Free speech, enterprise–or TERROR?

The cover of "White Rose Killer."
The cover of “White Rose Killer.”

Teachers at Newark’s Technology High School are expressing concern about what they say is the publication by a student of an e-book in which a frustrated and bullied high school student murders a teacher and two students. The book is entitled “White Rose Killer” and its listed author is Francis Ventura. Francis Ventura is the name of a junior registered at Technology.

In an e-mail, one teacher wrote that the identities of  both the student and the student’s teacher victim are known throughout the school. “The whole school is talking about this,” wrote one teacher. “Nothing is being done to the student who wrote the book.”

In the introduction to the book, the student explains:

“This book is true when it comes to the teacher, the bff, and the pet in regards to their personalities and their actions. The killing that was done in the book is not real, and will never happen. Nobody should do this to other people. It’s phycotic (sic), and just wrong. Even though a person may deserve it, it should not be done.”

The teacher targeted in the book has been identified as Cristina Dios, a foreign language teacher at Technology

The book has been published on the site “Blurb” and carries this brief description:

“It’s a thrill ride on a girl’s life who kills her three enemies. She uses her knife collection on those people, and kills them to make others, and herself happier.”

In the book’s introduction, the writer self-identifies as a student in the “Newark Public Schools system” and says she suffered from a “deep depression”  that she blames on a teacher.

One of the narrators in the book writes in reference to another student:

“She will be the first one to pay for what she did. I will torture her to the point where she can’t breathe. Before she’s killed, I will make her regret messing with me. After her death, my life will be much better.”

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the Blurb site was down, allegedly for “maintenance.” As of 9 pm, the site was still down, giving the lie to the idea it was down or routine maintenance. Whether Blurb’s blackout is due to the Newark student’s book is not clear.

This site hesitated before publishing the concerns of the teachers. Students have the right to express themselves and any student willing to write a novel should be encouraged. But our history is sharply punctuated by the consequences of the  failure to notice when a young person is troubled and needs help. I wasn’t going to be one in a long line of people who could have acted but failed.

I have violated no one’s confidentiality here. The book is posted, presumably by the author,  and available to anyone wishing to see it. The teacher is aware of its contents, according to her colleagues.

I am hopeful the student will be counseled by competent professionals–if they all haven’t been laid off by the state administration–and is found to be simply a young  woman with an overblown imagination and no malicious intentions or uncontrollable urges. I also am hopeful the student’s parents are aware of their chlid’s activities.

Finally, I  am hopeful the teacher is both protected and reassured that her safety–and those of all students and all teachers–are the school’s paramount concern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 comments

  1. Becca Field

    It is a good thing you did because we know, from a district that endangers the lives of students on a daily basis, there would be little proactive action for either the student or the teacher.

  2. Bill Wolfe

    Obviously, I would be destroyed if I knew about and didn’t act on something like this, i.e if the teacher were harmed by the student who wrote this book.

    But the internet ands blogs clearly are not the place for discussing this –
    nor is freedom of speech and artistic expression the proper lens to view this through, at least exclusively.
    Nor should it be driven by fear and school authorities.

    The student should be engaged privately and very sensitively by the school psychologist, and if they feel it necessary after that private conversation, the parents.

    All this stuff tends to get blown way out of proportionate in our climate of fear.

  3. Adrian Morquecho

    Bob, I don’t think we want to include the teacher’s name, or anyone’s name for that matter. As a junior in Technology High School, I myself know that Francis is in a pool of legal issues, and name-dropping like this isn’t the most prudent thing to do.

    Although I think the article in itself is great. It highlights a current issue that is present in our school.

    The student has, as of yet, not received any noticeable repercussions by the school and still shares morning classes with me, and the teacher has an entourage of people at her disposal to safeguard her well-being.

    • Adrian Morquecho

      As I mentioned before, I have not seen any “noticeable” repercussions. This does not preclude any “behind the scenes” consequences that might have been enforced by the school administration, the district, or the legal process.

