David Stone
PS/IS 217, Main Street, Roosevelt Island, New York City
PS/IS 217, Main Street, Roosevelt Island, New York City
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Until I found that the Drudge Report had picked up on PS/IS 217's rat metropolis, heretofore known as Mandana Beckman City, I figured we'd just have to live with the Principal we had. Now coupled with her alarming letter to the community, Matt Drudge's using her rat colony to trash New York progressives tipped the scale. I hope... No, make that I'm requesting that we don't have to put up with her for another school year.

On a Twitter feed, responding to a tweet about PS/IS 217's rats...

"...should read Rats Scared as Dozens of students Run Wild at NYC schools," wrote one of Matt Drudge's Twitter followers, equating Roosevelt Island's kids with rodents.

"they are Obama scum"

"Leftist utopia"

Another Trump fan added that the rats were just looking for evidence of his collusion with Russia.

To this, I can only say, "Thanks, Mandana Beckman, for getting us the international attention we always craved. We always wanted to be recognized for our rats.

While we're anticipating the paradigm shifting opening of Cornell Tech, PS/IS 217 has brought us attention for rodents instead, making our community an example of urban failure in the heart of New York City.

How a Rat Metropolis Flourished

A stray rat or two were never unfamiliar sights along the promenade near PS/IS 217, but somewhere around the time the school, behind the lead of Principal Mandana Beckman, hacked down five healthy trees in what appears to be a bid to create free parking for school employees in January, the population in the school's yard alongside its student cafeteria exploded.

Trash in clear plastic bags was left out for the rats to feast on, day and night, on weekends as well as weekdays.

I saw that, but I missed the rats because, every time I walked by, I was a little more irritated than the day before that Public Safety continued to allow risky illegal parking in the emergency vehicle access lane between the school and Manhattan Park.

Illegal parking posed more of a danger to the school's kids than the trees cut down for questionable reasons ever did, and it was mind-boggling that our children's teachers were the culprits and that PSD kept looking the other way.

Finally, Frank Farance exposed the burgeoning hazards with a series of photographs that documented swarms of rats benefiting from the school's mindless garbage handling. The RI Day Nursery had blown the whistle after watching the public school's rodents partying, then migrating to other buildings.

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The Usual Suspects

True to form, defenders of the status quo - the PTA, RIRA's Common Council, the Main Street WIRE - rushed in to defend the school's nurturing of a rat metropolis.

It should be no surprise, but it was, that the exposure had zero effect on PS/IS 217. Garbage continued to be handled as if the school's neighbors were the insignificant rabble in some Third World slum.

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, a vast pile of trash was left out in the open for the enjoyment of rats and any other scavengers relaxing on Roosevelt Island for the holiday.

Our elected officials were either ineffective (Ben Kallos) or invisible (Gale A. Brewer), leaving it to RIOC's President/CEO Susan Rosenthal to exercise the responsibility we'd expected from those we actually elected based on their promises to look after our welfare.

The thing is, RIOC, a State agency, has no authority over the school because it's on City property. But leadership doesn't recognize artificial borders. Rosenthal stepped up.

Who's Responsible for the Rats?

Anyone but Mandana Beckman, if you read the fawning article by Editor Briana Warsing in the Main Street WIRE. Beckman blames "the system" for not picking up the garbage, citing no evidence; Manhattan Park as the true home of the rat colony; and the Island as a whole as rampant with rats.

Beckman never takes responsibility for the food waste her staff continued to leave out for the rodents nor does she offer an apology to parents or anyone else, and the local print journal, which has undisclosed conflicts of interest galore with the school, gave her enough ink to make her heart swell with joy.

Oh, and she wasn't responsible for those illegally parked cars either. Mayor de Blasio, Beckman said, made her do it.

PS/IS 217 Forced to Action

The DOE's leisurely pace with half-hearted efforts to eliminate the rats, which were now observed expanding to other properties as well as onto the school's playground, brought additional exposure in the Roosevelt islander blog that quickly led to media coverage outside Roosevelt Island and two part reporting on CBS 2 and WPIX 11.

Suddenly, the school recognized the "severe crisis" the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had already noted. A work crew showed up with rakes and a bulldozer to plow under the colony and begin filling the space in with gravel and emergency exit sidewalks.

The gravel, if suspicious residents are right, will soon become additional free parking for the school, filling up the space where healthy trees once shaded the community.

Salt in Roosevelt Island's Wounds

As if committed to damaging Roosevelt island institutions wherever she found them, before the dust settled over the demolished rat metropolis, Principal Beckman let it be known that she will not agree to the Beacon after school program being handled by local groups.

None were to her liking, for undisclosed reasons.

The Roosevelt Island Youth Program, which oversaw Beacon since its inception, got short shrift from Beckman. Their application got less consideration than the rats, according to reports. Island Kids, too, a much admired group that's helped children and parents here for more than two decades, was not up to Beckman's standards, no reason given.

Beckman plans to bring in as many as three outside programs to manage Beacon at PS/IS 217, starting in the fall.

The Capper

Fueling the Drudge Report with fresh material for trashing New York City was the crown jewel of disgracing Roosevelt Island, but what most inspired me to ask Mandana Beckman to get lost was her letter to the community, addressing the rat issue, last week.

By "community," I should note that Beckman's community is limited to parents and the Main Street WIRE, where they compliantly published it as a Letter to the Editor. Her self-excusing note was not shared with The Daily or the Roosevelt Islander blog.

The message was a triumph in bureaucratic butt-covering.

Again, Beckman accepts not a smidgeon of responsibility for the hazards created or the embarrassing exposure for our community. There's an almost Trump-like commitment to never apologizing, although even the President doesn't exercise this level of media censorship.

But she does give herself a pat on the back:

"We took the steps we could to ensure that students’ privacy was protected while the media
was at our school — including keeping students inside while the camera crews were in the vicinity with cameras focused on our school yard."

For Beckman, it appears that media coverage was more dangerous for the children in her care than the burgeoning rat colony her staff was allowed to nurture for months or all the free, but illegal parking that would have blocked fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from rushing to the school's aid in a crisis.

Conclusion

Mandana Beckman is no fool. Her Letter to the Editor is well-written and calibrated artfully to evade responsibility. This makes the behavior more dangerous.

Haven't we all made mistakes? I've made so many I finally stopped counting, but I've always been able to admit them and move on. Haven't you?

This kind of adult, professional responsibility-taking is not something PS/IS 217's Principal seems to have in her toolkit. Even after letting her school build serious risks to students and the rest of the community, she has never made even a lighthearted "Oops!"

No apologies. No requests for forgiveness. According to published reports, Beckman literally accepts not a drop of responsibility. That's not a quality we want in a professional who's supposed to be a pillar in our community.

Our best hope for the future is that the universe outside Roosevelt Island remembers residents who stood up and took flack for confronting PS/IS 217's abuses, not the intransigent bureaucrats who allowed and nurtured it.

To facilitate that, we hope Mandana Beckman will answer our request by finding work elsewhere in the coming school year.