Parents, educators and community members rallied in the freezing cold outside Tweed Courthouse late Monday afternoon to protest the Department of Education's (DOE) recently announced plan to close 21 more public schools in 2010 including 15 high schools.
“They dropped a bomb on the schools without any notice,” said William McDonald a Queens parent and a leader of Save Our Schools Coalition (SOSC), a group that opposes the school closings. “The principals didn't know. The teachers didn't know. The parents didn't know.”
The closings primarily target schools (see full list below) in predominantly people of color communities that serve a disproportionate number of high-needs students. Vanessa Sparks, a former member of the District 28 Community Education Council in Central Queens, cited the closing of Jamaica High School as an example. While the predominantly black Jamaica HS is slated to be closed after serving as a pillar of the community for 117 years, Sparks said schools in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Kew Gardens with similar records of academic achievement remain unscathed.
“They don't play the same game with every community,” Sparks said, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and DOE Chancellor Joel Klein.
About 20 people turned out for the rally which was organized by SOSC. Many of those present expressed concern that the school closings were being carried out to facilitate the expansion of privately-run charter schools.
“They are using kids as pawns to privatize the schools,” said Monica Harris, president of the P.S. 20 Parent Teacher Association in the Lower East Side, which is locked in a battle to prevent the expansion of a charter school that would come at the expense of P.S. 20 and another public school in the neighborhood.
Elizabeth Bouiss and Joseph Occhiogrosso, both teachers at John Dewey High School in Bensonhurst/Coney Island came out to show their support. Bouiss said DOE directives have made it increasingly difficult for teachers at Dewey HS to “carry out the school's progressive mission”, which emphasizes empowering students to make decisions regarding their educational experience. Dewey HS is not targeted for closure this year but Bouiss worried that it could be targeted in the future, especially given the DOE's record of breaking up big schools and turning them into clusters of smaller, specially themed schools.
McDonald said protests would continue during the next month as the Panel on Education Policy (PEP), holds public hearings at each of the schools slated to be closed. The 13-member PEP, which replaced the old city school board in 2002, will vote on the DOE proposal on January when it meets at Brooklyn Tech High School in Fort Greene. Despite the fact that Mayor Bloomberg appoints 8 of the Board's 12 voting members, the demonstrators vowed to fight to the end.
“January 26 will be ground zero in this fight,” McDonald said.
Here are the dates and times for upcoming hearings at schools designated for closure:
5-Jan 6pm School for Community Research and Learning HS 1980 Lafayette Ave, Bronx
5-Jan 6pm Academy of Environmental Science and Renaissance Charter 410 East 100 Street, Manhattan
6-Jan 6pm Frederick Douglas Academy III (6 -8) 3630 3rd Ave, Bronx
6-Jan 6pm Beach Channel HS at Beach Channel HS
7-Jan 8pm Columbus HS 925 Astor Ave, Bronx
7-Jan 5pm Global Enterprise HS 925 Astor Ave, Bronx
7-Jan 6pm Paul Robeson HS 150 Albany Ave, Bklyn
7-Jan 6pm Jamaica HS 16701 Gothic Drive, Queens
8-Jan 6pm Choir Academy of Harlem HS 2005 Madison Ave, Manhattan
11-Jan 6pm Norman Thomas HS 111 E 33st, Manhattan
11-Jan 6pm Kappa II (6-8) 144-176 East 128 st, Manhattan
11-Jan 6pm Alfred E. Smith HS 333 East 151st, Bronx
12-Jan 6pm William H. Maxwell Vocation HS 145 Pennsylvania Ave, Brooklyn
12-Jan 6pm Business, Computer Applications and Entrepeneur HS 207-01 116 Ave, Queens
13-Jan 6pm Academy of Collaborative Education (6-8) 222 West 134 St, Manhattan
13-Jan 6pm PS 332 (k-8) 51 Christopher Ave, Bklyn
13-Jan 6pm School for Academic and Social Excellence (6-8) 1224 Park Place, Brooklyn
14-Jan 6pm New Day Academy HS 800 Home St, Bronx
14-Jan 6pm Metropolitan Corporate Academy 362 Schermerhorn St, Bklyn
19-Jan 6pm Monroe Academy of Business Law HS 1300 Boynton ave, Bronx
26-Jan 6pm PEP meeting Brooklyn Tech High School
Source: Ed Notes