By all accounts, Eleanor Roosevelt High School is a haven of academia.
Located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, “El-Ro”—as its students affectionately call it—is a sanctuary that celebrates the “joy of discovery” where “great minds” are encouraged to bask in a “rich intellectual experience” and “discuss ideas.”
It has a robust, gimmick-free curriculum, comprised of courses like Animation and Global Literature, along with an excellent record of college admissions. Its commitment to the mental health, wellness and extracurricular needs of its student body—via an assortment of sports, resources and other activities—is unquestioned.
It also just so happens to be an elite school—ranked 109th in the entire country, with 91 percent of its students enrolled in AP classes—which might have something to do with its remarkable 83.7 college readiness index.
Simply put, it’s a good-ass school.
It’s also a school where Principal Dimitri Saliani purports “questions are as important as answers.” But with a deluge of questions swirling around a recently discovered racist incident at his beloved El-Ro, his institution has plenty to answer for.
As New York Daily News reports, the school’s only black 9th grader was the target of what’s become an unfortunate rite of passage for black citizens in this country.
Sources said two Eleanor Roosevelt coeds, one white, the other Middle Eastern, sparked the outrage on March 15 when they presented a third student – described as the only African-American ninth-grade girl at the screened, Upper East Side public school – with a tampon bearing phrase “n——- don’t have rights” scrawled on it.
The horrified girl handed the item to back her tormentors, sources said, but didn’t immediately report it to administrators. Instead, the shaken student told friends, who reported it to Eleanor Roosevelt staffers, leading to the suspension of both aggressors, sources said.
Principal Saliani ended classes early on Monday in order to meet with parents, students and staff to discuss the incident and its underlying causes, while a larger meeting to address the presence of bias and racism at Eleanor Roosevelt was scheduled for Tuesday.
While the school boasted a total minority enrollment of 38% in 2018, currently 64% of its student body is white, and a minuscule 3% are black. This is a stark contrast to the overall public school system, in which black students account for 26% of enrollment compared to their white counterparts accounting for a much lower 15%.
“I think that El-Ro really preaches this whole diverse and this whole accepting environment, where it’s actually really hard to create that when you have an almost entirely white school body,” admitted one student, who asked to remain anonymous because school officials instructed her not to speak with the media.
“When things like this happen, it’s hard,” she added. “It makes it seems like the school is lying.”
“I felt really infuriated; not really surprised,” said Eleanor Roosevelt junior Veda Faust. “The place where you have to be for the next four years is somewhere where you feel like you don’t belong. Where people don’t want you there and you’re not welcome.”
Faust noted that Eleanor Roosevelt’s admissions policies—which heavily favor in-state enrollees from white and affluent communities—likely contribute to the caustic atmosphere. Which, if you’ve kept an eye on the news, isn’t exactly a new phenomenon within the New York school system.
Elite private schools including Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn and Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx saw dramatic protests this year over racist incidents involving students.
And city Education Department officials are struggling to address mounting criticism of the city’s complex admissions processes, where black and Hispanic students, and kids from poor neighborhoods, are routinely rejected from top schools and sent instead to under-equipped classrooms.
Mayor de Blasio has criticized the system and in a radio interview on Friday blamed entrenched entrance rules for creating “massive segregation” at eight selective public high schools where he’s trying to alter admissions processes.
But in their efforts to address this specific incident, City Education Department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said Eleanor Roosevelt officials competed their investigation and promised that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken regarding the students involved.
“Principal Saliani sent a school-wide letter and met with families to reaffirm the importance of a safe and supportive school environment,” Barbot said. “We are continuing to provide support to the school community.”
Because, of course, answers are as important as the questions that precede them.