Mayor Michael Bloomberg has closed 117 schools during his 10 years as head of the Department of Education (DOE). Last week, while Harlem’s Wadleigh High School and KAPPA in Brooklyn got a 12th hour reprieve, the majority Bloomberg-appointed Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) indeed went ahead and shuttered or changed up 23 public city schools.
“It’s pretty clear that, in certain parts of the city, they are making schools fail to bring in charter schools,” United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew told the AmNews, accusing the DOE, the mayor and the chancellor of lying in marking the city schools to fail in order to satisfy another agenda.
“I think the governor should intervene,” Mulgrew continued. “I mean, the evidence is there. The state commissioner last year had to write a letter and he said, ‘I know you’re warehousing students, and you’re forcing schools to be closed.’
“We’re gonna keep doing something until some elected official does something to make them stop. If that means changing the law, we’re going to change the law.”
On Thursday night, the PEP meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School was another raucous one. But in the end, the panel, which sat through hours of abuse from irate parents and students demanding a fairer and transparent assessment of their schools, voted to close 18 schools, make 16 “new” ones and truncate five. The irony is that nine of those schools were opened by Bloomberg, including Bed-Stuy’s Academy of Business and Community Development.
“So apparently his plan isn’t working and yet he still wants to close the schools, even the new ones he just opened,” said Councilman Charles Barron. “All of this is a premise for him to privatize our public schools.”
Barron spoke at the UFT rally held outside Brooklyn Tech just before the meeting. Also on the mic before a loud and animated crowd was Comptroller John Liu, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, State Sen. John Sampson and Council Member Tish James.
Parents searched for the sense in the decision. “Don’t close them, fix them!” became the oft-repeated refrain.
“It’s not the schools that have failed, it is the mayor and the DOE who have failed, and that is clear to anyone who is in these schools, to the students, to the community and the teachers,” Mulgrew told the AmNews. “And that’s why the outage is growing more and more and more, and its not going to stop, because people are saying the same thing: ‘Work with us.’ But they refuse.
“They never walk into those schools until it’s time to close them. They overcrowd them. They don’t give them any type of support on any level, with curriculum or programs. Then they say, ‘You’re the problem.’”
“It is evident from the hundreds who gathered to protest the DOE’s plan to close 23 schools that there are many throughout the various impacted communities who seek to put an end to the mayor’s desire to undermine public education in New York City,” said activist minister the Rev. Michael Walrond, who is also a columnist for the Amsterdam News. “We are in a time when we can no longer sit idly by while Mayor Bloomberg, intoxicated with the wine of mayoral control, shuts the doors on institutions that have been the cultural backbone for so many communities.
“The tragedy of all of this is that the most vulnerable among us suffer: the children. Our children and our children’s dreams have become the collateral damage of a failed system that is groaning for redemption. The tragedy is that many of the schools, in some of the neediest communities, are now on the endangered species list and, if the mayor and the DOE have their way, they face a bleak future. Closing schools that are deemed as failing or low-performing is not an effective strategy for school reform. Political expediency cannot be the guiding factor when it comes to the future of our children.”
As the “cloned PEP members”-as one very vocal protestor dubbed them-faced off against cloned pseudo protestors who hijacked the rally at Brooklyn Tech in order to hear theirs and only their voices heard, talkin’ loud and saying almost nothing to effectively address the real issues for a good two hours, Occupy the DOE took over the PEP meeting. Due to the noise, banner waving, rhythmic chanting and the millionth “mic check” of the several hundred protesters, parents, teachers and activists who had something of substance to say on the regular mic were heckled and drowned out.
“How can they hear you when all these other people are screaming?” a parent retorted. “Nothing is greater than democracy for and of the people, but when there’s a bunch of discontented individuals showboating without rhyme or reason and an effective agenda, it remains counterproductive.”
Regardless, a hundred or so speakers managed to speak their peace. On stage, sitting front and center, was Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who heads the 13-member PEP.
After a “discussion” of sorts, the panel voted to close 18 city schools and remove the middle school grades from five more. Parents present declared that the PEP, with their Bloomberg-inspired disregard for the public school system and it’s 1.1 million children, voted to close the 23 schools on the chopping block.
Calling it a “slow death,” State Sen. Bill Perkins and Councilwoman Inez Dickens were unimpressed with the 12th hour reprieve that saved Wadleigh but allowed for the Pac-Man-like grabbing of public school spaces by the money-making Eva Moskowitz and her profiteering Harlem Success Academy.
Thompson told the AmNews, “I am for mayoral control. It’s about who the mayor is. As mayor, I would work with the teachers and include parents. We wouldn’t have the situation that we have now.”
Amalfia Mendingshall is PTA president at the Academy for Business and Community Development. “Bloomberg opened the school himself in 2003,” she said of the all-boys sixth-12th grade school. Now he wants to close it, and we haven’t had the chance to graduate a single class yet. This year will be the first and last. Principal [Simone] McIntosh has only been in the school for a year, how do they expect her to turn the school around in that amount of time?
“This is a unique school. It is all male and has 25 percent special ed, while it is 10 percent across the city. How is Bloomberg going to turn his back on them?”
Mendingshall’s 12-year-old son Joseph is asking the mayor to save the school. “We are like a brotherhood here. I don’t want to go to another school and make new friends and start all over again. I like it at ABCD.”
The PEP voted to close the school this summer.
Santos Crespo Jr., president of Local 372, NYC Board of Education Employees, slammed the panel for even voting to close four schools that had improved their grades to As and Bs, saying, “The four schools improved because of the working relationships teachers, parents and the community fostered to ensure successful student learning experiences.”
Crespo stated the DOE is deliberately failing schools in order to gift high-priced consultants with public funds, and that they want to make sure they get a share of the $60 million Race to the Top funds that the federal government awarded to the city.
“In moving forward, we have to look at changing mayoral control because it makes parents have no input and no voice. In the schools, the administration has no input or no voice-obviously the principal has no voice, and the parents in the schools that are chosen to be closed have no voice,” said Arlette Williams, PTA president of PS56, which despite a fight by students, staff and supporters, has been slated for phasing out this summer, with the introduction of a new middle school. Parents at an open house for Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters middle school told the AmNews this weekend that scouts for the new proposed school, M.S. 351, were trying to pick up new students.
Asked if legal action will be taken to stop the closings, Mulgrew told the Amsterdam News, “I’m the person who has sued them numerous times, so I think that can happen.”