classroom and school.  At home, my daughter is taught and encouraged to use her critical thinking skills; to read, to write, to research or verify, analyze and critique.  And, of course, Nani is taught to take a stand and defend it.  My daughter is taught learning is a whole-body experience so, when your 'gut' tells you something is not right, or you feel something is wrong - you should listen, explore and address it.  

In  my home, we also actively engage in self-criticism so that we are constantly giving and receiving feedback from one another - that is how we grow from our weaknesses and build our strengths.  At school, my daughter's teacher Moriarty is teaching my child not to question her 'authority', to memorize and regurgitate, to use MCAS "strategies" [purposed soley to train a child to perform a certain rubric or skill versus learning about the actual content in-depth] and to follow orders - no questions asked.  School has become nothing more than a holding cell for my daughter; she comes home feeling an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and oppression.

I used to ask my daughter "How was school today?" to stay abreast of new topics, new friendships and my daughter's daily growth.  Now "How was school today?" really means, Are you okay?  Did your teacher treat you in a welcoming and respectful way? Did you see yourself in the material today?  Did you feel listened to? Were you able to play, laugh, run and talk with your peers?  Was the food at lunch today edible?

Patricia Moriarty, has completely eroded my daughter's 5th grade learning experience to one of fear and intimidation, control and manipulation.

When my daughter first told me "I just don't like Ms. Moriarty," I was surprised.  My daughter has never made such an definitively negative statement about any of her teachers; she has always been fond of her teachers.

I tried to remain neutral.  "Well, honey it isn't easy to manage 28 students."  

"What is it you don't like about her?" trying to get a better understanding. 

"Well, she always does the same thing, in class...she is mean. She picks on the same three boys, [Moe, Victor and Chris] and kicks them out of class," Nani admitted slumping her shoulders and looking down in a defeated posture.

"Every day, when the boys come in, they are talking...just like every body else.  You know? We are saying hi and telling each other what we did on the weekend or the night before,"  animating with her hands.

"But as soon as they come in, Ms. Moriarty, starts shushing them."Shhhhhh...she hisses at them even though everybody else is talking and she doesn't ask the others to be quiet,"  Nani elaborates.

"Then, when the boys say "but, everybody else is talking?" she threatens to send them to the principal's office,"  Nani exclaims getting upset again.  "Then, the boys get upset and just ignore her."

The boys are Latino.  Ms. Moriarty doesn't engage with the White students in her class the same way, even though they too, are talking.  Nani further explained Moriarty has a system she uses to effectively remove all three boys from her class.  She provokes the boys by 'shutting them down' with her shushing.  When they are not immediately silent she sends one of the friends to the principal's office enraging the other two.  When the two remaining don't listen, she removes the second.  The third is left alone.  If the remaining student participates in class she ignores him and doesn't check his homework. Consequently, outraged the third refuses to listen and is sent to the hallway to sit alone for the remainder of the class.

True learning happens when all our five senses are involved which inherently includes our feelings.  How and what are these boys learning by being exiled from their classroom almost everyday?  Almost everyday, these students of color are being shamed, humiliated, punished, rejected and finally, excluded.  Consequently, these students (our children) are learning they are 'not good enough' to be a part of  their community of peers.  

At Sullivan elementary school, in-house suspension seems to be overwhelmingly used on Latino boys and girls starting as early as the third grade.  In this prison-like room, students are left for part or the remainder of the day.  They are given an enormous pile of work to do.  They are not allowed to have recess.  

So, the answer to children who exhibit a need to interact with their peers is to completely take away all social or physical or cognitive/intellectual interaction with their community of peers - just for talking in class?  

People of color being policed and jailed for minor infractions...sound familiar?  

Still, I had no proof, just my daughter's word.  Fed up, Nani started documenting what she considered a violation of student's rights to equal opportunity education.  "Mommy, Ms. Moriarty is always saying how we are taking away student's rights to learn (by talking in class) but, that is exactly what she is doing to them!"   She started taking notes in class and would come home to show and tell me about how easily students of color are kept from recess, detained in isolation and, written up.

This past winter, my daughter was in the cafeteria having breakfast (something she rarely does as she states the food is frequently 'weird').  In the middle of having breakfast Nani was startled by a loud slam.  Mrs. Gordon, a special education teacher on breakfast duty, became irate at an little kindergartner and shouted "No, not there!" slamming her hand down hard on the cafeteria table because he sat down next to his friend instead of a sequentially designated seat.

