Staff members express 'lack of confidence' in the principal following the race controversy.
The faculty of a Washington Heights high school is revolting against their principal, alleging in a vote of no confidence that she has "flagrantly but unsuccessfully attempted to divide our school along racial lines."
Paula Lev, principal of the High School for Law and Public Service, is currently being investigated by the city Department of Education for allegedly telling a faculty member that she "was going to get rid of all these white teachers who aren't doing anything for our community's children," according to a complaint.
According to the complaint filed last week with the DOE's Office of Equal Opportunity, Lev, a Dominican, also asked the faculty member to "conspire with her" in an attempt to oust a white colleague.
“She unquestionably has a bias against white people,” according to the complaint obtained by The Post.
On the final day of school, Lev informed the faculty member that he had been "placed in excess" — that is, he was no longer required at the school — and should seek employment elsewhere in the DOE.
“He blew the whistle on her and was arrested a week later,” a colleague explained. It is unknown whether Lev was aware of the complaint.
The complaint came amid simmering unrest at the school, which staff members attributed to Lev's alleged manipulation of current concepts of equity and anti-racism, which the DOE promotes and teachers overwhelmingly support.
Dissatisfaction with Lev, 39, boiled over in February, when teacher Nick Bacon, the union chapter leader, filed a routine grievance about a scheduling issue that could have affected the majority of the faculty, according to staffers.
Lev questioned Bacon's motivations in front of a half-dozen other staffers.
“I wasn't sure what was bothering you about me; perhaps it's because I'm a woman of color and you're a white man?' According to a March 2 letter to District 6 Superintendent Manny Ramirez signed by the majority of the school's tenured faculty, Lev asked Bacon.
Staff members were outraged by Lev's apparent accusation of racism against Bacon, who was raising their labor concerns. The school's faculty is diverse — approximately half white, with some Jewish and Greek members. The remainder is made up of a mixture of black, Hispanic, and Asian people.
Bacon's grievance was resolved in the union's favor. Ramirez agreed in a meeting that what she said was "inappropriate," but added that the remark expressed Lev's feelings and urged Bacon to work with her, staffers said.
Lev later apologized to Bacon for making the remark openly during a staff conference — but not for the content of her remark, saying it reflected her true feelings and should have been expressed to him alone, according to people familiar with the discussion.
Simultaneously, they said, Lev recommended that Bacon read Robin DiAngelo's 2018 book "White Fragility: Why It's So Difficult for White People to Talk About Racism," which argues that whites become defensive when confronted with questions about racial inequality.
She suggested Bacon join her and other staff members in studying the book and engaging in "courageous conversations," a term coined by a DOE consultant hired to conduct implicit-bias workshops for employees.
Four months after the conflict with Bacon, another faculty member filed a discrimination complaint alleging that Lev pressed him to assist her in orchestrating the ouster of a colleague, an unidentified white female staff member.
According to the complaint, Lev desired that the faculty member obtain a state education certification in order to avoid sharing a title with the targeted colleague, thereby allowing Lev to "excess" the more senior staffer.
“Ms. Lev has asked me on several occasions to conspire with her in order to get rid of my colleague,” the faculty member alleges in the OEO filing.
“She also stated in Spanish to me that she was 'going to get rid of all these white teachers who are doing nothing for our community's children,'" the complaint states.
It concludes, "I believe Ms. Lev is unfit for the position of principal as a result of the comments she has made to me about white people and the malicious way she thinks and speaks." She is unfit to lead a school. "As a school staff, we have lost confidence, credibility, trust, and most importantly, hope in Ms. Lev as the principal of the High School for Law and Public Service."
Staffers reported that Bacon contacted Chancellor Meisha Porter in early July, pleading with her to intervene after Ramirez was unable to resolve the conflict.
On June 24, the majority of the school's nearly 50 faculty members convened 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 pursued respected educators, to the detriment of our entire school community."
Additionally, the ballot stated that Lev "constantly violated our contract" and failed to consult with staff on critical school decisions.
“With nearly the entire 40+ membership voting, including tenured and non-tenured teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service professionals, 83.3 percent indicated they no longer have confidence in our principal to lead our school,” an email to staff stated.
No-confidence votes against DOE school leaders are uncommon. The faculty at Forest Hills High School in Queens voted no confidence in then-principal Ben Sherman in 2019 following complaints that he allowed student marijuana use to run rampant. Sherman was eventually dismissed from the school, but the DOE reassigned him to a bureaucratic position at the same salary.
Lev was appointed interim acting principal of Law and Public Service, one of five schools on the George Washington Educational campus, in February 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 closure. She was appointed late last year after filling in for the retiring beloved founding principal, Nicholas Politis.
She previously worked as an instructional specialist for the DOE's special education data system for three years. Prior to that, she spent three years as a special-ed assistant principal and three years as a special-ed teacher.
Lev, who earned $165,542 last year, is married to Benjamin Lev, another DOE principal.
She did not respond to messages sent to her. Nathaniel Styer, a DOE spokesman, declined to comment on the faculty's vote of no confidence. “The superintendent and executive superintendent are collaborating with the principal, students, and community to address concerns,” he explained.