Visit P.S. 118 in St. Albans most afternoons and you’ll find what you’d expect: rambunctious school kids chattering as they stream from the building, parents waiting, with varying degrees Of patience, to pick up their sons and daughters. But Fridays are a different story.
On Fridays what you find are a small but dedicated group of protesters calling for the ouster of Cynthia Ofori-Feaster, principal of the elementary school since 2009. Holding signs and chanting, “Save our children, Feaster must go!,” concerned parents and students have made a weekly appointment of their protest, with some going as far as rearranging their work schedules in order to attend regularly.
Several parents echo the same litany of charges against Feaster: she allegedly locked school bathrooms and turned off the water supply; she closed the school’s computer lab; a teacher’s aide was fired over the public address system; students are often left unsupervised in the school yard, with more than one parent citing that their children were injured as a result.
“It’s an endless cycle,” said Stacy Paupaw, who has two sons in the school, while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the “Feaster Must Go!” slogan. “The teachers in here are scared. They can’t even do their jobs because they’re frustrated. They used to come in happy. Now it’s like they can’t wait to clock out.”
PTA President Jasmin Farrier has been organizing the protests since January. According to Farrier, an investigation into the situation at P.S. 118 is currently underway by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI). An OSI rep stated that their office does not speak to the media.
Prior to her election in June of 2011, Farrier had what she described as a “good rapport” with Feaster, and ran for the position in hopes that she could help ease tensions between the principal and the school community. Upon her election, and with her executive board accompanying her, Farrier had a meeting with the principal that left her confident that the PTA and Feaster could work together in a positive way moving forward. “We were ecstatic,” Farrier said.
But according to Farrier, the day after her election she attend a meeting of the School Leadership Team, a mandated body within each city school composed of parents and staff that has responsibility for creating the school’s Comprehensive Education Plan. Teachers at the meeting were “livid” over having been cut out of the crafting of the CEP, which per Chancellor’s regulation must be developed using a “consensus-based decision-making process.”
When addressing teachers’ concerns to Feaster, Farrier alleges the principal “called the teachers upstairs and began to scream at them as if they were animals.” Farrier was “blown away.” Since then, the relationship between Farrier and the principal has deteriorated.
Parent Kisha Noel recently quit her job in management in order to become more actively involved in her son’s school community. Invited to join the PTA by Farrier, Noel learned of the Learning Leaders School Volunteer Program. It was only after completing her requisite training that Noel learned P.S. 118’s participation in the program was suspended by the principal.
Now Noel is committed to showing up each week to advocate for the parents’ goal: the removal of Feaster.
“I strongly believe that with her removal a change will come about. But because of what she’s instated and embedded in there for these three years, it will be a long time before we can clean it out,” she said.
Calls to P.S. 118 for comment went unanswered.