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 and 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 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, 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 outrage is growing more and more and more, and it’s 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.”
For over 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 piece. 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 middle school grades from five more.
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.”
“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 Satellite III, 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.
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.”