I got two gem emails this morning – one that made me wonder why I blog and the other that made me realize why I blog. The first had the subject line “Hipster” and when I opened it it said in bold “I HATE YOU.” (The fact that I am even protecting the identity of this loser is beyond me.)

Then the sky opened and an anonymous email came from an address named “Be Kind To Children” with the subject line “Mean Monster Principal at PS 31 Brooklyn Is Anti-Halloween” because she is:

scheduling children’s School Picture Day on October 31 year after year. At PS 31 Samuel F. Dupont at 75 Meserole Ave in Greenpoint, Brooklyn the hard-working, well-deserving children have NO RECESS, ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE THEIR 3RD FLOOR GYM (because PS 31 Brooklyn Principal Scarlato believes that “Gym destroys education”), and ARE FORCED TO HAVE THEIR SCHOOL PICTURE DAY ON HALLOWEEN EVERY YEAR. Booooooo, PS 31 Brooklyn Principal!

“Hard-working, well-deserving”? Is this a labor union?

In a follow-up this parent requested to remain anonymous for the safety of her child at PS31 “because the school’s administration has been known to retaliate against parents who voice their opinions.”


I called Principle Scarlato hoping she would sound like Minnie Castevet from Rosemary’s baby, because that is what responsible bloggers do, heroically confront the accused witch in parent school disputes. Scarlato was pretty nice on the phone and responded to each issue.

The truth is that Picture Day has been on Halloween since before Scarlato was Principle over thirteen years ago. She said that when she asked about it then she was told “not all children can afford costumes,” and she continued the practice. And because Picture Day is on Halloween no kids dress in costumes, but wear “beautiful dresses and bow ties” and feel “beautiful and handsome,” she said. Don’t mini suits and tiaras cost money too?

In defense she said, “I’m not anti-Halloween” and that the school hosted a Halloween Potluck last week and encouraged kids to dress up and today students enjoy Halloween treats and activities all day.

But Halloween isn’t about treats and activities – it’s about dressing up like super heroes and punk rockers and today (at this very moment) no child is wearing a costumes at PS31 because it’s Picture Day. That’s a bummer. Will they survive?

How about boycotting Picture Day altogether? Have your kid pose under a white sheet or in camouflage make-up. Don’t parents have enough photos of their kids anyway?

The angry anonymous parent elaborated:

Students are forced to have GYM (only 1-2 times per week with their classroom teacher, not a PE teacher) in the basement, which does not have the proper flooring, padding, etc. required and has dangerous exposed pillars, despite having a beautiful GYM on the 3rd Floor, because the Principal, Mary Scarlato, thinks that “GYM destroys education” (she actually said that, verbatim, at the first PS 31 PTA Meeting on Friday, Sept 27, 2013, start time: 8:45am).

Oh the pillars and the padding. I remember gym class at PS49 in the cafeteria with the sweet smell of tater tots wafting from the kitchen. And those relay race scooters – I bet those are banned nowadays for safety concerns.

It’s true that gym class at PS 31 is only held 1-2 times per week and they DO NOT use the “beautiful” 3rd floor gym, which is directly over the library because it needs sound proofing. Scarlato said she has been working for 5 years with school facilities to get it done. I bet it’s pretty loud and disruptive. Ever walk by a school yard at recess? Kids are insane and scream like wild animals. And I believe that school facilities are dragging their feet on this one.

Scarlato added that health and wellness are very important and the students are very active daily within their classrooms and participate in a program called “Mighty Milers” in which they clock their mileage walking inside the building daily.

The key here is “in the building” – Scarlato confirmed there is NO RECESS. The kids stay inside the school the entire day despite a small playground with a jungle gym. This struck me as cruel and unusual. Don’t kids need sunlight and fresh air?

Scarlato is worried they will “get hurt.” At PS31 “safety is a priority” and she doesn’t have the support staff to supervise over 30 kids running around like lunatics. She cited an incident of a student’s tooth going through his lip.”Even a scraped knee,” she said, “Everyday someone gets hurt.”

What do you think? Is Principle Scarlato an evil witch?

Join the Conversation


        1. Oh, but more importantly, said emailer is an idiot (ballsy—read, stupid—for sending you that email from his personal email, seriously).

          And the principal sounds suspect. Not having recess to “protect” children just makes no sense.

