What a terrible tragedy--a policy prohibiting schools from reporting crimes to improve their image has left a student irreversibly brain damaged. I can think of no policy further from the welfare of the students than this.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein yesterday vowed to investigate a Queens high school policy that may have cost a teen girl her health.
The Daily News reported yesterday an official at Jamaica High School barred school deans from calling 911 in an emergency - just weeks before 14-year-old Mariya Fatima suffered a stroke her family says could have been less devastating.
Klein called this a violation of Department of Education policy and instructions he had sent to principals early this year.
"We'll look into it and take appropriate action," he said.
Former Jamaica Assistant Principal Guy Venezia sent a memo to school deans on April 12 banning 911 calls "for any reason."
Mariya began to vomit at school on April 27 and collapsed in the hall, but her family says help did not arrive until 90 minutes later.
"If they called 911 early, it is possible she can be in better shape," said Mariya's mom, Liaquat Begum, a recent immigrant from India. "She was a very good student. Now she is not reading properly."
"They did nothing," Mariya said after limping into her lawyer's office to meet with reporters yesterday.
Since her stroke, Mariya has had trouble walking. She has no use of her right hand, and her family says the 10th-grader is reading at a fifth-grade level.
Mariya's lawyer Gary Carlton blamed the pressure on principals to improve school safety - or at least to give the appearance that they had.
A 911 call leaves a paper trail that can't be covered up, and Jamaica was already on the city's list of most dangerous schools.
"This happened because statistics are more important than anyone's life," Carlton said.
Teachers union President Randi Weingarten made a similar allegation. "This is a tragic result of what happens when everything comes down to data," she said. "If there's only a hammer when people report crime, then people are going to continue to hide their incidents."
Klein said the Jamaica policy was an isolated incident.
"Our principals are reporting faithfully and honestly," he said. "In a system with 1,450 schools, you can always have aberrations, but don't jump to conclusions from that."
Mariya's family would not be the first to sue over a 911 ban.
The News reported in January that the family of 11-year-old Shawn Martinez is suing over the boy's death in 2003 after an asthma attack at Brooklyn's Public School 20. The family claims the school prohibited nurses from calling 911.
Following that report, Klein sent a note to city principals stressing that all staff should call 911 in an emergency. Venezia's memo went out three months later.
Venezia, now a teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, declined comment.
Former Jamaica Principal Jay Dickler could not be reached. He was removed from the school this summer because crime there was too high, Klein said. "I met with him on numerous occasions about safety at the school, and that's why he was removed," Klein said.
Outside the school yesterday, students and staff expressed shock that the no-call policy was ever in place.
"It's wrong," senior Gladys Macias said. "They should have just called to get her help as soon as possible. I would have wanted that to happen for me, of course, or for anybody."
Instead of taking steps to prevent crime, they took steps to prevent the reporting of crime. This is analogous to fixing your wet basement by keeping it flooded year-round. Attempting to fudge numbers and cover up a very real problem solves nothing but has led to the horrible events reported here. The administrators are guilty of deliberate and criminal negligence in this case for all the worst reasons imaginable. Let us pray justice is served.