People first noticed the signs Saturday morning. As Island parents and children started their weekend routines of soccer games, dance classes, and produce shopping, they found printouts featuring a closeup of PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman overlaid with the words, “Beckman you have to go” taped to poles, trash cans, and signs along Main Street; some were under wipers of parked cars too. A few parents walked the Island looking for more, and tore them down. They thought they had gotten them all.
On Sunday, the same thing happened again. One parent reported walking by Amalgamated Bank and tearing one down, only for another one to be put up in its place within the half hour, and removed by yet another parent.
“I tore one of these down on Saturday totally offended,” said mother of three 217 students, Hannah Kranich, “My kids were confused and even they found it inappropriate. It is bullying and has no place in our community”.
“It’s like bullying in the back,” agreed Antoinetta Ruiz. “It reminded me of a high school anonymous bully making caricatures of ‘unattractive’ kids. It is absolutely unacceptable that adults would do that.”
As of Wednesday evening, signs were still regularly appearing around the Island. While it’s unclear what the goal is or who is behind it, some residents have their suspicions.
“I think they represent the last death throes of a program run by spiteful, entitled fools intent on dividing the community,” said one parent, alluding to ongoing tensions between the principal and supporters of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP). It recently lost its contract to run the Island’s Beacon enrichment program, which it had operated for the past 22 years. Youth Program supporters have been quoted on Island blogs calling for Principal Beckman’s ousting.
Parent Jenny Bartlett said she saw a sign posted in the window of the Youth Center over the weekend. Andrey Chichagov, Sports Director for the RIYP confirmed that one was left there, but said he was not responsible.
Another parent suggested the fliers might in fact be a ruse to cast suspicion on RIYP.
Whatever the reason, Councilmember Ben Kallos called the signs “wrong” and demanded that they stop. “[I’m] urging anyone who sees who is doing this to report it to public safety and our office. No one should be bullied like this.”
Council member Ben Kallos and Principal Beckman at the Cornell Tech dedication ceremony.
Island parent Carol Chen agrees. “Trying to shame and embarrass her is horrible. She is a human being, mother, wife, and if someone disagrees with her educational policy and how she does her job, state that in the forum in which it is relevant. Their issues with her are completely irrelevant at Piccolo Trattoria and anywhere outside of school.”
Longtime community leader Wendy Hersh said, “I have lived on this Island for 40 years and I have never experienced what is going on here lately. Since when do we treat people this way who are from off the Island and come here to help our community? The same kind of smear tactic happened to me last year with signs being posted around the island. Two police reports were filed and I actually found the person doing it on video from cameras around the island. This is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in our community!”
“We are deeply concerned about these flyers,” said Erin Olavesen, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, “There seem to be a few frighteningly aggressive individuals who want to attack our school. I don’t know who they are exactly, but it is not normal to hang posters up around the Island with someone’s picture and the ominous threat ‘You Have To Go.’ I fear these hostile and unhinged displays are undermining our ability to unite the community and serve the children.”
Susana Del Campo Perea, one of the parents who has been removing signs from the Island, worries that the signs will scare younger PS/IS 217 students. “[They are] a psychological and emotional threat and attack on Roosevelt Island kids, because children look up to and feel safe with their teachers and principal.”
Some parents also expressed surprise at the hostility of the campaign, saying they didn’t see the anger or contempt suggested by the fliers reflected within the school by other parents. “I don’t know who objects to Ms. Beckman serving as principal or why they object to her role,” said parent Karin Ouchida.
“It is disappointing to see that the bullying and harassment tactics that so many have objected to both locally and nationally have now seeped into life on the Island,” said Roosevelt Island Residents Association President Jeff Escobar, who has a child at the school. “And that we, as Island parents and guardians of Island children, once again are forced to shield our children from the demeaning behavior of adults who should know better.
“Regardless of your disagreement, conflicts, or issues with PS/IS 217 Principal Beckman, and/or the administration of the school, this last effort to publicly defame Principal Beckman in her capacity as a public servant through the posting of nonsensical and negative posters on public and private property throughout our community is not only beneath us as Roosevelt Islanders, but detrimental to the school-aged children and members of our community who attend PS/IS 217,” he said.
This is not the first public attack the principal has weathered. Over the past year, Beckman has been a regular target on local blogs – primarily from individuals outside of the school community – for her responses to a rodent problem behind the school last spring, the Department of Education’s removal of trees from school property, as well as her refusal to support the Roosevelt Island Youth Program’s bid for the Beacon contract. Notably, inside the school community, parents have been rallying around her. This latest attack is unique in that it is anonymous.
Escobar also asked members of the community to help put a stop to the activity. “I ask anyone who has information on who has repeatedly defaced and continues to deface both public and private Island property with such posters to come forward and report the activity.”
Officers from the Public Safety Department have also been removing posters. Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation President Susan Rosenthal said, “We have instructed staff to remove all of these from inappropriate public spaces.”
On an Island blanketed in cameras, it seems likely that the perpetrators will have their identities made public soon enough. “This is unacceptable harassment that should not be tolerated and should be criminally prosecuted,” said RIRA Vice President Lynne Shinozaki.