Principal Assaulted

Oct 28, 2016 by

There’s two sides to every story, it is simplistically said.  Truth is never black or white but always a shade of gray. That’s another naive observation. 
The school system is loaded with people with fancy titles who will insist that nothing constructive is accomplished by punishing student violence. One must always examine the root cause and if one does, one will invariably discover a a more complex trigger to violence  and without conscious intent, the recipient of violence may have provoked it, they say, desiring to open our eyes to the charms and powers of forbearance.

And remember, they point out with august authority, that the apparent victim must not be judgemental or personalize the attack, but rather seek to comprehend it, help the student to be cognizant of the triggers of his loss of impulse control, and treat it in an enlightened way which precludes conventional penalties. The victim may, indeed, have subconsciously triggered the attack and must learn to be more self-aware in order to avert a sequel.

Last Monday, the principal of Manhattan Early College School for Advertising, had the temerity to ask a student to remove his headphones. It’s good to see a principal not looking the other way when a student violates a rule. Too often they do, because they want to maintain order at any price and they want to ingratiate themselves with elements of the student population who might otherwise be prone to cause trouble.

But the principal, Matthew Tossman, got beaten up for trying to remove the headphones after the student refused. He got punched and suffered swelling and lacerations to both of his eyes. He was hospitalized and released, hopefully to return to work jaded and ready to confront challenges to authority as they arise.

When student defiance is ignored,  there is a rapid proliferation of unanswered and spiraling of rebellion. Almost overnight, there’s no more teaching and learning going on and nothing but survival instincts kick in.


The student who allegedly attacked the principal had just last month barraged another driver with his fists during an altercation. But he was back in school. After all, we cannot interrupt his pursuit of intellectual improvement and the instructional continuum of character building. The DOE is adamant about safeguarding such students from the wrath of their victims and clueless societal norms.

In this case, the student was charged with a felony, as he should be. But will it stick or will it be plea-bargained to something like disorderly conduct?

The principal is to be commended for his intervention and should be supported by all who believe in an orderly educational environment for our children.  But I can see an angle for the student’s legal defense. It would likely be efficacious if it were a teacher who did what the principal did.

The student did not strike the principal after being asked to remove his headphones. The punches started when the principal physically tried to remove the phones himself after the student had refused to comply. That could be considered an avoidable escalation. Were there other options? Maybe the student felt his “space” was being violated or felt threatened by the unexpected action of the principal. Perhaps the principal brought the attack on himself by failure to be sensitive to the child’s pride and private ‘space.” After all, that’s all he’s got in life, not being one of the advantaged youth.

Of course this is hogwash. But teachers have been accused of mishandling encounters with kids and blamed for confronting them in a way to ignite resistance. Teachers who have scarcely done nursing their broken bones and contusions have been referred to counseling in adolescent psychology, because of “anger-management issues.”

The DOE’s over-indulgence of  hot-headed and headstrong students is not only dangerous for the entire school community, but also destructive to the ungovernable students. It must accept that some students are 100% guilty of vicious behavior and it must adopt policies to defeat it.

When a student instigates and initiates an assault on a principal, teacher, classmate or anybody else, there should be no equivocation of rationalizing it. And no victims should any longer fear reprisals for pressing charges and the school system should safeguard decorum to the full extent of the law.

Perhaps it would be an apropos advertising project for this aptly-named school to have students create a  graphic public service service message about student violence, its dangers and its toll.


Sure enough, one day after I finished writing the above commentary, there was a follow-up to the story in the New York Post (10/ 26). It’s titled “Students: KO’d Principal High School A Mess.” ( Does that justify making the school leader’s face a metaphor for his workplace?)

A student’s disparaging remarks about the school are quoted, and we are informed that the child who smashed up the principal had lost his mother last year.  That should serve as background, not implied exculpation.

Of course we shouldn’t condemn the student to permanent infamy. But the school system is riddled with apologists for even the most indefensible student behavior.

What will be their “take” on what happened?

The student was down on his luck at home and caught in the fray of a struggling school. Two strikes against him already. Is it a surprise he lashed out?  Should we as child advocates not reach out to him?  Can’t we see that the bruising uppercut to the principal’s jaw was just an inarticulate cry for help? Should the student be treated as a second-class citizen just because he couldn’t find the right words during a flash moment of stress?

The school system should be sentimentally oriented towards protecting violent children from the ravages of impunity.

Ron Isaac

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