      I hope this rectifies any previous confusions.

  4. Who else

    Bob, these types of situations are all too common in our day to day life within the school. Maybe not to the level of an e-book, but threats against teachers and other staff are a daily occurrence which, unfortunately, staff are often pressured into sweeping under the rug. Just on the basis of these situations alone, I’m shocked that there are so many who are willing to attack teachers in Newark, and elsewhere, as having easy jobs, with short hours and high pay. Who else but someone dedicated to children would put up with this on a regular basis? Don’t people realize that to get through to these kids teachers have to find a balance of not being put in a position of fearing the child (because then they have no chance of gaining their respect), while always trying to judge if this is the “for real” situation where the student might actually make good on their threat. This is a reality and, in my opinion, not too many people are up to this challenge. Sadly, as you said, we really don’t want to be the one to overlook or minimize a potentially catastrophic situation which might be developing. It would be great if those in charge “had our back”. Unfortunately, that is too often not the case. Again and again these angry children are returned to the school after a small slap on the wrist (a suspension which is really not a punishment at all). And the cycle begins again.

  5. newark teacher

    I am going back and forth with this. I read the article a few times already to truly digest it. We, as Newark teachers , are faced with these situations all too often. I am at the elementary level where a teacher got attacked by a nine year old. This child was not special needs but was on medication that he clearly was not on this particular day. He was sent how for two days. When he returned no meeting was had with administration, parent, and teacher. Again swept under the rug. We, as Newark teachers, have to really understand our students and where some of them come from and what they deal with in their home environment on a daily basis. Yes- this student says it will never happen. But unfortunately we are always asking, but what if? And for not even the psychologist to look at this child, or parents be notified is just ridiculous. It just doesn’t even sound right to any logical person. How about at the very least, remove the child from that teachers class roster? Why is that teacher forced to be in the same room everyday with this student. Just like the teacher at the elementary level with the child still in her room. Again– administration is dropping the ball!!!

  6. fareedah

    The school Social Worker should refer the student to the crisis unit at their local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and if the child is determined to be in need of hospitalization they can get the care that’s needed in addition there will be after care provided should the crisis team deem it necessary.

  7. Mrs. JP

    As a teacher familiar with the situation, it is clear to all that the student was out of line. No way should one ever threaten a teacher (or anyone for that matter), and be met without any repercussions. HOWEVER, it is important to ask how a student could garner so much hate in their heart to say such things about a teacher. Kids make up silly lies here and there yes, but they don’t write 100 page books about their disdain for another, especially a professional over nothing. PEOPLE MUST QUESTION THIS. While many students abuse their power, I think it is important to analyze this situation: Here is a teacher who has been rated “highly effective,” yet it’s clear she’s spending valuable class time talking about her love life (or lack thereof), and this could explain why the students book is litered with grammatical and spelling errors. Even a foreign language class can be used to teach basic principles of grammar and word usage. It’s called teaching across the curriculum. Also, if this student does indeed have a history with the student as the book suggests, why wasn’t this rectified long ago? As a “highly qualified” professional, the teacher should have noticed the students negative reaction towards her and seeked out the help of building counselors immediately. That’s what they are there for. This is Teaching 101: Knowing your students. As adults who care about them that is part of our job. People always say it is better to be safe than sorry, and simply reaching out to a student who was clearly having social issues could have potentially changed the entire dynamic of Ms. Dios & Ms. Ventura’s relationship. It’s clear that once again Newark Public Schools has dropped the ball. Instead of handing this enternally the moment the news came out, and getting this students help, they wait until it’s published publically. Even now, it doesn’t seem much will come of the situation, and while urban schools aren’t typically the brunt of in-school violence, we cannot take any chances. It is also my hope that moving forward Ms. Dio’s adjusts her attitude. From within the building it is my understanding that Francis wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Newark should have handled the situation better, but Ms. Dios should NOT be using valuable class time to discus her love life or need for a man. And in a failing district, I highly question Newark’s rationale for her “highly effective” rating.