"Mommy, she made the little boy jump and he just froze looking really scared." Nani illustrated.  The little kindergartner looked Puertorican," she said.   Nani took her concerns to John Breish the principal, that same morning.

Breish listened to Nani and then, dismissively said "let Nani worry about Nani" sending her back to her classroom.

"That's when I knew going to Mr. Breish didn't work."  my daughter told me.

In other words, Nani understood the chief administrator in her school DID NOT care about THE TRUTH, he cared about keeping everyone under control.
Latino students shamed and exiled by White Teacher for talking with his friends during intermission at a 'Holiday' concert in the Sullivan School Cafeteria, Dec. 2014.

Desperately wanting principal Breish, to believe her, Nani asked if she could use her cell phone to record student-teacher interactions.  My daughter wanted to prove to Breish that she was telling the truth and, she thought if she could show him he would care and make Moriarty stop targeting her classmates.  Of course, he said "No." 

On December 22, 2014 I learned from my daughter that Sullivan School was having a 'holiday concert' the next day, the 23rd.  I asked why she was just telling me and she replied "they just told us mommy. I was told I am in the concert and I will be playing my flute."  I was incredibly upset.  Holyoke public schools are notorious for NOT INFORMING parents or, waiting to the last minute to inform us.  
I would not miss my daughter's flute debut.  The next morning, I arrived to the school cafeteria 30 minutes after start time and there were no chairs set up for parents to sit. Students were sitting on the floor, criss-crossed as directed to do by their teachers.  Breish strolls in and says "Give us 10-15 minutes; we'll get some fold up chairs for parents to sit."  I don't believe school administrators truly expected parents to come out otherwise why wouldn't the cafeteria be setup before parent's arrival?  

During intermission, I noticed the teacher in the above picture doing exactly what Nani had described.  During intermission the cafeteria was buzzing with chatter.  All the kids were restless from sitting on the floor in such tight quarters.  I was standing up against the wall next to the woman in the photo above who did not seem happy to be there.  

I noticed she kept 'eyeing' a group of Latino boys and one girl; they were not doing anything out of the ordinary but, she wouldn't take her eyes off of them.  She shushed the students consistently for about three or so minutes.

Finally shouted "You! Let's go!" to the shortest boy in the group.

Surprised, the boy pointed to himself "me?" looking confused.  He wasn't doing anything different from any of the other 100 or so students; just talking with his friends who were sitting right next to him.  The teacher seemed overly agitated.  Looking unsure why he was signaled out, he rose reluctantly from his tiny plot of space on the floor next to his friends.  He is the boy in the above picture to the left of the woman with her arms crossed defensively.  I was incensed; it was intermission and he hadn't done anything wrong - just talking and laughing with his friends.  I went over to him.

"Hi, are you okay?" I asked.  

The boy looked up with a shocked, hesitant look on his face. He must of thought I was another teacher and didn't reply.  

"Its okay," I said.  "It's okay for you to talk." I offered and then, his face opened up.  

I looked over at the teacher who had an frozen look on her face refusing to acknowledge me.  I went over to her.  

"Hi, my name is Ms. de Jesus.  I'm a parent.  I noticed you pulled him out of the group.  Why isn't it okay for him to talk during intermission with his friends?"  I asked the teacher.  

Refusing to reciprocate the introduction, she ignored my question.  

After some stammering she replied "You can go talk to the principal." 

Really?  As if that was suppose to deter me, or frighten me?  

"Sure," I said.  

This woman demonstrated absolutely no respect or accountability; she behaved the way someone does when they are caught in an act and don't know which way to go or, what to say.  So, they say nothing and run for cover.  She was running for cover; that's why she wanted to go talk to the principal.  He was going to defend her actions. 

As we walked down the hall towards the principal's office, I could hear Noreen Ewick, the assistant principal on the walkie-talkie.  We arrived at an empty classroom and were met by more White women - Mrs. Ewick and the new adjustment councilor, Heather.  I was immediately surrounded by three White woman who all seemed nervous and gave each other very animated looks.  I felt they were trying to intimidate me - it was pathetic.  

"What seems to be the problem, Ms. de Jesus?" asked Mrs. Ewick.  

"The problem is this woman who refused to tell me her name was targeting some Latino students who were simply chatting with each other during intermission. And, when I saw her single out one of the boys for doing what every other student in the cafeteria was doing, I asked "why, it wasn't okay for this boy to talk to his friends who were sitting right next to him"  I finished.  
Heather, the woman and Ewick just stared blankly at me. 

