Bennett teacher, union claim intimidation

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Since speaking out about what he calls “chaos” at Bennett High School, teacher Neil Lange says the district is trying to intimidate him.

Lange, who has worked as a special education teacher at Bennett for 33 years, has appeared in two News 4 Investigate stories this week on the problems at the high school. In those interviews, Lane was critical of the way principal Dr. Terry Ross is handling the academically troubled school. He also appeared before the Buffalo Board of Education on March 26 to appeal for change.

Since then, Lange says several things have taken place. On Tuesday, Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown visited his class. On Thursday, an assistant principal sat in on his class and took notes. And later that day, Lange says he was singled out by principal Ross, though not by name, during a meeting with parents, teachers and students.

“It was obvious to everybody who the principal was talking about. This is clearly a reprisal. This is an attempt to kill the messenger, and to shut the teachers up at Bennett who actually are trying to defend their school and the students,” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. “It sends a chilling message to the rest of the faculty and the staff,”

Ross was brought in from out-of-state as a turnaround specialist to help the troubled high school get back on track. But his style and approach have come under fire from some teachers, including Lange, who say it isn’t working.

On March 26, Lange told the school board, “We need an immediate fix at Bennett High School right now for the remainder of the year.”

The district counters those concerns with the fact that this is Ross’s first year as principal of Bennett, and that he didn’t expect to come into the school and push a button that would affect instant turnaround. He imagined a process that may take a few years.

News 4 Investigates had a chance to talk to Superintendent Brown this week about Bennett’s principal. Asked if she supports Ross, Brown says, “Again, we are monitoring and supporting what’s going on at Bennett High School as we are at all of our schools.” When pressed, Brown adds, “I support all of our principals.”

Still, Rumore says the issue is not over.

“If he is assigned to that school next year there will be a mass demonstration of every teacher in this city in front of that school. We cannot let that happen.”

Rumore says the union plans to file a grievance with the district and an improper practice charge with the state public employment relations board.

In response, the district says it’s a common occurrence for administrators to go into classrooms and Lange’s classroom was just one of the stops made by the superintendent on Tuesday.

The district says principal Ross’s talk on Thursday was “non-specific to any one individual” and described what lies ahead for the school.

News 4 Investigates repeated its request to interview principal Ross, which so far has received no response.

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