“Closing schools is not the answer: Fixing them is,” said Council Member Robert Jackson at a hearing where Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close down another 13 schools.
“You’re taking away our stability,” a young man implored at the mic at Brooklyn Technical High School last Thursday during the public hearing and Panel for Educational Policy vote.
“Schools belong to the people; they don’t belong to you,” said a member of the very well organized Urban Youth Collaborative.
“We spent billions to bail out the financial industry. Let’s bail out the schools,” said Councilwoman Rosie Mendez
State Sen. Tony Avella declared, “What you see now, or what you saw on Tuesday, is just the beginning. If it takes a revolution in this city, we are going to take back our schools.”
“We are going to introduce legislation this week to hold a one-year moratorium prohibiting the DOE from initiating any school closures,” State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries told the AmNews. “As a result of what the DOE has done in the last two years, many members of the Legislature think they’ve gotten out of control. Our schools need a turnaround strategy, not a shut down strategy.”
There was an endless stream of parents, students, activists and politicians who stepped up to say their piece.
Following a UFT rally outside Brooklyn Tech in Downtown Brooklyn, union head Mike Mulgrew slammed the panel as “illegitimate.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams assailed the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy, with its eight mayoral appointees. “You’re not even getting paid–I’d hate to see what you’d do for $10!”
“The revolution that’s going on in the streets of Egypt is erupting right here in the streets of Brooklyn in response to a dictatorial decision by the Bloomberg administration to close schools and co-locate charter schools without any public input,” said Councilwoman Leticia James.
Black had to endure a voracious reception of anger and defiance. Hundreds of sign-wielding students yelled at Black and the panel such slogans as “Cathie Black is whack” and “Cathie Black must go.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to Amsterdam News requests for comment. Likewise, the DOE has ignored several requests for an interview or even direct comment from Black.
In a statement last Friday, Bloomberg said, “When you’re yelling at a meeting like they had last night, you’re yelling at the teachers. You’re dissing them, you’re dissing the principals, you’re dissing the school safety officers, you’re dissing the custodians, you’re dissing the taxpayers paying for it.”
“In his comments, the mayor criticized parents and said, ‘This is not democracy.’ It surely is not,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters. “It is Bloomberg who has shown profound disrespect to parents and our priorities. Vocal protest is the only method we have left to express our anger at the abusive and illegitimate system that exists now, in which the mayor continues to undermine the quality of our children’s schools, and we are powerless to stop it.”
“I have a basic expectation of how people should be dealt with. In a democratic society, different viewpoints should be able to be expressed and people can be vocal,” said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. There should be no room for people to be “rude or nasty,” he added, as it “set a poor example for the students.”
“We understand the concern connected to certain schools, but it is how is conveyed,” said Walcott. The panel was “prepared to listen,” he said, but to respond to the numerous speakers would make it a never ending process.”
Asked about the notion that the panel had already decided to close schools and have co-locations before the meeting, Walcott said, “Well, there’s always going to be speculation and rumors.”
Meanwhile, there is yet another hearing planned for March 1, “Three more to go,” Walcott said, referring to the schools up for closure or co-location with a charter school.
Last week was really Black’s first big public outing. It didn’t go smoothly. The career businesswoman–chosen to the chagrin of many by Bloomberg–could barely get a word out, edgewise.
“These schools have demonstrated persistently poor performance–in some cases for a decade or longer,” she said. But the crowd didn’t want to hear it.
In just two days, Black put the ax to 22 schools at the behest of Bloomberg, who wrestled control of the city’s public schools in 2002. During the first vote last Tuesday, when the panel voted to close 10 schools, Black seemingly chastised and mocked the amped up crowd. “I cannot speak if you are shouting,” she said, and then echoed the crowd with a sardonic “Ohhhhh.”
“What in the world is the matter with you?” asked an irate City Councilman Jumaane Williams. “You show utter contempt and scorn for the parents you should be serving. If you don’t want to be here, then leave, because many of us don’t want you here anyway.”