  1. As a very former student and parent of the school, I can attest that picture day wasn’t always on Halloween, but as Mrs. Scarlato said it started before her.
    They have P.T.A. meetings every month that only a handful of parents show up to, to voice their opinions. To me, This sounds like a yuppie/hipster parent looking to complain.

    As for the gym, we used the basement also back in the day , played games and exercises with the regular class teacher and we all grew up fine. I would be more upset, that they took usable and valuable class room space for a gym on the 3rd fl. I am personally not a fan of the going outside, but they do have that play yard on Leonard, and then another one used for teacher parking on Guernsey. Seems to me that the other yard should have been given up for recreational use as well and not so the teachers could have parking, despite the fact that parking is horrible over there…

  2. I never understood this. I used to pick up children from this school and they always would beg to play at the park. Even parents did not like that their kids could not run around. Kids need to let their energy out. So sad, this school needs to get it together with that

  3. I went to P.S. 31 over 35 years ago and we always had gym or P.E in the basement and we were in the building the WHOLE day. We didn’t get to wear costumes to school, we survived and we were just fine. On that note my 8 year old wasn’t allowed to wear a costume to school today at P.S 34. Should I contact a therapist??? I guess when your kids go to some of the best schools in the city, you really have to work hard to come up with things to complain about.

    1. I totally agree with Heidi. I went to PS 31 before Greenpoint became “Greenpoint”. I graduated in 1982 (from the 6th grade) and Mr. Levitt was my principal. We had gym in the basement, art once a week, and kids were still let out early on Wednesday for religious instruction (GASP). PS 31 was serious about education back then and I am very happy to hear that it still has maintained its commitment to education, even in the face of mounting pressure from PARENTS who have over the years tried to blend education with recreation. I have a crazy idea: if the children want to wear their costumes for Halloween, parents can be there at 3:00 pm sharp (with the costume in hand) and take the youngsters Trick-or-Treating AFTERSCHOOL.

  4. This is something that’s been going on for over 13 years and it’s not the kids who care, it’s the PARENTS. The children who come out of that school at 3:00 are happy well adjusted children. If they were sooo miserable it would show on their faces. This is not Romper Room. This is a school. A school that works very hard to make sure these children are ready for the challenges facing them in middle school.
    To imply that Ms Scarlato is “mean” just goes to show how little this parent knows her. Her top priority has and always will be those children. She goes out of her way to make sure that as these children have balance in their school day. There are art classes, music, cooking classes,chess and many other activities for the children to enjoy. She is always looking for new ways to enrich these children’s lives.
    But if you don’t believe that, there is a very easy thing for these parents to do……LEAVE.
    Problem solved

    1. In 13 years the Principal has not felt an obligation to rethink this practice? What other practices does she merely repeat for such an alarming length of time without any input, thought or evaluation? From this we can only conclude that this Principal is NO PROGRESSIVE, to put it kindly. How would you know that the kids don’t care? If this is how you treat and talk about Parents, you want us to believe that you listen to their children? A child coming out of school happy at 3:00 simply means that they are thrilled to finally be outside. It is also called “naivete”. Their parents know better. But, again, you don’t listen to them. You tell Parents this is not “Romper Room”?! Really?! Let’s see, “Romper Room” was a children’s television series (for preschoolers ages five and under) that ran from 1953 to 1994. Yes, you are right. PS 31 is not “Romper Room”. PS 31 is an educational institution for grades PK to 5, which is expected to promote a positive school culture and climate that provides students with a supportive environment in which to grow socially and academically. What is obvious from your statement are the unscrupulous “lows” that you and this Principal will stoop to in order to intimidate and try to rid the school of any child and their Parent who disagrees with any of its practices, seemingly for your sole benefit. But, you stated that the “top priority” was “children”. You don’t see a conflict of interest here? Not to mention, an unethical practice of subjecting Parents to such derision and torment. This obviously negatively affects their children. Are you not a Parent? Would you tolerate such treatment? Would you relinquish your parental and basic human rights to your child’s Principal? Is this really about costumes on Halloween? Clearly, this is only a small part of a much bigger problem and a much more serious issue. Thanks for making that glaringly obvious.