    • Mrs. M

      Mrs. JP,
      Are you insinuating that the students and teacher victimized in this book are somehow at fault? As an educator, you must know that students lie. Additionally, unless you were physically in the classroom at the time (I am assuming you were not, as you must have been busy teaching your own class), you would not be privy to the actual discussions had in this particular teacher’s classroom. Do you also think the students targeted are at fault as well? How about the other teachers and students who were victims of school violence? Are they at fault, too?

      Victim blaming serves no purpose and, in my opinion, is both harmful and unprofessional. As in most cases, the truth will be known in the end. The fact of the matter is that several members of your school community were targeted and the administration is not doing anything about it. You should be concerned, if not for the safety of the teacher and the students involved, for your own safety, as you are now in the vicinity of a student who is making brazen threats faculty members and students. As noted by the contradictory nature of your statement (first you state that the teacher should be more involved and then less), whether the teacher was more or less personally involved with the student probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the matter. Additionally, the fact that the teacher was “highly effective” before the incident should be seen as a testament to her commitment to be a good teacher and she in no way should be penalized for striving to that.

      As educators, you should all be banding together to get the student that made the threats all of the help that she seems to desperately need. It saddens me that, despite our country’s experience with school violence amounting from lack of adequate response to individuals who show signs that they need some sort of intervention, schools see glaring red flags and still do nothing.

    • observer

      Mrs. JP – You’re kidding, right?

      First off, your post is loaded with grammatical and punctuation errors, but you blame the teacher who is targeted for murder by the student writer as being responsible for the student’s grammatical and writing errors. That is what you got out of this situation?

      You state that this “highly quaffed” teacher should have known, should have rectified the situation, should have … done what???? How is the teacher responsible for this student’s sick mind and murderous fantasies?

      You’re a teacher? I question your qualifications. Sounds like you have an agenda against the victims of this student’s murderous work of fiction. Rather, this student’s manifesto for murder?

  8. Michael Iovino

    Bob,
    I am both a teacher of 18 years at Technology High School, and current NTU Building Rep . I am a member of the NTU Executive Board, former member and co-Founder of NEW Caucus, former Occupy Newarker, Unionist throughout the state, rally-attendee, NPS-side-Thorner, and all sorts of other activities/activisms that put me squarely on the correct side of the attacks in this district. To that end, I read your articles, and Jazzman’s articles as well.

    Every school, every where…and that is an absolute…has students posting REAL pictures on their social media that include, but are not limited to, REAL VIOLENCE, REAL SEX, REAL DRUGS, etc. WorldStar HipHop, the most disgusting website on the planet has featured many videos shared and forwarded throughout social media, depicting these horrific acts, in Newark and elsewhere.

    To focus on this book, of imaginary acts, without focusing first and always on the REAL, paints a very limiting picture. I can say that this issue has been addressed…and it is being given the appropriate level of concern. As a building rep, I place the comfort and safety of my teachers quite high. Fortunately, so does our administration.

    HOWEVER, Bob, I am AMAZINGLY DISAPPOINTED that you chose to include this teacher’s name in your article. Simply stating that it is “public knowledge” because it is in the book does not diminish the recklessness of that act. If you spoke to the teacher and she granted you permission to include her name, that would be one thing, However, to simply ASSUME that she would feel comfortable having her name placed in such a widely read article is poor and perhaps lazy reporting in this instance. I hope she has not been bombarded with calls, emails, Facebook queries and such. I have received numerous questions about the incident, simply because of your post. If she has, she deserves your apology.

    LET ME BE CLEAR, WE MUST ALL BE VIGILANT IN THE CULTURE AND TIME THAT WE LIVE IN…There have been numerous, far too numerous, acts of violence perpetrated in our schools to NOT take the slightest hint of such serously. However, this article is far too GLEN BECK…”I’m just asking the questions…” for my taste.

    You have done much better work than this Bob. A setback that you will certainly recover from, and not uncommon for those of us that have been in the struggle this long.

