By Calvin Palmer
A teacher at a New York City middle school barricaded himself in a classroom this morning after claiming to have planted a bomb in the school.
Police, hostage negotiators and the bomb squad were called to New Millennium Business Academy Middle School or Middle School 328 after the teacher barricaded himself inside a computer lab and refused to leave.
Francisco Garabitos, 55, a union chapter chairman at the school, is believed to be angry about being reassigned because of a disciplinary proceeding.
The building, near East 165th Street, in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, also houses Junior High School 145, also known as the Arturo Toscanini School, and the Urban Science Academy.
Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department, said the building accommodates 1,200 students and it has been evacuated. The students are attending other schools for the day.
With the students and teachers safely outside, officers combed through the building and “found no bomb,” said police spokesman Paul J. Browne.
“He initially claimed he had planted a bomb, but that does not appear to be the case,” Browne added.
During talks with negotiators Garabitos admitted he had not planted a bomb but said that he was going on hunger strike over the way a disciplinary case against him had been handled and wants the school’s principal “ousted”.
It is believed Garabitos received a letter yesterday informing him that that he was being reassigned to a so-called “rubber room” — a term for classrooms where teachers removed from teaching duties are assigned — as discipline for imposing corporal punishment on a student.
Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said that Garabitos had called the union’s central offices on this morning and asked to speak with Randi Weingarten, the president of the union. After he was told she was in Washington, he asked to speak with Sterling Roberson, the head of school security for the union.
Weingarten has been in contact with police hostage negotiators from an airport in Washington and is ready to return to New York if necessary, Davis said. He said she was awaiting instructions from the police.
“We dont know what has happened exactly,” Davis said. “We know that he has a list of demands and is in contact with NYPD. Randi is making herself available in any way the police feel that she is needed.”
Garabitos eventually surrendered to authorities at 11:15 a.m.
Browne said that Garabitos was later taken to Lincoln Hospital for psychological evaluation.
“We anticipate he will be charged with obstruction of governmental administration and trespassing,” Browne said. “Additionally, he is being charged with reckless endangerment due to the fact his actions caused the emergency evacuation of hundreds of school children, which potentially out them at risk.”