By Jonathan Valania
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 29, 2002

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Do you use a sledgehammer to smash a gnat? That's what Philadelphia Federation of Teachers representative Stephen Dylinski is accusing the media of doing in its coverage of a Girls High social studies teacher who started a fire in the classroom earlier this month. The incident in question occurred on May 8 when 31-year-old rookie teacher Diane Montelius snatched a copy of the Philadelphia Metro from the hands of a student--after repeated threats that she would light it on fire if the student did not put it away--and set it ablaze in a trash can. The incident ended with the Fire Department showing up and Montelius facing arson charges. The story made headlines, and the Daily News splashed it on the front cover with the sarcastic header "Teacher of the Year." The DN reported that even though the flames did not set off the fire alarms, it did cause $250 in smoke damage. The DN story quoted Capt. Armand Gershbach of the Fire Marshal's Office, saying, "There was potential risk for an extension of the fire from the waste can ... This could have easily gotten out of control." The article also pointed out that several cardboard boxes were situated above the trash can, which was itself located in front of a radiator. "I was in the classroom with the fire marshall, and all I saw was a few ashes," says Dylinski, a math teacher at Girls High as well as the PFT Building Rep. "I asked the students if they felt at any time that the fire could spread, and they responded with a robust 'No'. There is no question that this teacher made a lapse in judgement, but the media made it seem like the worst thing that happened since September 11. All we are saying is let the punishment fit the crime." In an open letter sent around to the media and signed by the teachers at Girls High, Dylinski summed up the incident as a "poor decision" by "a frustrated young teacher." The letter decries "a rush to judgement" concluding that "a young teacher who was working against the odds has been made a scapegoat for a system in chaos."


Last week Philadelphia magazine was named the best city magazine in America by the City and Regional Magazine Association. In addition to the Gold Award for General Excellence for publications with a circulation in excess of 60,000, the CRMA named Philadelphia magazine's Associate Art Director John Goryl Designer of the Year and Executive Editor Benjamin Wallace Writer of the Year. Additionally, Gold Awards were doled out to Jim Quinn for food writing and Managing Editor Sarah Jordan for her series on "How to Buy Art." "It's always nice when somebody objective looks at your work and says yours is the best," says Philadelphia magazine editor Loren Feldman.

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