It may be a little-known fact that New York City doesn’t have school boards, but there is an equivalent called the Community Education Council (CEC). The upcoming CEC elections, which run from this February through May, are a chance for parents to make their voices heard in schools.
CEC elections aren’t exactly the down-and-dirty wheelhouse of usual city elections. For starters, candidates are not encouraged to spend much money, solicit campaign contributions or accept endorsements from political parties.
“I think that this is an important vehicle for parent leadership and a place where voices, concerns are escalated and elevated. The councils represent their respective districts, so it’s a place to be heard and affect change in their local school communities,” said Schools Deputy Chancellor of Family and Community Engagement + External Affairs Kenita D. Lloyd.
What’s the job?
The CEC is essentially an advisory body of parents and students that helps the city review education policies, evaluate school programs, assess student progress, make recommendations for improvements in school buildings, approve zoning for new schools and closings, and provide input on hiring a superintendent, among other things. This is the group that also holds public meetings for parents and community members to air grievances.
“Some things are prioritized by that particular council for their district and they do that by submitting resolutions. It can range from school climate and culture or safety to resolutions about class size and collocations. It’s about getting their voice on the record,” said Lloyd.
There are four overarching citywide CECs: the Citywide Council on High Schools (CCHS) represents grades 9 through 12, the Citywide Council on English Language Learners (CCELL) represents students in need of specialized assistance to learn English, the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) represents those who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and the Citywide Council for District 75 (CCD75) represents students with disabilities who need a special district.
Under those, there are 32 school districts across the five boroughs and 325 seats in total for the CECs. Each CEC represents current Pre-K through eighth-grade students. Each has voting members: two appointed by a borough president, 10 elected and one District 75 member. One non-voting high school senior sits on each council. Each member serves a two-year term.
The districts themselves are quite diverse in terms of backgrounds and ethnicities, which tends to be reflected in the parents who volunteer their time for these council seats. However, there has been a growing focus on special education in the city. The increased D75 and special education representation was added by law in 2022, said Lloyd.
Before D75, parents could only sit on the citywide CEC, but now at least one member can be elected for each individual school district, adding to the voices of education advocates in New York City who have insisted that special education programs and Independent Education Plans (IEPs) have been chronically underfunded for years, pre-pandemic and post.
Gloria Corsino, 54, a former parent leader from the Bronx, served on two citywide CECs for about 12 years. She was a surgical technician by trade, but chose to volunteer time to being a parent advocate for her kids instead. She had previously served on parent associations, school leadership teams (SLTs) and district leadership teams (DLTs) before she decided to run for a vacancy on the CEC. Corsino served on the CCSE, rising to the rank of president during that time, and the CCD75.
Corsino said that she was most proud of advocating for more privacy for students during therapy sessions and counseling—previously, students would have sessions in the hallways because of limited space. “I learned from my colleagues how to be a cohesive voice,” said Corsino. “We came to some decisions working closely that helped improve the settings for our children.”
Corsino has three sons who all graduated from public school special education. Her eldest son is an occupational therapist, and the younger two are on-the-spectrum adults who aged out of the education system last June.
“When I was on District 75, one of the amazing things that I wanted and prayed for was help citywide. We were a citywide council but we were literally just 11 people representing parents all over the city. I sort of imagined we could get more voices on the council, and now here we are—all these years later the law has changed,” said Corsino. “We have more seats at the table and I tell parents let’s step up and fill them.”
The Department of Education (DOE) said it has expanded access to many programs for students with disabilities in all five boroughs. Last December, Banks announced an investment of $205 million in reimagining and prioritizing special education programs such as Sensory Exploration, Education & Discovery (SEED), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Nest and Horizon, and Path Programs.
To be eligible to run, you must be the parent of a student who currently attends pre-K through eighth grade in a school in the same school district and CEC district. For the 2023 elections, the period to apply ends February 13.
Virtual candidate forums will be held so people can meet the candidates running for any given seat. Forums will run from mid-February through April 20. Registration to attend forums will open on February 15.
Voting will commence between April 21 and May 9. Winners will be announced in June and sworn into their seats by July 1.
For more information, parents can go to schools.nyc.gov/elections2023.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1