July 3, 2022
A Washington Heights principal accused of wanting to oust white staffers reportedly created a learning environment plagued by ‘utter disorganization and insanity.’
Students attending New York City‘s High School for Law and Public Service claim their lives have become ‘miserable’ under the leadership of Principal Paula Lev.
They also allege their quality of education has declined after Lev ousted ‘fully experienced and qualified’ staff as part of her alleged diversity crusade.
A student-created petition claims a handful of Lev’s new hires ‘are super under-qualified’ and that their ‘lack of knowledge’ has affected students’ ability to learn.
The petition also cited fears of attending class due to a ‘dangerous’ environment fueled by an ‘insane number of fights, constant arguing and improper administrative action.’
Lev was hit with a probe last year by the NYC Department of Education (DOE) after she allegedly told a teacher she was ‘going to get rid of all these white teachers that aren’t doing anything for the kids of our community.’
The complaint will now go before the New York State Division of Human Rights.
The probe was launched after faculty members at High School for Law and Public Service accused principal Paula Lev of discriminating against staff and conspiring to get a white colleague fired.
Faculty filed a complaint with the Education Department and also voted they had ‘no confidence’ in Lev’s leadership.
The complaint alleged Lev ‘flagrantly but unsuccessfully attempted to divide our school by race’ and told an employee that she ‘was going to get rid of all these white teachers that aren’t doing anything for the kids of our community.’
In the last year, Lev has issued excess notices to four white staffers, insiders told The New York Post on Saturday. DailyMail.com has contacted the Division of Human Rights in attempt to confirm the allegation.
The DOE, however, contends that only two staffers had been excessed, alleging the decision was made by ‘contractual rules regarding seniority.’
The department explained that the school had created a new position focused on ‘conflict resolution.’
‘The Department of Education is absolutely committed to providing a strong and supportive environment in all of our schools and for all of our students. We work with our principals every day to ensure that students and staff receive the support they need,’ DOE spokesperson Jenna Lyle told The Post.
Insiders allege some of the excessed teachers have found new jobs so they weren’t ‘officially considered cut’ from school staff.
Other former school employees reportedly left on their own, with three additional teachers deciding to call it quits this month.
‘There are many more teachers who have voiced that they plan to leave and they feel demoralized,’ an unnamed staffer told the paper.
Students have issued similar allegations in a Change.org petition started earlier this year by incoming senior and class valedictorian Angel Dilawar, 17.
‘Many students at the High School for Law & Public Service would like to bring to your attention that we have had enough and cannot bear to witness the utter disorganization and insanity at our school, especially that we once proudly called home,’ the petition states. ‘While there have been tremendous efforts to be heard, the higher-ups have not taken any action.’
The petition alleges that students are not receiving the quality of education they’re accustom and entitled to.
‘It is unfortunate that we have some new teachers that are super under-qualified, and staff members that were fully experienced and qualified were excessed,’ the document reads. ‘It has been our experience that the lack of knowledge of a few new staff members has affected our learning.
‘It is frightening to imagine more similar staff members being hired who require student assistance to accomplish simple tasks. What’s even more scary is that those are some vital positions.’
Students further contend that Lev is more focused on appearances than learning.
The petition states that she has prioritized improving the school’s appearance by purchasing new furniture, plants and TV screens for the hallways.
Dilawar also told The Post that Lev purchased $50,000 worth of hooded sweatshirts to be worn with school uniforms, but the teen claims no one wears them.
Scholars allege they would ‘much rather prefer to receive new laptops and textbooks’ or see school funding invested into ‘hiring more teachers to teach AP classes, core subjects and electives.’
The students also allege the school looks proper ‘communication and transparency.’
‘From the outside it may appear that everything is going great, but in reality, none of the members of the school community are aware of what’s going on. I compare it to a bad apple, gleaming and shining on the outside but once opened you see how rotten to the core it is,’ the petition reads.
‘Certain teachers are completely clueless and students can provide many examples that demonstrate there is no communication at all. There is always last-minute notice for students and they feel that they don’t matter and are always silenced.
‘We are deeply dismayed to see this unfold at a school that had been blossoming before this principal took over. Happiness, pleasure, and contentment have now become filled with tears of agony and sorrow. Many of ‘our teachers and administrators’ whom we truly valued, are now gone.’
The petition has already received more than 400 signatures.
Dilawar also told The Post that a lack of discipline has made the school a free-for-all environment.
‘Right now students can do anything they want and they’re not going to get in trouble,’ she said.
Additionally, she alleged that she was asked to write college recommendation letters for her peers while working the school’s college office.
Dilawar claimed the current office staffer had a ‘limited grasp of English’ and needed assistance with the letters.
‘These students would be shocked to find out that their recommendation letters would be written by a student, a junior,’ she said.