"Ms. de Jesus, I understand but, we can't have you targeting our teachers [...]" Ewick asserted.  

"Targeting?  So, now, you are going to play reverse psychology with the word I used to describe her actions?" I asked rhetorically.  

There playbook is laughable.  I stood up to leave.

"If you all want to sit here and go back and forth that is fine.  I did not come here to sit and waste my time; I came here to see my daughter perform in a concert.  I left them sitting there.

I walked back over to the cafeteria and continued supporting my daughter.  At the end of the concert principal Breish came over and asked to speak with me in his office.  We sat down.  Without asking me what happened he went in. 

"My staff tells me you..."  he began.

"Whooa, whoa, whoa.  What do you mean "your staff tells you?"  Are you even going to bother to ask me what happened?  I shot back.  

"Viviana, I can not have you coming into my school and attacking my teachers." he announced.  

"Your school? This is OUR school and, I don't work for you.  You work for me so, I could care less what you would like me to do. Your staff was targeting a group of Latino students for doing exactly what I observed White students doing except no one was shushing them." I informed.

"I work for the students," he replied.  

"And, if you don't like the way I do things here then, you can take your kid to another school," trying to shut me down.

"This is my daughter's school and OUR community so, no I won't be "taking my daughter to another school just because you feel like it."  I answered.   There was no doubt in my mind, my 10 year old was not lying or exaggerating about what she was witnessing in and out of her classroom.  

In February Nani informed me parent-teacher conferences were being conducted in groups.  That is, without parents input, school administrators have determined parents should meet with all their student's teachers collectively.  Again, intimidation tactics - pathetic.  

Based on the contrasting feedback I would have about Moriarty and Mrs. Maisonave (who is an amazing teacher) I thought that would not be a good idea.  Despite the disrespectful way Breish and some teachers handle students and their parents, I wanted to respect Moriarty's privacy.  Knowing the feedback I had would not be easy to provide or receive I requested to meet with Moriarty and Principal Breish, separately.  That meeting was scheduled for Feb. 13th 2015.  Breish told me Moriarty would be coming in the office after we spoke with Maisonave.  He stated he didn't want Mrs. Maisonave to be in the room while I shared my concerns with Moriarty's classroom management tactics.

I had an opportunity to really thank Mrs. Maisonave her for the wonderful way she handles students, in the classroom.  From Nani I learned Mrs. Maisonave is half Puertorican and half French.  Nani loves Mrs. Maisonave and has shared "Mommy, she giggles when we do silly things and tells us stories about her daughter and about her personal life.  She doesn't just order us around. She acts like she actually likes us and wants to teach us."  I shared my sincere appreciation and we talked about crafting an alternative "assessment" for Nani as she would NOT be taking the MCAS.  Mrs. Maisonave respected my wishes and agreed to come up with a hands-on project for Nani.   

Moriarty never showed up.  When addressing my detailed concerns about Moriarty, Principal Breish admitted: 

"Viviana, I am NOT suppose to tell you this and you have to promise not to say anything.  I agree, some of Mrs. Moriarty's classroom practices are of concern.  But, I can not just fire her.  I am trying to help her use different tactics with the students in class.  We are trying something where if a students is being disruptive she will signal the student with her finger using one, two and three."  

Breish went on to explain that each number represented a warning, second warning and then, off to the principal's office. 

I didn't see how this "tactic" was any better.  Per my daughter the root of the problem is that Moriarty is not well received by most of her students.  Moriarty does not engage the students in lively, relevant dialogue, she is rigid and her teaching style is not inclusive nor creative. 

In response, to Breish's confession, I offered some thoughtful feedback as to why many feel the classroom has become a constant state of policing our children and teachers.  I talked about the damage the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are doing to the learning and teaching experience.  I shared my opposition to the district's compliance of the States' attempt to privatize public education.  I especially noticed how Mrs. Ewick (his assist. principal) was drawn in by my comments.  

I informed Breish about The Rise of Holyoke Schools, an organization I created in January 2015 to engage and unite parents and, build a strong parents of color constituency base.  

"We need parents to unite and oppose the state's targeting of low-income districts for receivership.  We also have to fight to eliminate the (test) prep and drill CCSS curriculum which is eliminating classroom instruction time, arts, music, physical and social development as gym and recess are almost non-existent.  Performance-based teaching assessments do nothing but create competitive and immoral practices among teachers and students.  