    Bob Braun: I spent far too much time in both Columbine and Newtown, Ct. to forget I am a journalist and neither a censor nor a public relations representative for any group or individual. The names of both the student and the teacher are readily available and were known throughout the school before I wrote a word. They certainly would have been even more well known if the student had acted on her fantasies. If, indeed, this happens regularly then shame on us, shame on the schools, for tolerating it. Call me Glenn Beck if you wish–my readers know better, or should. While I support public education, its employees, and their unions, I am not part of their public relations apparatus, I do not accept ads from the organizations I cover, and I will continue to be as independent as I possibly can. I believe in these words of George Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

    • Michael Iovino

      I certainly never called you Glen Beck, I said this article was too Beckian…as it simply raised questions and was not fact-filled like most of the work you do. We are on the same side, and I suspect neither of us have thin skin, simply critiquing an article is not criticizing the writer. I agree with your Orwellian philosophy.

      • Red

        This is coming from the union rep who encouraged the teachers to attend the Teacher’s convention last year and then reported to school on that day (LMAO)! The same union rep who is the administrations’ eyes and ears at Technology. The same union rep who was a radical new caucus and then turned into an informer/stooge?
        -A bird of many colors!

  9. Jesry City High School Principal

    You can’t judge people if you don’t know them. This student was just feeling bullied by those individuals, and she spoke up. If I were her parent I would be very proud of her. That school is fortunate to have a student the is willing to fight for her rights.However, if I were the principal at that school, that teacher would have been fired a long time ago. Students have the right to express themselves in any way. You can’t judge her book by her cover, because when you read it deeply you will understand her message. I purchased her book, and I understood her message about equality, and bullying.

    • Seriously?

      Proud? You are kidding right? Are you up on current events at all? This is a freakishly similar pattern to what has been seen across the country which ends in the student bringing a weapon to school and harming other students and teachers. As a principal (if you even are one), you should be ashamed of yourself for condoning this behavior. Let me be clear: this is scary. Students lives are in danger. Teachers lives are in danger. Administrators lives are in danger. It’s not like this has never happened before in other schools across the country. Would you be willing to take that chance with your own students? Would you just sit back and do nothing? I hope, for the sake of the lives of the students and teachers in your school, that if something this grave were to happen, you would do something about it!

      If you are a principal, I hope the Jersey City School Board gets a chance to see who they put in charge of their city’s children.

    • Message.

      Esteemed principal,

      What message would that be? That if you happen to not like a student or teacher you should threaten to brutally torture and murder them. They have a term for that: Sociopath.

      As a side note, the town you supposedly work for is called Jersey City not “jersy city”. Also, you seem to have a lot of knowledge about a student that isn’t part of your student body. Interesting….

  10. Individual

    This student is a hero, and she should be judged. I was bullied, and I didn’t have the courage to speak up about it. Her book will change lives, and it has started to change mine. That school is lucky to have someone like her.

    • Teacher

      Yes, you are correct! This student should be judged. Any person that writes one hundred and twenty eight pages of how she stalks, stabs, and ultimately kills three people should have their sanity questioned! Next time you write a post, get your grammar in check child. I would highly dispute that receiving straight A’s and all positive comments on progress reports in her Spanish class as a form of bullying. Writing one hundred and twenty eight pages also does not sound like a person that is in fear to speak up. Heroes save lives. Heroes put their lives in danger in order to protect others. Heroes do not write one hundred and twenty eight pages of a murderous manifesto. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

      • ...

        Great, a copy cat. The administration’s lack of action is now extending past the walls of this particular school.
        Bob Braun: Copy cat? Where?

        • clarification

          My apologies,

          I was referring to the comment made by “individual” claiming that the book has “changed his/her life”.

  11. East Orange High School Principal

    This school is fortunate to have a student that will go that far to fight for her rights. She should be allowed to express herself. But if I were the principal at that school, I would have fired that teacher. The student obviously has a talent that shouldn’t be hidden.

