Educating for Democracy: Students, Parents, Educators Protest at City Hall

As part of a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, the Coalition for Public Education held a demonstration on March 4th in front of City Hall.
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As part of a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, the Coalition for Public Education held a demonstration today (3/4/2010) in front of City Hall. Over 200 people showed up for the rally which included students, parents, union leaders, and educators.

Prior to the demonstration, Akinlabi Mackall, Coordinator of the CPE, discussed the objectives of the demonstration. Among the issues that most concerned his group which represents over twenty community organizations throughout the city, Mackall emphasized the negative impact that Mayoral control of the city schools has had upon the African American and Latino communities. He cited in particular the impact that the closing of city schools and division of the buildings into smaller charter and district schools has had on the neighborhood communities and students, especially when the schools are called "failures." Mackall urged that instead of a Mayoral-controlled board of education, there should be a "People's Board of Education" in which neighborhood parents and real educators be empowered to make decisions about school policy.

William McDonald, an organizer for the CPE, expressed his disgust with the Bloomberg Administration for waiting for a month after the Mayoral election before announcing the closing of twenty public schools. McDonald cited the impact that the "small school" concept had on his own son's school, Springfield Gardens in Queens. He observed that the charter school housed there was recently prevented from continuing the practice of removing Special Education students from the school, a tactic that has an impact on improving the "test score ratings" of these schools after removing such special needs students. Both Mackall and McDonald echoed the sentiments of many protestors and speakers that "Bloomberg is out of control" and urged the Mayor to "fix the schools, not close them." During his speech, McDonald indicated a future lobbying effort in Albany where the CPE will tell the lawmakers to fix the mess Bloomberg has created "or you're going to be looking for another job."

Most all of the many speakers urged that the decision-making process that led to school closings and other policies that have had a negative effect on students and communities in minority neighborhoods be given to parents and educators and not business people who know nothing about educating children.

Two students from EBC High School, Matthew Anduce and Annie Sookra, spoke movingly of the effect that the school closings have had on their high school with overcrowding and the decline in morale of their classmates as a result. They particularly criticized the proposed elimination of the MTA student free transportation card and predicted that the added expense of paying for school transportation will increase the student dropout rate.

Councilman Charles Baron echoed the sentiments of a number of speakers when he declared that "the City Council owes us" for allowing the Mayor a third term in office. He expressed his frustration with the lack of response by the City Council and the Department of Education to the concerns of the communities affected by these school closings and urged his listeners to consider civil disobedience as the only alternative left to dramatize their need to have the implementation of Bloomberg's policies stopped. He suggested that the next time there is a rally, the participants be prepared to "Take Tweed over," the building which houses the Board of Education.

Among union leaders who spoke at the rally was Veronica Montgomery-Costa, President of local 372 representing Board of Education Employees who supported the demands of the Coalition and Oliver Greg, a fellow member of that union who accused Bloomberg of taking the resources out of public education to benefit the privileged. He pointed out that since Bloomberg took control of the schools, the budget for the administration of the Department of Education has tripled.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, spoke against "the reckless privatization of the public schools" by the Bloomberg Administration and that it was time to take back the schools.During her speech, School Chancellor Joel Klein scurried into the building past the demonstrators and was roundly booed as he walked up the steps. It best expressed the opinion of the participants in the rally on the Chancellor's policies.

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