A Brooklyn high school founded as a bastion of student freedom has become one of the borough’s most strict, thanks to a principal with a penchant for punishment who’s not afraid to reward misbehaving students with unscheduled vacations.
Officials at Edward R. Murrow HS in Midwood doled out 357 suspensions last year — the second-most in the borough — a surprise for a school founded with an “emphasis on freedom,” as Saul Bruckner, its original principal, once told an interviewer.
Times have changed under his successor, Principal Anthony Lodico, who admits he has a knack for discipline — and a military-esque intolerance of “insubordination.”
Lodico said the recent suspension spike was the result of his use of the broken-window theory when it comes to making sure students follow the rules.
“One of my philosophies is that we have zero tolerance,” said Lodico. “We do suspend if students are misbehaving or not following the discipline code.”
In addition to stricter enforcement of rules that lead to detention, such as wearing hats or headphones and listening to iPods in hallways, Lodico has cracked down on class-cutting by forbidding students from roaming freely through halls during free periods — which was always considered a perk of going to Murrow.
Lodico ended the unsupervised free periods that were a hallmark of the school’s free-spirited philosophy about two years ago, according to its student newspaper.
Since then, all students except seniors have been forced to spend their free periods — called “OPTAs” — in designated areas on campus. On top of that, leaving campus during a free period, which was never permitted but was generally accepted, is now next to impossible.
There were between 225 and 250 suspensions at Murrow between 2006 and 2009, Suspension data for 2009-2010 was not available.
Students we spoke to said they were not surprised by the high suspension numbers, arguing it was representative of school that came down too hard on minor issues.
“We’re not a bad school,” said Stephanie Tsamasiros, a senior. “So [the numbers] say the school is suspending people too easily.”
Lodico agreed that most of the suspensions at Murrow were not for serious offences.
“We suspend for insubordination, where at a lot of other schools, that might not turn into suspensions,” said Lodico. “I think being consistent with the small things will help you not lead to bigger, more serious things.”
The school — named for the revered newscaster who famously denounced Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s — is one of the borough’s biggest high schools at just over 4,000 students — but the number of suspensions put it far ahead of similarly-sized schools nearby.
Midwood HS, with around 4,000 students, gave out only 89 suspensions last year, while James Madison HS, with just over 3,000 students, doled out 142.
Automotive HS in Greenpoint lead the borough with 394 suspensions, though it only has 881 students.
Lodico said he doesn’t think he’s violated the school’s founding philosophy, despite the changes.
“The philosophy where students had the ability to make choices and be part of the educational process — I don’t think that’s shifted at all,” he said. “But in terms of students not being able to sit in the hallway all day and not go to class, it’s shifted greatly.”
Students on the other hand, beg to differ.
“We used to be able to leave the school during OPTAs and be in the hallways freely, which made Murrow unique,” said Phoebe Taylor, a junior. “But now they’re just unreasonable.”
— with Carla Sinclair