The wife of a famous Yale economist faces a misdemeanor charge over an altercation at a middle school on the same block as University President Richard Levin’s house.
Anne Higonnet GRD ’88, the wife of Yale economics professor John Geanakoplos ’75, was charged Jan. 15 with disorderly conduct after she allegedly grabbed and yelled at a parent for using the Everit Street back gate of the Worthington Hooker Middle School, according to New Haven police. The incident, which school principal Robert Rifenburg called “uncharacteristic of most Everit Street residents,” was the latest in a long history of tension dating back to 2004, when Everit Street residents sued the city to prevent the school from moving to its current location at 691 Whitney Ave., half a block away from Higonnet and Geanakoplos’s house.
Higonnet is charged with disorderly conduct and will be arraigned in New Haven Superior Court on Thursday. She faces a fine of up to $500 or up to three months in jail.
The conflict between local residents and the school began in October 2004. After the city approved the construction of the third-to-eighth-grade school at the time, a group of Everit Street residents sued City Hall for what they claimed was illegal use of the city’s zoning powers. At the time, residents, who include many Yale faculty members, said the school’s presence would bring noise and traffic to an otherwise calm environment.
In August 2007, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, allowing the school to open its doors last December at its current location on the block between Everit Street and Whitney Avenue. Since then, school administrators have kept the Everit Street gate open to pedestrians but agreed to set a policy directing parents to use the front gate on Whitney Avenue when dropping off their children.
Last Friday, Stephanie Brooks dropped off one of her children at the Everit Street gate instead of using the front entrance. Higonnet, a Columbia University art history professor, allegedly grabbed Brooks’s collar and yelled at her, according to police. Higonnet, in a phone interview Monday, denied any physical contact with Brooks, adding that at the time she apologized to Brooks for the confrontation.
“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” said Rifenburg, who called the police during the incident. “I think 99 percent of parents follow the policy, and I commend them for doing their part.”
But some Everit Street residents remain skeptical. One neighboring Yale faculty member, who declined to be named, said as long as the Everit Street gate stays open, he thinks it will be impossible to prevent all Hooker parents from driving up to it.
“I’m not surprised that [the incident last Friday] occurred, because there are strong concerns among many of us that what’s been happening is inconsistent with what we were promised by the school,” he said.
Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who represents the neighborhood, said the issue, as far as he is concerned, is safety. By keeping the back gate open to pedestrians and encouraging drop-offs at the front entrance, the school makes the street safer for everyone, he said.
Elicker also praised Rifenburg’s efforts to address the concerns of Everit Street neighbors, noting that Rifenburg stands outside many mornings and afternoons to remind parents of the drop-off policy. The alderman added that the majority of Everit Street residents simply wanted to “move on.”
Levin is in Switzerland and could not be reached for comment. His wife, Jane, declined to comment Monday.
Biology professor William Konigsberg, who lives near the Hooker School, said he was “quite pleased” with the efforts of school administrators to ensure that most residents’ concerns have been addressed. Jennifer Huebner, a teacher at the school, added that in recent years, a growing number of Hooker parents have moved into homes on nearby streets, including Everit Street, which has decreased the number of students whose parents drive them to school.
About two-thirds of students at Worthington Hooker Middle School, one of the city’s top-performing public schools, live in East Rock, Rifenburg said.
Correction: Jan. 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Worthington Hooker Middle School.