  12. Adrian Morquecho

    @Mrs JP
    First of all, the teacher involved teaches Spanish, not English. If Francis’s book is littered with grammatical errors, then that must mean she is not that proficient in the English language. The teacher mentioned has nothing to do with Francis’s command of English.

    Also, the teacher taught us grammar (like tenses, adjectives, verbs, etc), but she taught it in the realm of the Spanish language. This information is not easily transferred to English, though.

    Alright, maybe the teacher did talk about her love life, or her life in general, but in my case, she spoke of it very little, and it was usually after the class had completed their assignments and there was time left over. The majority of the class had no issue with this, and it made her seem more human and less like an “all-powerful” teacher.

    Also, the teacher has expressed that she had to follow a robotic type of teaching to be “highly effective.” Every day, there was a structure that she followed throughout her lessons. She also created three versions of quizzes to dissuade cheating, and allowing for tutoring.

    Many times it can be difficult for teachers, or even students, to find out what is going on in Francis’s mind. For example, I didn’t find an issue with her until the book was published, and I had Francis in a few of my classes. She hiding her emotions during classes and not sharing her issues with the teacher just prevented any proactive action from the teacher’s side.

    In the end, the issue here is not Ms. Dios. She did everything she needed to do and more for her students, and she has complied with the administration–unlike a few of the teachers– and she earned her “highly effective” rating. The issue here is Francis, and how she never spoke to her issues to anyone. The teacher has to go through a lesson, not guess how Francis feels on a certain day.

    And Ms. Dios shared tidbits of her life to seem relate-able and more transparent. She, unlike Francis, has nothing to hide.

  13. Adrian Morquecho

    @Mr Iovino

    First and foremost, I disagree with a bit of what you said.

    You mentioned that we should focus on the real actions that occur on a day-to-day basis, like real pictures being posted on social media, or real violence, instead of the imaginary acts being mentioned in the novel.

    But I think that we should focus on them both: We should focus on the violence that occurs so that we can reduce it, and we should also focus on this.

    This book, in simplified terms, is a manifesto of Francis’s thoughts. She based it around real people, and the novel has a thin veneer of imagination that covers a large chunk of real.

    Sure, Francis might not have committed these actions in real life, but what is to say that she might cause this in the near future?

    This has the potential to be the precursor to a written explanation of a future massacre, and if we don’t act now to prevent it, then it might occur.

    Also, this book isn’t necessarily covered under the First Amendment. Things not covered under the First Amendment that occur in this instance might include: slander against the real-life victims portrayed in the novel, a possibility of true threats, and inciting violent acts against these people.

    And sure, removing the book might be considered censoring, but removing the author isn’t.

    • Adrian Morquecho

      Agreed. She could’ve made reading this book less painful if there was less gramatical errors and a more captivating plot.

  14. How about the student victims!

    It is my understanding that the student who is actually being bullied is the book’s student victim (not writer). The book is a perpetuation of this bullying. Sadly, the victim is forced to walk the same hallway with the person who is not only bullying her but has also publicly threatened to kill her.

    In the book, the narrator not only tortures and murders the student, but also takes over the student’s life, including infiltrating herself into the victim’s home life.

    One should ask themselves, what is going on in the writer’s home life that is making her so miserable that she feels the need to take over the life of another student. Also, why are her parents not stepping in? Their daughter’s name is all over the internet and people are extremely concerned about her behavior? How is her parents allow this to happen? Social services should look into this.

    We keep talking about the teacher victim here. Who is advocating for the other students involved?

    • Adrian Morquecho

      This is true. The teacher is not the only victim from this book, but there are also two students that are gruesomely included in this book.

      Although from personal experience, the teacher seems to be the most affected by this. You can tell that her overall demeanor has changed significantly throughout the years, and that she’s more pale now.

      The students don’t seem to be faded much. I see them everyday, and they seem the same as last year and the year before that. Funny, you’d imagine they would be terrified of being near Francis.

      But this is not the case, apparently.