Vocal students from East New York’s Christopher Columbus High School were among the hundreds who did not hold back expressing their opinion.
Tamjid Chowdhur, 17, told the AmNews, “I thought it was a good way of showing the students’ efforts. But the hearing was didactic. It is a one-sided conversation, with the DOE blaming the educators and the schools. But we don’t see any effective measures to improve the schools…I think the DOE is playing a blame game, but if you don’t give water to a tree or give it sunlight, it won’t grow. But you don’t just cut the tree down or just close the school–you need to help make it grow.”
“No matter what we said, they heard us, but they weren’t listening,” said Valine Page, 17. “They want to close the schools, but they won’t give us the supplies we need. Look in the schools–there’s not enough supplies, there’s not enough chairs for students to sit in. It seems that the DOE is so quick to destroy schools, but won’t take time to help a school grow and improve. They should give more to help them grow,” said the student hoping to study business management and premed at college. “Even though I’m a senior and I’m leaving, I care. Christopher Columbus is not like any other school. We accept kids with special needs or those who have just come out of jail. We work with [them], and make sure they get what they need to help them graduate.’
“It was really, really awesome,” said Kayeann White, 18, from the Bronx’s Christopher Columbus High School. “I’ve no words to describe it. I can still hear the screaming and excitement, and feel the strength and power that Columbus brings.”
“This is my third tour of duty. I was there when they closed Roosevelt and Evander,” said Darlene Alston, a teacher at Columbus. “This is breaking my heart. I have worked in education for 23 years. I thought I would retire from this school. The community should come together–we can stop this.”
“Mayor Bloomberg had the unmitigated gall and shamelessness to say the parents protesting at Thursday’s Panel for Educational Policy, (which he controls) vote were an embarrassment to America,” stormed Williams. “The parents were only responding to the situation he autocratically created. He installed Ms. Cathie Black against the wishes of most parents and teachers and an amazingly diverse body of elected officials. He even went against the advice of a panel of his own people when they suggested the law should not be ‘waivered’ for her. Yet in his dictatorial way, he rammed her down our throats.
“Yes, I was the one who introduced a resolution in the City Council to prevent her from becoming chancellor. Her first month has provided nothing that would suggest she knows how to be successful in this job. She still hasn’t publicly discussed her visions and goals for the DOE, and every time she does open her mouth, you need the Jaws of Life to get her foot out.
“The policies [Bloomberg] has instituted at the DOE have been a slap in the face of the vast majority for parents, teachers and elected officials. It has now reached the boiling point from heat he created. Mayoral control is a failure and municipal control is what is needed,” said Williams.
“The stopping of school closings, the ending of mayoral control and the removal of Cathie Black will occur when Egypt comes to America,” said Councilman Charles Barron. “There must be an uprising of parents, educators, elected officials and community activists to demonstrate our seriousness. Calling for moratoriums, fairness and stopping cuts on education has fallen on deaf ears. When the people rise up and take it to the streets, only then will they hear us and the people will win.”
Queens pol Avella noted, “I have never seen a more blatant example of racism than what is happening in Jamaica High School, and I am sure that this is indicative of other schools facing closure throughout the city. You created this situation, and then you come back and say we need to close down Jamaica High School. Give the school the resources they need and the students will perform. You have created a lost generation for the kids at the regular school. What happens to the ESL and special education students? They are going to go to another high school, and then you are going to come back and say that you have to close down that high school too.”
The next PEP meeting is scheduled for March 1 at Brooklyn Technical High School at 6 p.m.
“We have several upcoming protest rallies to stop school closings, stop Cathie Black [and] end mayoral control of schools!” said Barron. “I’m asking the community to join Assemblywoman Inez Barron, the Freedom Party, parents, teachers, students, education activists and concerned citizens. Your participation is needed to make a difference.”
The first rally is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 16, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Tweed Building, 52 Chambers Street (between Broadway and Centre Street), Manhattan. The second is Thursday, Feb. 17, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Cathie Black’s penthouse, 941 Park Ave., corner of East 81st Street, Manhattan.