When IS 72 opened its doors in 1975, veteran teacher Cliff Hagen said, “the philosophy was open education,” symbolized by one wing of the school using retractable partitions rather than doors to separate classrooms.
But in recent years, open classrooms became untenable for security reasons. Then, as in-person classes resumed amid the pandemic, teachers were shuttling between classrooms, but they weren’t given the keys for the doors. Compounding the problem, some classrooms didn’t have working door locks and others were missing doorknobs.
Enter Jason Bentsen, who in September 2021 became the chapter leader at the school in the Heartland Village section of Staten Island because, after 12 years there, most recently as an art teacher, “you start to realize there’s more than just the children who need your help.”
He visited every classroom to speak with members and logged the 30 classrooms that could not be locked. Then, he raised the issue at his consultation committee meeting with his principal and at the school’s safety committee meeting that fall. He was told it would take months to resolve the issue since the replacement of defective doors had to go through a bidding process.
Not satisfied with that answer, Bentsen arranged another meeting with the IS 72 principal, this time accompanied by Stuart Kaplan, the union’s Staten Island safety and health representative. That discussion, Bentsen said, “was the catalyst in getting the ball rolling.”
Bentsen and Kaplan laid out the problems posed by doors that didn’t lock or had no knobs: students could enter empty classrooms and supplies would go missing, and it was operationally impossible to place the school under lockdown in emergencies.
Kaplan also reached out to the Department of Education’s borough safety director and the deputy director of facilities for Staten Island. “We got it resolved within days,” he said.
While there are still several doors in need of replacement, the chapter is well on its way to securing every classroom.
Hagen, a special education teacher with more than 20 years at the school, praised the new chapter leader’s persistence. “He persevered,” Hagen said. “To work collaboratively through months of that process, you need someone who keeps everyone moving forward, and that’s what Jason did.”