  15. Ms. MF

    Allow me to start by saying I don’t know Francis so I am not in a place to discuss her outside of the context of her book; however, I do know Ms. Dios and it unnerves me that Francis would insinuate everything in the book is true-to-life (except the murders, of course) because I personally believe a lot of her portrayal of Ms. Dios is outright slander. I have known Ms. Dios as a highly considerate and caring individual. Before I got to know Ms. Dios as my friend, I knew her as a fantastic colleague. When I arrived in my first year, she was the only person at Technology High School to leave a card in my mailbox welcoming me to the World Language department and still takes the time to write thank-you notes for any little favors I might do for her. She was my daughter’s teacher for two years and every time I received a progress report or a report card, I was pleasantly welcomed to an insightful message specific to how my daughter was doing in her class, not a standard copy-and-paste template. I also know she does the same service for most, if not all, her students.

    As a colleague, I’m allowed to see how much she cares about the success of all of her students daily. Every day, Ms. Dios clocks in extremely early and days she doesn’t need to attend classes, she stays drastically late to make sure she has everything ready for her students. Even Francis acknowledges Ms. Dios’ caring nature when she found out that Francis felt she was showing “the pet” more attention; she wrote Francis a note saying it was never her intention to make Francis, or anyone, feel she played favorites. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but this does not seem like an attitude a bully-teacher would take on towards a self-proclaimed “good and quiet” student who earned A’s in her class.

    The book has been out for weeks and this blog was written days ago; why respond to it so publicly now?

    This weekend I lost a friend. In a sick twist of irony, a daughter found her mother’s lifeless body in her bedroom, completely taken by surprise. For anyone who does not know, this is the exact manner Francis’ protagonist left all her victims after she murdered them. I am not implying that Francis and her story had anything to do with my friend’s death, but I spent all day plagued by thoughts of the horrific and gruesome acts Francis fantasizes about inflicting upon another of my friends. I can’t fathom how anyone can find that much hatred and loathing within them to write an entire novel detailing fantasies to murder people she personally knows and must face everyday. How does a girl not only think of killing another human being but also go so far as to express her joy at the thought of hiding in the rooms she commits the murders in to lavish the faces of her victims’ families once they come into their bedrooms only to find corpses? My dear friend’s daughter just started college this semester and I can absolutely say with complete certainty: nothing breaks my heart more than knowing the trauma this poor young lady faced. She will never ever forget coming home to her mother’s dead body. She will have to bear this memory the rest of her life and I firmly believe no one should ever have to face a hardship that heart-wrenching in reality or be forced to endure reading about in a book based on personal friends. Francis does not seem to fully comprehend the consequences of her actions and I’m angered by the lackadaisical attitude people seem to have towards this book. On top of having to stomach the mysterious death of a friend, I have to deal with the fact that every single time I hear of something even remotely similar I have to endure the inevitable sickness at the subconscious thought that this could have been one of my best friends and that I must recall the anxiety and disgust and fear I continue to feel just as strongly as the first time I learned about the stupid book. This is a stressful situation. I cannot make a comment about Francis’ character as a whole because I obviously do not have the full story. However, as the fear-stricken colleague and personal friend of one of her “victims”, I will say I do not have a favorable impression of her – to put it lightly. I can only pray she will reflect on this book and what it has done to the peace-of-mind of everyone involved. I pray she is not truly the sick and twisted individual this book makes her seem and that she can take the steps to redeem herself and try to alleviate the anguish she has forced all of us to suffer through. Until then, I will hold my reservations and I will keep my distance from her because I could not fathom having to face a girl who wishes death on such a kind and wonderful woman like Ms. Dios.

    I hope you’re really and truly proud of yourself Francis. You wanted to hurt those who “harmed” you. Congratulations. You managed that without even having to dirty your hands with their blood. You even got everyone around them too, just as you claimed to want just as much. Shouldn’t you feel lucky? They writhe in discomfort and fear while you get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It must be nice to be so confident of your own misgivings that you can find pride in profiting off this as well. You’ll certainly go far.

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