Rise of Holyoke Schools' mission is to drive equitable education policy at the state level.  I asked Breish if he would support my distributing information to parents about how to become involved.    

Breish's response was apathetic to say the least.  He informed me he thought there was nothing wrong with the CCSS and that it was perfectly okay for third graders to be  judged by one score - the MCAS. 

"How else will we assess them?" asked Breish.  

"The same way we were assessed before the MCAS, using teacher-created tests and project-based assessments," I answered.  

"Well, no matter what I think, Superintendent Paez has the last word."  he closed.  

Paez blocked every attempt I made to work collaboratively with school staff.  

Why would Paez not approve the distribution of Rise of Holyoke Schools flyers?  The answer is clear; Paez could care less about the working class poor who make up 80% of the districts families.   Even the Holyoke Teachers Association, has stated Paez would not approve robo-calls to go out to parents to inform them of their efforts to organize parents against our schools going into receivership.  

Why are our current Superintendent's and Chief School Officers/Principals so clueless and lacking in creativity? These men make upwards of $100,000 and they seem completely detached from the art of instruction and the human process of learning.  It seems like the more Bill & Melinda Gates, Eli Brode and the Walmart family fund superintendent academies and principal tracks; the less creative, innovative and ingenious these school chief officers become.  

Perhaps we should look at where all this 'private charitable funding" is being allocated and who its benefiting. For more on that, please read my previous posts on Common Core.  

In early March of this year, (weeks before my surgery) I applied and received a grant to conduct parent info sessions.  My daughter and I passed out flyers ourselves. In addition to canvassing that I did in the neighborhoods, we distributed flyers at the Sullivan elementary school car pick-up line.    

On March 3rd 2015, I received an email from Mrs. Noreen Ewick. Per principal Breish and Superintendent Paez we were basically told to stop flyering without Paez' approval.   

Do you see the catch 22 Holyoke parents of color face? Paez, Breish and many others says we are absentee, we are not involved in our children's education yet, he is the one blocking every attempt I made to prove us different.  

For the last three years, I have attended school committee meetings, school improvement councils and, the "H" council.  More recently I collaborated with the HTA, testified at the Foundation Budget Review Commission public hearing, gone canvassing and presented a petition requesting the City Council support our opposition to receivership (which they did).  Paez still has never supported my efforts to galvanize parents of color.  

Friday, April 10th 2015 I received a text.  

"Mommy, call the school...say you need to talk to me." 

Knowing all that my daughter has witnessed at school made this text all the more distressing.  I called the school and Maria Marquez, the school secretary answered.  I asked Maria to speak with my daughter and she placed me on hold. Marquez informed me my daughter was in Jim Desautel's office, one of the two assistant principals. I asked to speak with principal Breish.  

"This is Principal Breish, how can I help you Viviana."  

"What is going on with my daughter?" I asked.  

"According to Mrs. Moriarty, Nani was being disruptive in class."  Breish said.

"Disruptive, how?" I asked.  "Well, Mrs. Moriarty states that Nani jumped in to defend another student who was also being disruptive," he circled.

"What do you mean by disruptive?" I pressed.  

"Mrs. Moriarty was reprimanding another girl in class for talking and the girl apparently called Mrs. Moriarty a racist. Nani then, jumped in and agreed." explained Breish.  

"They were both sent to the office." he sighed.  
"I am not sure exactly how my daughter has been disruptive? It seems to me she is being honest about how she perceives Mrs. Moriarty's actions."  I countered.

"Nani needs to mind her business." Breish demanded.  

"No, you and your staff need to stop being racist," I countered.  

"I'm sorry but, I'm gonna have to put Nani in the "student support" room for the rest of the day, " bullied Breish.

"No, you won't.  I will be picking my child up." 

When I arrived I saw a police cruiser and a White police officer, pacing back and forth in Breish's office.  

Stay part II of: John Breish Lt. P. Clayre Sullivan School Principal Targets & Criminalizes Children and Parents of Color.  



  1. The criminalization of our youth is out of control. The school to prison pipeline is an instrumental tool in the continued colonization of our people. Thanks for putting pen to paper, sharing the stories and fighting for your daughter's freedom. Love x solidarity.

    1. Peace V,
      I am just seeing your feedback. Thank you, sis! Much L&R

    2. Peace V,
      I am just seeing your feedback. Thank you, sis! Much L&R

  2. I remember everything that went on in the class and sadly i was one of the targets till this day she remains a teacher in sullivan her behavior is still the same with the kids i don't know why she just don't retire already