55 MIST members told to re-do trip forms; Phoenix also faces trip issue after IAP Jahoda requests slips days before event

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Previously, The Classic reported on disputes between Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda, faculty, and administrators regarding trip procedures. Members of the community claim that Ms. Jahoda’s procedure is inefficient. A topic of concern during the December 8 sit-in that was mentioned to Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro was Ms. Jahoda’s handling of trips, as the new procedures were burdensome to many at Townsend Harris. In recent weeks, the issue has reemerged; both the annual Phoenix reading at Barnes & Noble and the Muslim Inter-Scholastic Tournament [MIST] faced issues with permission slips, leaving members frustrated and critical of Ms. Jahoda’s procedures, which they maintain are disorganized and last minute.

Those from the MSA who competed at the annual MIST event, held at Columbia University, recently expressed frustrations about the principal’s process.

In the past, former principals would review and approve all permission slips that get handed out to students and parents prior to them being photocopied and distributed to students. Ms. Jahoda, however, does not review and approve the permission slips until they have all been signed. According to Assistant Principal Ellen Fee, when she handed in the permission slips for MIST, Ms. Jahoda took issue with the date being listed as “March 18-19,” as it could be interpreted as the trip being overnight. Instead, the trip took place on two separate days. Ms. Fee maintains that the slip indicates that students were to arrive at the event from home and go home unaccompanied, making it clear that it is not an overnight trip.

55 students were asked to redo the permission slips days before the event.

Ms. Fee said,  “It was inconvenient for everybody. It was inconvenient for me [on a] Friday afternoon…to get the form out to 55 kids and kids had trouble getting them back.”

Ms. Fee gave the students from Friday, March 10 until Tuesday, March 14 to fill out the redone forms. She approached Ms. Jahoda on March 15. However, Ms. Fee said Ms. Jahoda was unable to sign the trip packet because she was in a meeting with Margaret Lacey-Berman, Ms. Jahoda’s mentor; this was the day of the C-30 Level 1 Committee’s principal interviews.

“I couldn’t get it signed until Thursday,” Ms. Fee said, “and that upset me because it took a lot of extra work and a lot of extra time for an assumption that parents didn’t know what [the trip] was.”

Co-President of the MSA Sangida Akter said that parents and students were well aware of the nature of the trip. She said parents were informed at previous meetings that MIST was a two-day trip, not an overnight event. She added that as MIST requires a voucher to be signed by parents [separate from DOE paperwork], all involved knew that MIST was to be conducted at Columbia University over two separate days.

Sangida explained that requiring new forms to be signed within two days negatively impacted the team. She said that previously, it took three weeks for all forms to be signed and submitted, but now she and co-president Tahiya Chowdhury had to scramble to get the 55 redone forms completed within two days.

Sangida said, “The whole team was upset [over] foolish paperwork” and that obtaining the forms “wrecked everything” as the team had been preparing for the competition for weeks and lost preparation time because they had to focus on trip forms.

“We were physically and emotionally upset…To be forced to [complete] forms in two days meant we had to hunt people’s classrooms down, hurt our own academics as leaders, and throw the team into panic,” Sangida said.

Ms. Jahoda has yet to respond to an email regarding this issue.

The Phoenix reading at Barnes & Noble has been an annual open event since 2014. The Phoenix would rent an event room at the Barnes & Noble location in Manhattan. They would have a book fair free of charge since they were a non-profit organization; students can buy things online or in store using a code. A percentage of the proceeds bought at the bookfair goes directly to the club. The club has deemed the event the “largest reading of the year,” featuring performers both from and outside of THHS. Permission slips were never required in the past, but members were asked to fill out forms two days before this year’s event.

According to Assistant Principal of Humanities Rafal Olechowski and Ms. Fee, Ms. Jahoda learned of the event on Thursday night and made it clear that she expected trip forms to be filled out. Mr. Olechowski, who had to cancel a Phoenix trip in November for trip form-related issues, said: “Not to chance another trip-related fiasco with Ms. Jahoda, I filled out the trip form and presented it to her for signing.”

In response to this, Ms. Jahoda said, “It is appropriate for parents to be notified of an off-premises school-related event.”

Phoenix Editor-in-Chief Aaron Fernando said that he wants to ensure that his club follows DOE procedure but criticized the timing of the principal who inquired about trip slips on the Thursday night before a half day on Friday. He said “It’s not right to drop these bombshells on us. It seems illogical to ask for trip slips three days before a clearly non-school trip event.”

Former Phoenix Editor-in-Chief Kristine Guillaume, who graduated in 2016, found it “strange and unnecessary” that such a procedure was being followed. She said, “All of this just goes to show that Ms. Jahoda is not the leader Townsend needs or wants.”

Earlier in the year, concerns regarding trip approval were brought up at the sit-in. While listening to student concerns, Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro said, “Filling out a trip form literally takes ten minutes.” When Student Union President Alex Chen explained that teachers had an issue with re-doing forms, Ms. Pineiro rebutted, “….maybe because the trip forms aren’t being filled out properly so they’re being sent back to the [principal].” When Alex asked why the trip forms were not a policy before, Ms. Pineiro said, “The principal before was okay with the trip forms not being filled out properly. It was okay with Principal Barbetta. It’s not okay with the principal [Ms. Jahoda].”

DOE regulations (according to this document) state that before trip organizers submit a “Trip Plan” they must first explain the purpose of the trip “in a document to the principal.” The regulation then states, “If after reviewing all the information, the principal determines that the trip should be approved, then the trip organizer should submit a Trip Plan.” This makes clear that a trip requires approval directly from the principal prior to there being a trip slip provided to students.
However, at a February Executive Board meeting, Social Studies teacher Charlene Levi specifically asked Ms. Jahoda about the issues of trip timing and approval. She asked how the school could remain in compliance on field trips but do so in a “more timely and efficient manner” given the issues that have arisen this year. Ms. Jahoda said “You can never have approval in advance.”