PS 24 parents call for principal's ouster

The Riverdale Press, New York/March 26, 2009

Principal Philip Scharper confronted by reporters outside PS 24 on Thursday afternoon after parents at the primary school called for his resignation.

Parent leaders at PS 24 are calling for Principal Philip Scharper to be removed from his position or resign. This demand follows weeks of rumors that he crossed the line between church and state with Buddhist prayer meetings in his office and attempts to recruit school staff for a "prayer circle."

Mr. Scharper has refused to comment on the allegations despite numerous opportunities, and the parents say that lack of communication is the underlying problem with his leadership.

Tracy Shelton, parent association co-president, Unjoo Trebach, PA vice president, and two other members of the school executive board met with reporters at Ms. Shelton's home today.

PA members Joanne Jurcic, left, and Unjoo Trebach address the media from Tracy Shelton's dining area.

They said the principal's unwillingness to address the issue proves that he's unfit to lead.

They said he has refused to comm unicate with parents about the ongoing investigation by the Department of Education's Office of Equal Opportunity into the matter. In addition to being accused of proselytizing in the school building, Mr. Scharper is alleged to have a "hate list," which he and fellow Buddhists "chant over," as well as handing out prayer cards.

Not everyone at the school gives much credence to the accusations, including some people who work closely with the principal every day. They say they have never been offered a card nor have they been approached to join him for prayers.

"We only know what we read about in the papers," said Ms. Trebach, maintaining that she could not confirm or deny allegations of proselytizing or a hate list.

One of Mr. Scharper's fellow Buddhists is skeptical about the rumors surrounding PS 24's embattled principal.

"There are plenty of Buddhist compassion chants," said Bill Aiken, director of public affairs for the Buddhist organization to which Mr. Scharper belongs, Soka Gakkai International-USA. "There are no Buddhist hate chants that I'm aware of," he said, adding, "I think that allegation as a Buddhist strikes me as a bit suspect."

Ms. Shelton and Ms. Trebach have not polled the school's parents or parents' association members, but have the support of the other association leaders and believe they will have support of many at the school.

One staff member, who did not want to be named, said it was a small group of teachers and parents who wanted Mr. Scharper removed because the y are now unable to exert as much influence as under the previous administration.

Rumors that speak against Mr. Scharper are matched by others that say the allegations are part of a vendetta started by a disgruntled staffer at the school.

But dissatisfaction with Mr. Scharper's leadership style is nothing new at PS 24, according to a number of parents, teachers and staff members.

One supporting indicator is the Department of Education's Learning Environment Survey Report. The school community rated the school lower in every category (safety and respect, academic expectations, communication and engagement) the year Mr. Scharper took over the helm.

"It all comes down to his lack of competence as a leader," said Ms. Trebach.

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