Advocating for the children, parents rally at school hearing (39903)

“Why is the DOE trying to put so many charter schools in Bed-Stuy unless they are trying to get rid of public schools?” asked Mary Jackson, guardian of a PS 308 elementary school student. “Once the charter schools come into a building, they take over the school.”

On March 1, the Panel for Educational Policy held a meeting at Brooklyn Tech High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Thousands of people have showed up at previous PEP hearings, garnering much media attention as parents opposed the charter schools’ usurpation of their school spaces or the outright closure of their schools. They and the supporters of charter schools continue to make their voices heard before the PEP.

Schools Chancellor Cathie Black had to endure a phalanx of protest last month as parents, students and activists slammed the DOE’s decision to close 22 of the 25 proposed public schools.

During Tuesday’s meeting, dozens of pro-charter school parents and students held up posters demanding “Bolder, faster change.” Bloomberg did not respond to a request for comment regarding the shouting and yelling of the pro-charter school crowd on Tuesday. After a similarly raucous previous meeting, Bloomberg condemned the behavior of parents and students protesting to save their schools from closure or charter school co-location as “un-American.”

“I’m very proud of the way parents expressed their opinions. It was a wonderful expression of democracy,” Councilman Jumaane Williams said, speaking so that his words would reach Bloomberg. “I wonder what he would say about Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Both Williams and Councilman Al Vann called for a moratorium on the school closings and co-locations.

The PEP consists of 13 members, 8 of whom are appointed by the mayor, which has led to accusations of them merely “rubberstamping” the wishes of Bloomberg and his schools chancellor.

Vann implored the PEP to not just go along with what had been agreed upon even before the voting. “We want you to use your intelligence and your independent judgment. [Otherwise] shame on you.”

“We’re not against charter schools, but there is just no space in 308,” said Patricia Etheah, parent and PTA head at PS 308 Clara Cardwell School. Hers was a sentiment echoed all around the auditorium by parents objecting to the proposed forced co-location with charter schools. “At 308, lunch starts at 10:30 to accommodate the students we already have. We do not want the Teaching Firms for America charter in our school. We do not have the room. Charter schools have a right to exist, but you are going to hurt our kids by overcrowding our school–the cafeteria, the gym and the auditorium.”

Ronald Mailman, UFT rep for District 16 told the AmNews, “The Office of Portfolio Planning did a very poor job picking this school. The DOE walked through the school themselves and said there was no room.” To put another school in the Bed-Stuy K-8 building would amount to a “safety hazard,” said Mailman. “The UFT safety consultant, Fred Olmsted, said that it is a very bad idea to put another school in 308. Find your own building.”

Fitzroy Searles of New York Communities for Change (formerly ACORN) told the Amsterdam News, “We are in favor of preserving PS 308. I walked through the school with the assistant principal looking at the shared space. There are 650 students and the cafeteria can hold 145, so in order to accommodate the students for lunch, the first sitting is at 10:15 and the last one is at 2 p.m.–and school lets out at 2:20 p.m. The DOE wants to cram the four sittings into two. That would violate the fire code. It is the same with the gym and the auditorium. Yet the DOE wants to bring in Teaching Firms of America, who want to bring in 300 more students.”

On Tuesday the PEP voted on 13 charter school co-locations with several public schools, but postponed votes on school closures until their next meeting on March 23.

The DOE did not respond to an AmNews request for comment.

Mary Jackson is the grandparent and guardian of a fifth grader, and echoed the words of dozens of parents and students when she told the AmNews, “Our community already has so many charter schools. There’s one a block away from PS 308, and one four blocks up. It’s not like Bed-Stuy is hurting for charter schools.”

It is not lost on the parents and students that a billionaire–mayor Bloomberg–casually gave the job of schools chancellor to an unqualified and inexperienced millionaire in former magazine head Black.

“The idea is that the charter school movement wants to overwhelm the public school system,” declared retired educator Jitu K. Weusi. “How are you going to co-exist when they have got $5 million and we’ve got nothing? Bloomberg has got so many hedge fund people sold on this BS that charter schools are the new civil rights issue that it would be advancing the dream of Dr. King…Ultimately he is trying to hook up as many charter schools between now and 2013 because the more he has, the better position he will be in to turn them over to corporate interests. This is about privatizing the schools. He wants to change this whole school system into an industry.”

“This is, once again, Bloomberg and Cathie Black attempting to privatize public education. Co location is a fancy phrase for bringing in charter schools to cramp the space of public schools. If they love charter schools, they should got to the private sector and get money for their own buildings,” said City Councilman Charles Barron. “You don’t put 1 million students at risk to benefit the 100,000 that charter schools service.”

After the protests and advocacy by parents, activists and politicians such as State Senator John Sampson and Barron, the DOE decided on Monday to take PS 114 in Canarsie, Brooklyn, off the chopping block. It is a blueprint that other parents and students are studying.

“Unless parents take the fight for their schools to another level, it’s a done deal,” said Barron.

“Use your power,” Etheah told the crowd, to great cheers. “You have the voice, you have the power.”

“The parents at 308 had a unanimous vote against the co-location,” said Weusi. “But Bloomberg doesn’t care about the will of the parents and the students. The bridge between public and private schools is charter schools. The real takeover will be when the corporations like NewsCorp and others take over the schools. Bloomberg wants to get as many charters as he can, so that when they get to 500 he’s gonna find fault with them then the push will be to privatize them.”