Controversial Fort Greene principal arrested for kicking a teacher’s union rep

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The controversial principal of Fort Greene’s PS 20 was arrested last Thursday morning for allegedly assaulting a teacher during a disciplinary hearing.

The principal, Sean Keaton, was charged with punching and kicking the school’s teacher union representative during a meeting about whether a special ed teacher used corporal punishment against a student in the school on Adelphi Street.

The Daily News reported that Keaton suddenly became enraged at Robert Segarra, the United Federation of Teachers rep and a kindergarten teacher himself, before launching into the violent episode that culminates Keaton’s rocky tenure at the helm of PS 20, where school enrollment has dropped in the gentrifying neighborhood.

The shamed principal was immediately reassigned to administrative duties elsewhere in the school system and will not be back at the elementary school until a police investigation is complete, said Andrew Jacob, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

Keaton started teaching at PS 20 in the 1990s and became the principal there in 2005. He quickly became a divisive figure with some parents singing his praises and others slamming him as a tyrant — some actually comparing him on Web sites to Adolf Hitler and Zimbabwe’s brutal president Robert Mugabe.

The total student population has shrunk, and only 27 percent of eligible kindergarten students from the neighborhood choose to attend PS 20. Next year, there will be only two kindergarten classes, down from three this year, because of declining enrollment.

Pushed to the brink by the intense criticism, Keaton wrote a letter last month published on a New York Times blog, defending himself.

“My feelings have been bruised and I have been offended and threatened by many people in my school community but I never complain,” the letter said. “I believe the number of supporters far exceeds the number of detractors. Honestly speaking, my ultimate goal is to lead a school that I would enroll my child without hand-picking his teachers.”

Keaton did not return our call.

Keaton’s arrest dominated conversation in the schoolyard on Tuesday morning as parents dropped off their children.

There seemed to be universal disdain for his alleged attack on the kindergarten teacher, but opinion was split on his performance before the scandal broke late Thursday.

“Overall, I’m disgusted at his actions,” said Veronica Jones, who accused Keaton of hypocrisy and was not a fan of him before the violent outburst. “He’s quick to tell the children right from wrong. If this is the example we’re going to set, we’re in a world of trouble.”

Other parents did not believe the police report.

“I thought he was a great guy,” said Zora Jamil, whose son is in kindergarten. “He was stern with [the students], which I find necessary, but I was shocked at the arrest.”

Updated 5:00 pm, May 28, 2009: Story was updated to add comments from parents.
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Reader Feedback

Valerie from Bed Stuy says:
Wow!!! it seems as though this confirms what many critics have said about his behavior. I guess we should see a change in leadership style which may likely conform to what the critics want and therefore a dramatic rise in enrollment. Does this mean that in 2011 my daughter cannot get in unless I move?
May 22, 2009, 4:40 pm

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