The faculty of a Washington Heights high school is rebelling against their principal, charging in a vote of no-confidence that she has “flagrantly but unsuccessfully attempted to divide our school by race.”
Paula Lev, principal of the High School for Law and Public Service, is now under investigation by the city Department of Education for allegedly telling a faculty member she “was going to get rid of all these white teachers that aren’t doing anything for the kids of our community,” a complaint states.
Lev, a Dominican, also asked the faculty member to “conspire with her” to try to oust a white colleague, according to the complaint filed last week with the DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity.
“She definitely has something against white people,” says the complaint, obtained by The Post.
On the last day of school, Lev gave the faculty member a notice that he was “placed in excess” — meaning no longer needed at the school — and should look for a job elsewhere in the DOE.
“He blew the whistle on her and a week later he was excessed,” a colleague said. It’s unclear whether Lev knew about the complaint.
The complaint came amid simmering unrest at the school, which staffers blamed on what they said was Lev twisting the current concepts of equity and anti-racism, which the DOE promotes and teachers overwhelmingly support.
Dissatisfaction with Lev, 39, boiled up in February, when teacher Nick Bacon, the union chapter leader, filed a routine grievance about a scheduling issue that could have affected most of the faculty, staffers said.
In front of a half-dozen other staffers, Lev questioned Bacon’s motives.
“I wasn’t sure what your problem with me was, maybe it’s because I am a woman of color and you’re a white man?’ Lev asked Bacon, according to a March 2 letter to District 6 Superintendent Manny Ramirez and signed by most of the school’s tenured members.
Staffers were outraged that Lev had seemingly accused Bacon, who was raising their labor concerns, of being racist. The school has a diverse staff — about half white, some Jewish and Greek. A mix of black, Hispanic and some Asian make up the rest.
The grievance raised by Bacon was resolved in the union’s favor. In an effort to quell the furor over Lev’s remark, Ramirez agreed in a meeting that what she said was “inappropriate,” but added that the comment expressed Lev’s feelings, and urged Bacon to work with her, staffers said.
In a later meeting with Bacon, Lev apologized for making the remark openly at a staff conference — but not for the substance of her comment, saying it reflected her true feelings and should have been expressed to him alone, said people informed of the discussion.
At the same time, they said, Lev suggested that Bacon read the 2018 book by Robin DiAngelo “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” which argues that whites get defensive when questioned about racial inequality.
She said Bacon could join her and other staffers in studying the book and have “courageous conversations,” using a term coined by a consultant hired by the DOE to give implicit-bias workshops for employees.
Four months after the conflict involving Bacon, another faculty member filed the discrimination complaint alleging that Lev had pressured him to help her engineer the ouster of a colleague, an unidentified white female staffer.
Lev wanted the faculty member to get a state education certification, the complaint states, so he would not have the same title as the targeted colleague, clearing the way for Lev to “excess” the more senior staffer.
“Ms. Lev has asked me to conspire with her on a couple of occasions in getting rid of my colleague,” the faculty member alleges in the OEO filing.
“She also stated to me in Spanish that she was ‘going to get rid of all these white teachers that aren’t doing anything for the kids of our community,’” the complaint states.
It concludes, “I believe Ms. Lev is not suited for the position of principal because of the comments she has made to me about white people and the malicious ways in which she thinks and speaks. She is not fit to be a leader of a school.
“As a school staff, we have lost confidence, creditability, trust, and most importantly we have lost hope in Ms. Lev as a principal at the High School for Law & Public Service.”
Frustrated staffers said Bacon reached out to Chancellor Meisha Porter in early July, begging her to intervene after Ramirez failed to resolve the conflict.
On June 24, most the school’s nearly 50 faculty members met to consider four possible reasons to vote no-confidence in Lev, including that she had 1) “flagrantly but unsuccessfully attempted to divide our school community by race,” and 2) “disrespected, slandered, and/or arbitrarily gone after respected educators, to the detriment of our entire school community.”
The ballot also gave as reasons that Lev “constantly violated our contract” and failed to collaborate with the staff on important school decisions.
“With almost the entire 40+ membership voting, including both tenured and untenured teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service professionals, 83.3% voted that they no longer have confidence in our principal to lead our school,” said an email to staffers.
Votes of no-confidence against DOE school leaders are unusual. The faculty of Forest Hills HS in Queens voted no confidence in then-principal Ben Sherman in 2019 after complaints, among others, that he let marijuana smoking by students run rampant. The DOE eventually removed Sherman from the school, but gave him a bureaucratic post at the same salary.
Lev was named interim acting principal of Law and Public Service, one of five schools in the George Washington Educational campus, in February 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 shutdown. She was awarded the post late last year after filling in for beloved founding principal, Nicholas Politis, who retired.
Previously, she served three years as an instructional specialist for the DOE’s special-ed data system. Before that, she was a special-ed assistant principal for three years, and a special-ed teacher for three years.
Lev, whose salary was $165,542 last year, is married to another DOE principal, Benjamin Lev.
She did not return messages. DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer would not comment on the faculty’s vote of no-confidence. “The superintendent and executive superintendent are working closely with the principal, students and community to address concerns,” he said.