  5. Yes, PrinciPAL Mary Scarlato is a witch. As a former employee of hers I can vouch for how terrible she is. It has been going on 12 years (not five) that she claims the gym just needs to be sound-proofed. If she had wanted it done, it would have been done by now. Children are forced to sit in silence at lunch and she absolutely plays favorites with students, parents and teachers alike. She definitely knows how to make someone’s life miserable, that’s for sure. I respect the parent for writing to you and it was smart to remain anonymous. All parents should pull their kids immediately or just work to get her out of there!

  6. I too have children in ps31 and I must say that although ps31 has the appearance of a well functioning school, it is anything but. As for the principal saying that kids get hurt every day, she is right. They get hurt in the makeshift gym that they have in the basement. Children have had knees scraped and teeth knocked out. Although they have Mighty Milers, they are running circles in that running in that dingy dungeon. In school the children are encouraged not to talk and are rewarded with the promise of ice cream. I guess they can run to the ice cream. And as for picture day on Holloween, I agree with the parent, Boooooo to the principal. She gets to celebrate her holiday all year round and won’t give the kids one day. I can only say that the wicked witch of the west only has one thing up on Principal Scarlato, her monkeys fly.

  7. This is ridiculous. It’s amazing how this started out being about dress up on Halloween and now it’s going on to other issues. Everyone has a choice. If you don’t like a school, then find another that meets your needs. There are always going to be people who don’t like something about a school, area, person, etc. Can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    P.S. 31, because of it’s principal Ms. Scarlato (as well as the previous principal, Mrs. Synan) has done an amazing job over the years in maintaining the high educational standards required by the DOE, even with a lack of funding. A few years ago it received “Blue Ribbon” recognition (an honor) because of those standards and accomplishments. I always thought school was about education. People forget that the schools are judged on the State tests these children take. The school is responsible to give your child the education to learn and to “pass” the mandatory State tests. Every school is judged on that success and failure. Children need to learn.

    WAKE UP PEOPLE. Talking about retaliation towards children and parents. This is just unnecessary vicious talk.

    1. It is ridiculous to blindly follow an authoritarian Principal and subject parents and children to mistreatment that you wouldn’t accept for yourself or for your own child. Your remarks are deceptively minimizing the intolerance and inequities that have become commonplace at P.S. 31. All schools must have ethical, fair practices. This is not a school choice.

      Ms. Scarlato has redefined “education” and “learning” by having teachers focus too much on giving students practice ELA and Math tests. Children need to learn, not only learn to take tests. Even the State Education Commissioner John King recognizes that “rote test preparation…crowds out quality instruction”. (Read the WSJ article: http://online.wsj.com/article/AP40db7dc69c2f43028080fc49f653a25c.html).

      No one has forgotten the extreme degree to which P.S. 31 focuses on State test preparation. Does a hefty cash bonus for the Principal and Assistant Principal for high test scores play a part? (Read the gothamschools.org article: http://gothamschools.org/2012/02/15/more-than-5-million-in-bonuses-given-to-leaders-at-275-schools/ . Scroll down to the bottom and see that P.S. 031 Samuel F. Dupont is the 12th school on the list.)

      Since you mention the standards required by the DOE, let’s draw attention to their rules and regulations, like the Chancellor’s Regulations A-412 Verbal Abuse, A-655 School Leadership Teams, and A-660 Parent Associations and the Schools, just to name a few. Adhering to these rules and regulations is NOT OPTIONAL. When you focus solely on your “success” based on State test scores and you dispose of all other standards, rules and regulations it represents a failure.

      Wake up, indeed. A lot of effort is made by P.S. 31 school administrators to pull the wool over the eyes of parents. DOE OFFICIALS – parents urge you to take a closer look and see what is really going on at P.S. 31.

  8. i really wish people were talking about slightly more important issues going on at PS31 other than picture day being scheduled on halloween. i was more concerned about other things, like the fact that during the entire time my kid went to that school there were only 2 evening PTA meetings. or the fact that parent involvement is sporadic at best. or the fact that the parent coordinator was more an advocate for the administration than the parents. or that starting in 3rd grade the kids are drilled for tests relentlessly. then there was one of the most important issues for me, the total lack of interaction with the community. PS31 doesn’t get community involvement when it comes to fundraising for the school or raising funds for community issues, which i think might be one of the reasons enrollment has dropped recently. while i’m glad that complaining about kids not getting to wear costumes has opened up a dialogue, i’m hoping deeper issues will be addressed at the school.

    i’d also like to point out that, while we all have the right to say what we want, we might want set a better example for our kids. we don’t allow them to resort to name-calling, so maybe we shouldn’t either.

