Updated Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, at 2:40 p.m. EST: Following reports that a Bronx, N.Y., middle school principal confiscated a poster of Lena Horne from a student, Jenny Lumet, granddaughter of the legendary actress, issued a statement to The Root on behalf of the Horne family:
The Horne Family sends its love, support, and deepest respect to the students of IS 224 in the Bronx, and to the teacher of class 601, Ms. Mercedes Liriano-Clark. Lena Horne had wanted to be a school teacher, joining the ranks of teachers in her own family. Life took her in a different direction. Our family is outraged at the actions of Patricia Catania: A woman who apparently believes the way to educate American children is to deny them knowledge of great Americans. Lena Horne has been honored by the highest levels of government around the world, as have many of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. They are, whether Ms. Catania likes it or not, architects of this nation.
To the two students who did the work, the third student who liberated it from confiscation, and Ms. Mercedes Liriano-Clark, it would be our great privilege to meet with you and share stories of Lena Horne. Thank you for choosing to honor her with your project.
She sees you from above and sings, for you.
All eyes are on Bronx, N.Y., middle school principal Patricia Catania after a report came out last weekend that she had barred an English teacher from delivering a Black History Month lesson on the Harlem Renaissance. The news sparked outrage and a rally by the National Action Network on Monday to protest Catania’s actions.
With the spotlight on her, more dirt is being uncovered.
The New York Daily News reports that the embattled principal, who’s still at her post at Intermediate School 224 in New York City’s Bronx borough, has deepened a rift between herself and students and staff after confiscating a student poster of Lena Horne.
Two students created the poster for English teacher Mercedes Liriano-Clark—the same teacher who was prevented from teaching the Harlem Renaissance lesson.
According to students and staff, Catania took the poster from an 11-year-old sixth-grader. It was intended to be used as a visual aid for a class presentation. Catania took the poster from the child without explanation. The incident left the child in tears.
From the Daily News:
“She was like, ‘Oh I’m gonna take it upstairs,’” the girl told the News. “She ran inside her office and wouldn’t give it back to me. She don’t like me ’cause I like Miss Liriano.”
Catania later gave the poster back to the child, still without giving any reason for having taken it in the first place.
Liriano-Clark says she doesn’t know what could have provoked Catania to take the poster.
“If she has a personal vendetta against me, let it be towards me and not towards the children,” Liriano-Clark told the Daily News. “The fact that she took kids’ work and hid it in her office, I don’t know why she would do that.”
In the wake of the news, former staffers are corroborating I.S. 224’s accounts that Catania had targeted and silenced black and Latinx staff while serving as principal at another school, University Neighborhood High School.
A letter written by former staffers to the city Education Department in 2013 states that “it is an open secret that the majority of the University Neighborhood High School African-American staff does not have a voice and are targeted for excess.”
According to the Daily News, the letter then details “a list of ‘actual incidents indicative of prejudice against Afro-Americans and Hispanics at University Neighborhood High School,’ including acts by Catania.”
Officials for the Education Department told the Daily News that the claims were investigated but were ultimately determined to be unfounded. Their investigation into the new claims at I.S. 224 is ongoing.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Kevin McCall, crisis director at the National Action Network, is calling for Catania to be replaced.