December 9, 2010
Hundreds of students at Murry Bergtraum High School rioted through the hallways today after the school’s principal told teachers not to give out bathroom passes.
Teachers at the lower Manhattan school said that the day began with a fight between two students on the building’s third floor. After the fight, Bergtraum principal Andrea Lewis reportedly announced over the school’s loud speaker that in the future, students who fought would be arrested. Lewis reportedly told students and staff that for the rest of the day, the school’s bathrooms would be closed and teachers should not issue bathroom passes.
In a school of over 2,600 students, this news did not sit well.
“She also said that in the case of emergency, kids could use the bathrooms in the nurse’s office, but by then, given the nature of adolescents, the message had been delivered that the bathrooms would be shut,” a teacher said.
Within minutes, students were on their cell phones, which they are not allowed to bring into the school. Messages traveled from student to student, saying there would be a riot. During fifth period, hundreds of students began running through the fourth floor hallways at top speed, screaming and shouting. By the beginning of sixth period it had spread to the basement. Teachers said they locked their classrooms to keep their students inside while school safety officers tried to end the riot, which teachers said went on for about 20 minutes.
“They actually filled the halls from one side to the other,” said a teacher. He said one of his students had an asthma attack as she tried to make her way up a staircase while students poured down.
Formerly the principal of Acorn Community High School, Lewis came to Bergtraum this year. As an executive principal, she received a $25,000 yearly bonus for agreeing to lead the struggling school for at least three years. Though Murry Bergtraum has received low grades on its annual progress reports, the city does not have plans to close it.
“This was a principal that was sent to the school to turn the school around, however her record has been one of success in academics,” said teachers union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana.
“She has failing grades for security from her previous school. That is a concern of the staff,” he said.
After the riot, students went on Twitter to broadcast the news and threaten to riot again tomorrow.
“Bergtraum is gonna get closed down, there was riots in every floor every period,” wrote one student.
“Riotin all day cause the f-n principal is blowin ours and cut off the bathroom use all day,” wrote another.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said that one of the two students in the initial fight was sent to the hospital and released, but no other injuries have been reported. She said the incident is under investigation.