    1. Yes, the P.S. 31 Parent Coordinator pushes the Principal’s personal agenda and DOES NOT advocate for parents. Last year the Parent Coordinator was NOT INVOLVED and DID NOT ATTEND any of the PTA fundraisers. She was NOT at P.S. 31 PTA’s Picture Day, NOT at the Holiday Shop, NOT at the Book Fair, NOT at the Spring Festival, NOT at the Bake Sale for Hurricane Sandy. Parents worked very hard to raise money for the art classes, for the 5th grade trip and graduation, for a Holiday Show for all students, for the Spring Festival, for a Teacher and Staff Lunch, even for the Chess Team Nationals Trip – all without the Parent Coordinator’s support or help. What about PARENT WORKSHOPS? These, too, have been sporadic, at best. This year there have been NONE. What about Title I? Last year was the first time in all my years at P.S. 31 that I even heard about Title I. This year, NOTHING, again. Oh, and have you seen a single PTA Budget or Financial Report, or a School Report on their fundraisers? Have you ever received PTA Meeting Minutes? These are supposed to be distributed to ALL PARENTS!

  9. My son attended PS 31 k-5. It would be interesting to know how long the other parents posting had children in the school.

    My family’s experience with PS 31 was amazing. I have never met a group of teachers and a principal who truly love and care for children. The school teaches respect, empathy, and generousity, Ms. S. was always available to both myself and my son. She helped us out of numerous jams.

    Last year, a number of fifth graders were placed in the “wrong” schools by the DOE. I know that Ms. S worked tirelessly to get each child in the school that they desired and would fit them best. Despite the fact that the school has numerous children from every race and culture, there is no bullying or violence at all. I was a teacher for ten years, and just to find a school that is not racially segregated in a big difference and success.

    I believe the primary issue is not PS 31 – it’s the needs of an individual family. Some families want to be heavily involved in the PTS, some families want a lot of physical activity or an artsy or liberal education. PS31 IS a very strict, test-based school. But I did not want to be in the PTA and I forgo recess and other things. What my primary goal was to send my son to a place 6 hours a day where he would feel loved and safe and learn empathy, manners, and citzenship. And yes RULES. My son comes from a family a liberal writers. He is very wild and hard for us to control, so I was happy to put him in a strict school.

    Instead of freaking out and blaming the school, just examine your families needs…is the need to dress up at school and have a big party on Halloween high on your list? Perhaps so…is the need to have recess or proper gm four days a week high on your list? OK. The issue and this is REALLY an issue with NYC parents is that they want the world to cater to them…but the world doesn’t and shouldn’t. There is every kind of school available to the smart NYC parent.. so find the one with the things that most meet your needs.

  10. Before I moved from Greenpoint, my son (who is now 23) attended P.S. 31 Pre-K. WOW. What a wonderful program. He did more in Pre-K (learned more things, and went on more school trips (the Planetarium, the Zoo, etc) and his Pre-K Teacher, Miss Manzi was the best. (I still remember her name, she was WONDERFUL!!) And you know what else? My own mother, who was born in 1916 and who is now gone, went to P.S. 31 all those years ago, so the school/Bklyn district MUST be doing something right, no?

  11. I went to P.S. 31 when Mrs. Synan was the principal and at no point did we have recess. We had gym twice a week in the basement and we all survived. We were never allowed to dress up on Halloween, the same went for JHS and HS, its not that big of a deal. You still get your candy at the end of the night.

  12. Not all children can afford Halloween costumes? The cost of a Picture Day Photo Package plus a Picture Day Outfit is MUCH MORE $ than a Halloween costume! That math doesn’t add up! Definitely suspect!

  13. Thank you Jen for shining a light on the narrow-mindedness we parents face when dealing with the NYC public schools. Everyone knows it’s great for kids to get outside and play daily, and for this principal to pretend she doesn’t allow recess because some kid might get hurt is bogus. I respect this community but I am over the old school thinking that often flies in the face of common sense. NYC public schools administration, come out of your dark caves and realize us parents (and our kids) are living in the modern world. Read some research and start living in the present, and don’t keep doing things the way they’ve “always been done”.

