They were red scared.
Department of Education detectives terrified seven students at Park Slope Collegiate school when they interrogated them during an investigation into principal Jill Bloomberg’s alleged “communist activity” without telling the teens why they were being questioned, or revealing they could refuse to talk — a violation of the agency’s policy.
Three of the students questioned spoke at a protest on Wednesday outside the department’s Manhattan headquarters that drew parents, teachers, students, and faculty who listened as they described the frightening experience.
“When the guidance counselor pulled me out of class and took me to the office, I was terrified,” said Alex Stevens, an eighth grader at Park Slope Collegiate. “She didn’t tell me I was being questioned, nor did she offer me to contact my parents.”
The education department’s investigators do not have to tell parents before students are questioned, according to an agency spokesman, but they encourage students to notify their parents after the fact. Investigators are required to inform students before they are interrogated, and to tell them why they are being questioned and that they have the right to walk away.
Stevens told the crowd she was led to a room with three strangers who questioned her about her father, a city teacher and a member of the Progressive Labor Party who demanded transcripts from his daughter’s session with detectives in a speech at the protest.
“I want the transcripts from that d— meeting,” Adam Stevens said. “I want to see every note, every question they asked, every scribble they made on their little fascist sheets of paper.”
The city’s education department began investigating Bloomberg, a firebrand activist with a history of pointing out segregationist policies at its schools, after she cried favoritism for Millennium High School, which shares space with Park Slope Collegiate and other schools inside the John Jay Campus on Seventh Avenue and has nearly twice as many sports programs as the other schools.
Bloomberg — who denies being a member of the communist party — and her supporters see the city’s investigation as an attempt to silence her activism through tried and true McCarthy-era tactics.
“This investigation is not a surprise to me,” said Suzette McLeod, a mother of two Park Slope Collegiate graduates. “I’ve seen what a difference our principal has made for the school, and I sat down to myself one day and said, ‘You know they’re gong to try and force this white woman out, because she’s standing up for black kids.’”
Councilman Brad Lander [D–Park Slope], who supports Bloomberg, sent a letter to the education department’s attorney that criticized the investigators for insisting to speak with students even after they said no and telling the teens they must “maintain complete confidence” about the interviews. His statement also quoted the agency’s Bill of Student Rights, which states “students have the right to be accompanied by a parent and/or representative at conferences and hearings.”
A second student fought back tears as she spoke to the crowd about her interrogation and the fear it inspired.
“It was very uncomfortable,” said Kastia Colon, a Park Slope Collegiate senior. “Every time I come to class, I think my teachers might not be there next year. It really upsets me.”