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Bryant HS teachers say they must pass all students

Administrators at a Queens high school are demanding that teachers pass undeserving students – including some they’ve never even seen, fed-up educators told The Post.

The teachers at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City say the pressure comes as the school year is about to end and they are asked to promote students who have skipped classes and done little or no work.

One teacher said the 11th-hour requests started during his first semester at the school five years ago. “I was asked to provide passing grades for a marking period I had not taught, for many students who I had never even seen.”

“Last spring, I was reprimanded for not giving a passing grade to a student who had missed almost 100 days of class and had done no work,” the educator said.

The teacher also angered supervisors by refusing to pass students who turned in plagiarized work, he said.

The issue of AWOL students getting a pass is not unique to Bryant High School, which has 2,100 students and boasts legendary singer Ethel Merman and ex-schools chancellor Joel Klein among alumni.

Schools justify the laxity under a city Department of Education policy which says students can’t be denied credit based on a lack of “seat time.”

One teacher reports to have “never seen” students that administrators asked him to pass.
Matthew McDermott

Students must meet “academic expectations,” but it’s loosely up to each school to decide what’s expected.

“Administrators use that policy to push teachers to promote students who have been absent from class for the whole year,” another Bryant teacher said. “Failure is not an option.”

Among recent grade-fixing scandals, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools last year blasted Maspeth High School in Queens for creating fake classes, awarding bogus credits, and promoting truant or chronically absent students.

“I don’t care if a kid shows up at 7:44 and you dismiss at 7:45 — it’s your job to give that kid credit,” Maspeth principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir was quoted as telling a teacher. The DOE removed him as a principal, but will let him stay on the city payroll for seven years until he retires.

In a massive scheme at Dewey HS in Brooklyn, a 2015 probe confirmed complaints by teacher whistleblowers that hundreds of students who were given work “packets” or put in bogus classes without instruction by certified teachers received credits toward graduation. Kids called it “Easy Pass.”

The abuses at Maspeth and Dewey, while extreme, are mirrored throughout the city, with principals under pressure from DOE higher-ups to beef up graduation rates. Many high schools give minimal tasks for failing students in the final weeks to make-up for missing most of the class, The Post has reported.

Georgia Lignou, Bryant’s UFT Chapter Leader,  wrote an open letter to principal Namita Dwarka last week, saying she had fielded “numerous” complaints from teachers about the pressure to pass lagging students.

“Teachers are asked to ‘provide support,’” she said in the letter, obtained by The Post. That means that the students can get a few last-ditch assignments and pass “with much less work than what the teacher required in class.” 

Bryant's UFT Chapter Leader Georgia Lignou reported to principal Namita Dwarka in a letter that teachers have filed complaints about being pressured to pass students.
Bryant’s UFT Chapter Leader Georgia Lignou reported to principal Namita Dwarka, pictured, that teachers have complained about being pressured to pass students.

“We do not feel that a student who was absent for most of the year and has failed previous marking periods can possibly achieve mastery at this time of the year,” Lignou wrote.

Teachers are “intimidated by the tone” of emails they receive from higher-ups, she added.

“What they hear is ‘We want you to pass this student,’ and they do” to avoid run-ins with the assistant principals who supervise them. “They do promote students who should not have been promoted,” Lignou wrote.

“Grade fraud is systemic,” said City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens), who sparked investigations of Maspeth HS after hearing from whistleblower teachers. “It’s  inherent in  many schools, and everybody in the DOE administration looks the other way because it’s in their best interest.

“But they’re cheating our children out of a good education. Don’t show up in class? You pass. Everybody passes, and grades are meaningless. I think we need a federal monitor to come in and take over because nobody’s overseeing anything.”  

The DOE confirmed students cannot be failed or prevented from promotion based on attendance.

“Grading and promotion decisions are based on whether or not the student completes their work and demonstrates mastery,” said spokeswoman Nicole Brownstein. “Our educators and school leaders know their students best and are equipped to ensure students receive the grades they worked hard to earn.” 

The DOE refused to comment on the open letter to Bryant principal Dwarka.

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