  14. And this is what PRINCIPAL SCARLATO EXCELS at… rallying teachers and staff against parents, manipulating parents against parents… DIVIDING THE SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY.

  15. I have my two girls at PS31 and have to say my oldest was losing her sleep over all the math tests. I agree with Minerva, kids need to learn not be put under so much pressure to satisfy the principal personal agenda.
    We, as parents, trust the education system to give our kids a variety of experience and knowledge, it goes from math to art, gym, music and so on. Saying “not all children can afford costumes” is completely ridiculous, my daughters will wear anything just to feel part of the Halloween celebration, but “beautiful dresses and bow ties” make them feel excluded. I want my girls to learn social skills and appreciate others, not feel different.
    All this is very confusing to me, talking to other mothers, I realized, there is no unity between teachers, principal and parents but lots of grey areas giving the principal the opportunity to do whatever SHE wants. Witch!

  16. I’m with Ava. PS31 does have issues that are much more worth questioning than a halloween costume.

    She is also VERY RIGHT about name calling. Is that really something we want to teach our kids,

    After reading the posts, my atittude remains this….Ps31 is deeply flawed in some ways. It is great and wonderful in other ways. But EVERY school is. It was aweful for my son not to have recess. But I decided that was LESS aweful than other things he may have gotten at another school: Bullying or a long-commute or a high teacher turn-over or going to school where everyone was one color or dealing with children of competitive high maintainence parents and children.

    I think avdocacy is great. But we can’t always change the world to meet our needs. The thing with NYC is there are 100s, literally, 100s of educational options. If testing is too much, there are school that don’t even have tests and there are also private school – like Montessori or the Free School that have funding. So, instead of hating on the school, why not pick the one best for your kid?

  17. My kids go to this school and I would consider myelf a progressive. I do think the school is ‘old school’ with some of their attitudes surrounding play and gym class but it’s a trade-off. I am willing to accept this because this school is excellent when it comes to learning and the teachers. They instill, discipline, respect and making sure all kids succeed to the best of their potential. From my experience, they are not ‘babysitting’ nor do they waste time. My kids are both excelling and I make sure they get time at the park everyday after school. They do soccer on the weekends, other extracurricular activities that can’t be met in school. Overall, I consider myself very lucky to have a school as PS 31 in my neighborhood.

  18. well I highly doubt I would receive a response to my comment but here it goes. I went to this school in 1992 and yeah we had gym class in the basement even then, so that is not a new thing. In the schools defense they always had a Halloween sale in the library of the school. I don’t know if they do that still, but they did when I was a kid as well as the annual book sale which I looked forward to every year. I attended this school when was there the principal was Ms. Mrs. Synan. However she was no saint. She allowed teachers, in particular Mr Mellaniff and Ms Paoli ( once again forgive my spelling of there names) who were my teachers at the time, to physically and verbally assaulted there students who did not comprehend the class work at the pace they saw fit. I was put in a kindergarten class for a day, by the principals permission because I did not understand a math problem. Isn’t it a teachers job to help a student understand things like that.

    1. I also attended this school, always in the 1 class ( I don’t agree that the school system should have did away with that) from 1991-1998 . They were very rigid and strict but also very caring, much like I believe a good parent should be. In addition to traditional education and test taking practices, we were taught to respect authority, to have patience and discipline, and most importantly take responsibility for our own actions. Maybe the punishments were harsh at times but I did learn so to me the ends justified the means. They laid a solid foundation for my adult life which I like to believe has been mildly successful this far. So we weren’t allowed outside to run like a pack of wild animals, we were held to a higher standard and that to me was a lot more rewarding. Kids can always run wild and free in McCarren Park. I don’t remember picture day being on Halloween, but I also don’t remember ever being able to wear my costume to school anyway so what does it really matter what day picture day falls on? I’m sure they still do some kind of craft, or fair, or sale for EVERY holiday just as they always have. As much as I would like to jump on the “Monster Principal, Military School” bandwagon, I just don’t see it. What I do see is consistency in their culture and in their test scores. The numbers don’t lie and PS31 continues to be a source of pride. I’m glad that not much has changed.

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