Media Matters

Reality Check: PS/IS 217's Rats, Facts, Falsehoods and More

Updated 25 weeks ago David Stone
Illegal parking on Tuesday at PS/IS 217, crossing the line into the fire lane. Garbage that drew rats all weekend was moved to make space for the white car parked on the right.
Illegal parking on Tuesday at PS/IS 217, crossing the line into the fire lane. Garbage that drew rats all weekend was moved to make space for the white car parked on the right.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Once upon a time, Roosevelt Islanders counted on the Main Street WIRE for the facts, but this week's issue is as congested with bad information as a rush hour subway. It just begged for a reality check on all those "alternative facts."

There are two main areas peppered with false and misleading information. We can start with WIRE Editor Briana Warsing's front page story about PS/IS 217's well-fed rats. Mostly, Warsing gives school Principal Mandana Beckman carte blanche to make excuses and blame everyone else for the school's burgeoning rodent menagerie.

(Note: Warsing's children have attended Beckman's school, a fact she fails to disclose.)

About the Rats

1) Warsing's lede takes a swing at Frank Farance's "lengthy posts on the Roosevelt Island Parents' Network and local blogs accusing the school of being indifferent to a longstanding rodent problem."

Fact Check: Farance comments regularly on the Roosevelt Islander blog, the only local blog of which I'm aware and a very good, popular and thoughtful one, but without any additional reference, it isn't possible to know which comments Warsing is wagging her finger at. She does not use any direct quote, and her semi-snarky observation seems intended only to set up a second, also not supported by any direct quote, saying that "school officials insist (it) is not only unfair but completely inaccurate," which she never bothers to challenge during what seems a lengthy interview with Principal Beckman and Assistant Principal Jennifer Allen.

2) "Some residents have objected to the school's practice of leaving clear, plastic gags of food waste heaped on the ground for garbage pick up," Warsing writes. "But school officials insist this what they are required to do." Assistant Principal Allen says, "Anything we throw out has to be in a clear bag."

Fact Check: This is disingenuous. It ignores the core of resident complaints, i.e., garbage left out in the open for rodents at all hours, frequently overnight and on weekends. No one cares about the bags transparency, least of all the rats.

3) "The school also points out," Warsing writes, "that they are not the only enticement for the neighborhood rats. The garbage across the way, outside 2-4-8 River Road is also not enclosed in dumpsters or trash bins." Beckman goads her on: "It looks prettier, but it's still open garbage. A fence is not a deterrent for the rats, they come out all the time."

Fact Check: A conscientious editor with any interest in the truth would object, but not Warsing. The reason? River Road buildings, unlike PS/IS 217, are all serviced by AVAC chutes. Manhattan Park uses this area for recyclables, not food waste. It is not trying to steal the school's rodent carnival.

4) "In January, to make way for the necessary paving, the trees were removed, the stumps were later ground down. The next step, according to the school, is to pave the area to create the required emergency egress," Warsing echoes without any of the context of residents' complaints.

Fact Check: Beckman's original story, posted on a PTA thread, was that the trees would be replaced with others with less intrusive root systems. When did that plan change? After the healthy trees were cut down, the school made emergency exiting much more perilous with cars parked and stumps where they once stood. Was the real goal simply to hack down the trees to create more free parking as residents suspect? Warsing, of course, never asks.

5) Beckman is quoted by Warsing making a preposterous claim "that cutting down the trees exposed the rat nests that had been buried among the trees." Beckman continues, "That's where they were nesting, not to mention there are rats everywhere on the Island, not just here. There were holes in an around the roots [before], but the rats didn't come out."

Fact Check: In a statement almost breathtaking in its dishonesty and blame shifting, Beckman blames trees for the rats without a hint of the school's garbage being any part of it. Maybe the rats were breatharians just lovin' the easy life among those trees. Does the fact of rats elsewhere on the Island excuse PS/IS 217's establishing a buffet for them? Warsing does not ask.

6) Warsing helps Beckman blame the Department of Sanitation for not picking up the school's garbage and politics for not doing anything about it. Beckman says, "Our challenge is, who are we complaining to? Our council members don't have as much of a say in Queens, where our garbage is picked up from."

Fact Check: Forgetting the brutal grammar, the fact is that Ben Kallos has the same access to the Department of Sanitation here as he does anywhere else in the city. But Warsing helps out: "Beckman echoes the frustration of many Islanders before her. Many Island services come from Queens, but the accountability for those services, in the form of elected representatives, lies on the other side of the river." In fact, the DOS is a citywide agency, not a Queens operation. Did Warsing ask Kallos before accusing him of ineffectiveness? Wanna bet she didn't? 

 And All Those Cars Parked Illegally in the Fire Lane

7) "Principal Mandana Beckman acknowledges that people should not be parking in the lane," reports Warsing.

Fact Check: Beckman herself was one of those people. Whose example did she expect her subordinates to follow?

8) "According to Beckman, all DOE schools are contractually required to provide parking for City employees."

Fact Check: This isn't close to true. DOE schools are not required to provide parking for City employees. There is nothing like that. I'm tempted to say it's a lie, but it isn't a direct quote, and intrepid reporter Warsing, of course, never challenges the claim. So, maybe the WIRE got it wrong.

9) Says Beckman, "Our Mayor has given us all (Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, United Federation of Teachers and DC 37 who have valid automobile registration and driver's license) parking permits.

Fact Check: It's true that, reversing Bloomberg policies that limited permits because there was so much abuse (like parking in fire lanes), Mayor de Blasio agreed to expanded permits for tens of thousands of school employees. But what Beckman omits and Warsing never figures out is that those permits, widely regarded as an election year sweetener for the unions, did not include any additional parking spaces, as repeatedly emphasized by de Blasio and Education Commissioner Carmen Fariña. It was a slight of hand gimmick. Lucky permit holders get to park for free but only as long as spots are available. Same number of spots, just more competition for them.

10) "That's why you see more people parking on the side road," Beckman tells Warsing.

Fact Check: Side road? That's an emergency equipment access lane, a "fire lane," and permits do not give anyone a right to park there. That was never either Mayors' intention.

11) Beckman blames Island residents: "When we come to school on the weekends to work or to a school event, our lot is always full, the fire lane too." On weekdays, chimes in Assistant Principal Allen, "We have to park two to a spot because our spots are taken. And not by other DOE employees."

Fact Check: As a Manhattan Park resident who passes PS/IS almost every day and usually more than once, I have never seen the the lot full on a weekend. Repeat: never. As for weekdays, if outsiders are parking on school grounds, there's a solution. This morning, the school called PSD to report a suspicious stranger taking pictures of cars parked in the fire lane. If they can call PSD to report a very familiar and not even a little suspicious Frank Farance, they can certainly call to have illegal cars towed. There are no signs about parking being for school employees only, by the way.

As a final word, another thing Beckman, Allen and Warsing neglected to mention is that the teachers union contract tries to encourage mass transit, not free parking, by giving them all deeply discounted transit checks which allow them to commute far more cheaply than you and me.

Addendum

Late yesterday, May 30th, School Principal Mandana Beckman sent a letter to the community. It reads, in part:

"I also want to thank all of you for your concern, and also thank the members of the community who helped bring this issue to the attention of RIOC, our elected representatives and the relevant City and State agencies. In a city of our size, it is helpful to have so many individuals raise their voices so that 217's concerns can be heard and properly addressed."

She never took the least responsibility and give not a single person credit by name, but it was a start toward conciliation. We hope it's just the beginning.

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