Another incoming senior, 16-year-old Hannah Maldonado, alleged that Lev also created division during a Culture Day celebration, which was intended to promote diversity.
Maldonado claims she asked for ‘greater musical variety’ to be played during the event but was shut down by Lev who, speaking in Spanish, told the DJ to play one additional song before going ‘back to Spanish music.’
‘I was told that the student government curated a playlist to be inclusive to all of our cultures,’ the teen said.
Dilawar says she has contacted Schools Chancellor David Banks multiple times about the ongoing issues at the High School for Law and Public Service and complaints from students, but has failed to receive a response.
Investigation into the principal’s leadership began last summer after faculty and staff complained that Lev, who is Dominican, was discriminating against employees.
According to the DEO complaint filed last year, a faculty member claims approached him with a plan to terminate an unidentified white, female employee.
He alleged that Lev asked him to get a state education certification so he would have more qualifications than the white employee and Lev could fire her as ‘excess’ staff.
‘Ms. Lev has asked me to conspire with her on a couple of occasions in getting rid of my colleague,’ the faculty member wrote in the complaint.
‘She also stated to me in Spanish that she was ‘going to get rid of all these white teachers that aren’t doing anything for the kids of our community. I believe Ms. Lev is not suited for the position of principal because of the comments she has made to me about white people and the malicious ways in which she thinks and speaks. She is not fit to be a leader of a school.
‘As a school staff, we have lost confidence, creditability, trust, and most importantly we have lost hope in Ms. Lev as a principal at the High School for Law & Public Service.’
Lev reportedly laid off the faculty member who filed the complaint on the last day of the 2020-2021 school year, claiming he was no longer needed at the school and should look for work elsewhere in the DOE.
DOE Press Secretary Nathaniel Styer told DailyMail.com at the time, that the High School of Law and Public Service: ‘qualified to excess a small number of staff at the beginning of next school year. The designation of excess staff is determined by contractual rules regarding seniority.
‘Staff would have received a letter regarding potential excessing, which is not uncommon at this time of year as enrollment, budgets, and staffing needs change. All staff have the opportunity to take jobs on the open market, which the staff members at this school have done.’
Styer said the DOE was ‘committed to providing a supportive, high-quality learning environment at all our schools, and the superintendent and executive superintendent are working closely with the principal and the whole community to address concerns.’
He added: ‘We will work to ensure students and staff continue to receive the support they need.’
Tensions first flared between Lev and staff in February 2021, when she publicly accused Nick Bacon, the union chapter leader, of being racist after he filed a routine grievance about a scheduling issue affecting faculty members.
Lev confronted Bacon in front of a room of his colleagues and said, ‘I wasn’t sure what your problem with me was, maybe it’s because I am a woman of color and you’re a white man?’
Bacon wrote about the incident on March 2 in a letter signed other staff members and sent to Manny Ramirez, the superintendent of District 6. The grievance was solved in Bacon’s favor and Ramirez acknowledged in a staff meeting that Lev’s comment was ‘inappropriate,’ but that the two must work together and move past it.
Lev later apologized to Bacon for publicly calling him out, a course told the New York Post. However, she stood by her comment and said it represented how she felt. She also recommended that Bacon read Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.’
She then encouraged Bacon to have ‘courageous conversations’ with her about the themes in the book, referencing a term used by the Department of Education during workshops on implicit bias.
Faculty members said that Bacon reached out to DoE Chancellor Meisha Porter earlier this month and asked for her to get involved.
He also met with dozens of staff members on June 24 to determine the conditions of their ‘no confidence’ vote. Their reasons, listed in the complaint, included that she had ‘disrespected, slandered, and/or arbitrarily gone after respected educators, to the detriment of our entire school community.’
They also asserted that Lev violated their labor contract and left staff out of debates on important school decisions.
‘With almost the entire 40+ membership voting, including both tenured and untenured teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service professionals, 83.3percent voted that they no longer have confidence in our principal to lead our school,’ reads a statement about the vote, which was obtained by the New York Post.
It’s not too common for staff to file votes of ‘no-confidence’ against school officials.
In 2019, faculty at Forest Hills High School in Queens filed a no-confidence vote against Principal Ben Sherman because he allegedly took not action to stop students from smoking marijuana. The DOE eventually removed Sherman from his position.
Lev began her tenure at the High School for Law and Public Service, on the George Washington Educational Campus, in February 2020 and was promoted to principal after her predecessor Nicholas Politis retired.
Before that, she worked for the Department of Education for 13 years in various roles. Since 2015, she has also been an adjunct professor at New York Institute of Technology, specializing in graduate work with students with disabilities.
Lev, whose salary was $165,542 2020, is married to Benjamin Lev, who is an assistant principal with the DOE.