Courtside - Harassment Full Circle?

Article excerpt

VINCENT PERIES was born in Sri Lanka in 1933 and educated in England before coming to the United States in 1968. After his arrival, he earned an M.S. in teaching English as a second language, an M.B.A. in international finance, and a Ph.D. in adapted physical education and child development.

In 1981, after teaching at York College of Pennsylvania and New York University, Peries became a teacher in the New York City Public Schools. In 1987, after working at a number of other schools, he joined the staff of Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Since then, he has served as a special education teacher, both in a resource room and in a self-contained classroom with a preponderance of emotionally disturbed students.

Since the early 1990s, according to Peries, students have subjected him to a "steady barrage of insults and demeaning conduct . . . based on [his] national origin and race."1 For example, during the 1992-93 school year, he worked as one of three teachers who shared a single resource room, with the groups separated by partitions. One of the three teachers, Lorraine Valsich, served as the resource room coordinator. On November 16, when Peries went into Valsich's section to retrieve a book, one of her students began taunting him, calling him a "fucking Hindu," asking him, "Why are you here?" and telling him to "go home." Valsich giggled and did nothing to stop the student. Other students joined in and continued to harass Peries until the third resource room teacher took him out of the room, only to be followed by a couple of students who continued the abuse.

Soon thereafter, Peries asked assistant principal William Stolfi, who was in charge of the special education department, to look into the matter. Later that day, Stolfi sent Peries a letter, allegedly admonishing him for responding "almost to the point of hysteria" and advising him to deal with such problems in a professional manner and not to try to delegate his disciplinary responsibility to Valsich. Additionally, Stolfi requested the names of the students who had harassed him, promising that "[t]hey will be dealt with in the usual procedures [for] troublesome students." He also asked him to write up the details of a threat of physical harm from one student, assuring him that "it will be handled expeditiously." Finally, the letter stated: "You should not be subjected to ridicule by any student, and these problems will be addressed."

When Peries asked for her assistance, Valsich gave him false student names, and the school failed to investigate the matter once he provided the particulars. The taunting continued for the remainder of the school year, including incidents in which students threw paper balls at him, called him names like "Gandhi" and "Indian shit," and put a red dot on the picture of a polar bear in Valsich's room, which she left there for months. In addition, Peries found notes on his desk and chair, containing messages such as "Hindu, go home. You don't belong here."

During the 1993-94 school year, Stolfi and the principal subjected Peries to singularly frequent observations, resulting at the end of the year in his first "unsatisfactory" rating while with the school system.

During the 1994-95 school year, Peries took advantage of a union- negotiated program that allowed him to be evaluated by someone other than the principal or assistant principal, and he did not receive another unsatisfactory rating.

Despite Peries' repeated oral requests during these two years and his five written complaints between February 1996 and May 1997, the students' hostile treatment continued "virtually unabated."When he sent the offending students to an administrator's office, they returned soon thereafter without even a written reprimand, much less more severe disciplinary action, such as a suspension.

On 4 March 1997, Peries sent a long letter to Stolfi and the principal reporting harassment from G. …

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