STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A veteran Staten Island teacher who slipped an anti-President Trump question into her homework assignment to her sixth-grade class has been disciplined by school authorities for using “poor judgment” in the matter.
Adria Zawatsky, a sixth-grade English teacher at Paulo intermediate School (I.S. 75) in Huguenot since 2005, had a letter of reprimand placed in her personnel file, according to officials. The letter followed a sit-down with Paulo Principal Kenneth Zapata.
“We have clear standards and regulations in place to ensure school staff maintain neutrality with respect to their political beliefs while in school,” said Department of Education spokesman Michael Aciman.
Vincent Ungro, an Annadale father of four, and an unabashed Trump supporter, had complained to the Advance when his 11-year-old daughter, a sixth-grader at Paulo, came home with a vocabulary assignment containing sentences he believed were disparaging to the president and inappropriate for the classroom.
The vocabulary sheet drawn up by Zawatsky, gave students sentences and had them fill in the blanks, choosing from a list of words that would complete the sentence and make sense.
“President Trump speaks in a very superior and _________ manner insulting many people. He needs to be more __________ so that the American people respect and admire him,” Zawatsky wrote.
The sentence was supposed to be completed using the words “haughty” and “humble”.
A second question, that read “Barack Obama set a _________ when he became the first African American president,” was supposed to be completed with the word “precedent”.
Ungro had his daughter turn in the assignment, minus the three answers for the Trump and Obama sentences. Instead, Ungro circled the sentences and penciled a hand-written note to the teacher on the bottom of the sheet. “Please keep your political views to yourself and do not try to influence my daughter,” he wrote.
Zawatsky — who took 15 points off the assignment for the three missing Trump and Obama words — wrote back.
“Firstly, I do not believe I was expressing a political view at all on my vocabulary sheet. My reference to President Trump was about his personality traits rather than his ability as a president,” Zawatsky responded.
Still, Ungro said the reference to Trump, followed by Obama, was inappropriate, and he believed the teacher should have avoided the political reference altogether, or at the least, offered an apology when it was called to her attention.
“First, I don’t think that putting your personal feelings about politics into a sixth-grader’s homework is proper. There were at least a thousand sentences that she could have used besides disparaging our president,” Ungro told the Advance.
While Ungro, said he didn’t want to see Zawatsky fired or suspended, “she should have known better,” he said.
Zawatsky, who earns a six-figure salary, has been teaching since 1996.
Ungro said he’s glad he called the assignment to the attention of school officials, and believes he taught his daughter a valuable life-lesson through the experience.
“I taught my daughter a valuable lesson,” he said. “That she should stay strong with her beliefs even if it’s not the beliefs of her peers. That you don’t have to block traffic, wear silly costumes or destroy other people’s property to be heard.
Through patience, persistence and the power of the pen, you can accomplish many things.”