Alumnus feels demeaned after being “escorted” through the building by school aide during visit

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Additional Reporting by Mohima Sattar, Opinion Editor

Yesterday, there was an incident involving Class of 2015 alumnus Aayush Beri who came to visit the school and was told he needed to be escorted throughout the building. Both Aayush and school aide Paul Sforza, who was required to escort Aayush, expressed confusion and frustration at the procedure, which had not been previously implemented for alumni visitations.

According to multiple alumni accounts we have received, alumni are now required to specify the teacher they plan to visit upon arriving. The security guard then directs the student to the attendance office. From there, Attendance Officer Yvette Reyes informs the teacher about the graduate visiting and lets the teacher know that the visitor is now their “responsibility” until the teacher contacts the next faculty member that the graduate wishes to visit. Previously, alumni visitors checked in at the front desk and were then free to visit faculty members. The plan of having an “escort” was not enforced today, but Mr. Sforza made it clear that he was told he had to escort the visitor yesterday.

Mr. Sforza, who is also the District 37 union representative, stated he did not receive any memo regarding the change and that he was informed about it suddenly on January 11. He said “[The escorting was] not only unfair, but also a burden.” He emphasized that the school aid staff has multiple duties throughout the day and that “to add this on without some formal explanation is unfair [and] ridiculous.”

As of now, these changes have not been codified and staff members state that they are unaware of them; Assistant Principal Ellen Fee has been asked by Principal Rosemarie Jahoda to write up a clarification of the current policy. Nonetheless, the changes have confused school faculty and alumni themselves, who have expressed dissatisfaction with these changes.

Aayush explained he signed in and asked to see Music instructor Peter Lustig, but said the security guards claimed Mr. Lustig had to get him. He said he waited for twenty minutes while the guards tried to find Mr. Lustig, but they realized he was not in the building. Ms. Reyes then “escorted” him to Ms. Fee. After, the student looked for social studies teacher Dr. Linda Steinmann and was “escorted” by District 37 Union Representative Paul Sforza, who had to wait while Aayush visited others. The student said the new policy was “demeaning” and “offensive.”

Regarding this incident, co-president of the Townsend Harris Alumni Association Craig Slutzkin said he was not formally informed of it, but expected that there would have been an email sent. Mr. Slutzkin felt that these changes convey this message to the alumni: “Once you’re out of the building, you’re not part of the Townsend Harris family any longer.”

Mr. Slutzkin added, “I was elected to represent the 7,500 alumni of the school. Any school policy about them should be communicated to me before [it] is enacted. It may not be DOE policy or a legal requirement, but it is common courtesy and respect. I already received word that one alumnus had to be escorted by Paul Sforza, so clearly some policy was enacted.” However, as the changes are not formally codified as of now, Mr. Slutzkin said that the alumni association will contact the administration to “get a better understanding of what brought this about.”

In an email to Ms. Jahoda, Mr. Slutzkin said of yesterday’s incident: “It’s not the relationship that the school and alumni have had in the past, and it shouldn’t be the relationship we have going forward.”

Class of 2016 graduate Nicholas Rahim also informed us of his encounter. He said, “[I was] intimidated as soon as I entered the building.” He expressed that a new security guard spoke to him “condescendingly.”

Class of 2016 graduate Mark Strassberg was also affected when he came to visit. Mark explained that he was so angry that he left the school.

Former 2015 Editor-in-Chief of The Classic Amanda Yan, who visited today, explained that she is accustomed to having issues visiting her middle school and does not want to see this happen at THHS. After being passed from teacher to teacher throughout the day as their “responsibility,” Amanda said,“ I don’t think I’m going to visit as often. This school has positively impacted my life in many ways. One of the best qualities of this school was its size and the fact that it embraced its alumni,” but now the atmosphere was “less welcoming.”

Class of 2015 alumna Christina Wang, who also visited today, expressed, “I felt like a baby being left at someone else’s doorstep.”

Ms. Jahoda was unavailable for comment. The security guards also declined to comment.