The Bloomberg-Klein machine that runs, and is destroying, the New York City public school system has made some powerful enemies, including the students from University Heights High School in the Bronx. These teenagers may not prevent New York City Mayor Moneybags and School Chancellor King Klein from moving their school off of the Bronx Community College campus and exiling it to the south Bronx, but in their struggle to save the school, they have learned how to be organizers and agents for change. Bloomberg, Klein, and their wealthy friends better watch out. Their attack on this school has provided these students with the best education they could possibly receive and has have helped to create a new generation committed to the struggle for social justice.
Moneybags and King Klein think the fight is over, but to paraphrase the immortal words of American Naval hero John Paul Jones, the student of University Heights High School "have just begun to fight." The students are exploring the possibility of getting a court injunction against the move. They claim that they and their parents selected this school because of its affiliation with a college and that Bloomberg, Klein, the Department of Education, and BCC are violating that contract.
On Tuesday over 240 University Heights High School students and about 20 parents attended DOE a meeting in Staten Island that was held there to make it difficult for the students to mobilize and attend. The teachers' union supplied them with a bus and a community organization supplied two smaller buses to transport people. The rest of the students traveled to the hearing with their teacher, Pablo Muriel, by subway, ferry, and a long walk up to the school. Many of the students spoke eloquently, and King Klein was forced to acknowledge their presence.
Pablo challenged Klein, who that morning in a radio interview claimed to be concerned about underperforming schools serving minorities communities. He wanted to know why they were effectively destroying a minority school that had such a strong track record and had a student body that was willing to travel for hours to defend their school. Pablo demanded that the Panel for Educational Policy vote "no" on the move and send a message to students that the democratic process works.
The vote, as expected, was a sham, and the panel ratified the decision that was made last December when the DOE and BCC did not renew the school's lease on the campus. King Klein tried to ameliorate the situation with some kind words about the school, but claimed he had no choice. The students do not buy this and will not stop their campaign. Their next step is to turn to the courts.
Pablo says his students are disappointed and angry, but that they now know how to fight for themselves and how to become more active citizens. Focused anger is more productive than apathy. He feels his educational mission was accomplished.
In the rest of this blog I will let the students speak for themselves. I edited their statements minimally. Their messages are definitely worth reading.
Tyrek Greene: At the beginning of this school year, Pablo warned us many times that something big was going to happen to us; I don't think we were completely comprehensive of what he meant. Little did we know, BCC was working behind our backs to throw us off of this campus. This is extremely unjust, being that my mom specifically put me in this school to shield me from the factory-like schools and prison-like learning institutes. In the middle of January, we rushed into Councilmen Cabrera's office and made him promise to see that we would be allowed to stay on this campus. We worked with the Northwest Coalition and Sista's and Brotha's United to help us with rallying, lobbying, protesting, and basic organizing skills. We started protesting outside of BCC to get our point across. It seemed as though they didn't want to confront us and to tell us the real reason why they wanted us off campus. A couple of the core leaders and I almost force the president of BCC to have a meeting with us. She curved all of our questions, saying she has our best interest at heart but she needs our building back. But what about us? Why should we have to suffer for BCC's mistake? They should not have enrolled more students than they can handle. We end up suffering because of money hungry BCC. Our two P.E.P meetings before the last vote, we won the hearts of those four people. But yesterday, there was 12 new panel members. Why weren't we appealing to them in the first place? Why wasn't Joel Klein at the first two meetings? I personally witnessed this atrocity with my own eyes and it kills me because many of my peers learned that democracy is a lie.
Christina Gomez: Before coming here the only type of protesting I've ever heard of was the Black Panthers. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself doing the same thing. The feeling of being able to bring together a community of teenagers living in a world where "it is what it is" is used as an excuse for doing nothing is powerful. Instead of having a mind full of memories of just having a good time, I have a memory to last me a lifetime based on my experience at University Heights at BCC. I had the opportunity to stand side by side with people who you once thought couldn't care less. But now that stepped up to the plate and became the type of people you are proud to know. I fought, I listened, and I've changed for the better. I learned that anger could be turned into something so beautiful. Our voices actually can be heard.
William Becerra: The decision was unfair. I found it unfair because we have been doing so well when it came to our school report card. The new building isn't in that good of a neighborhood and it was located near a juvenile detention center. The last meeting was held on March 23, 2010. The funny thing is it was held in Staten Island so that we would not be able to make it to the meeting, but what they didn't know was that we don't give up that easily. Even though the decision was made to move the school, we were all given a very power tool that it will help us out in life.
Vijay Rampersaud: My experience about all this that is happening in my school has changed my friends and myself in many ways. We became active in our school and its future. We learned that many people really don't care about us minorities. I learned that life isn't all of that fair. But we also can change our community by stepping up and changing our lifestyles. We are not just numbers, we are real.
Amner Frias: This move is unfair. University Heights is a working school with a high graduation rate. We have been protesting and sending letters to local officials and it looks like our efforts were in vein. They want us to attend school in a bad neighborhood in a building across the street from a youth prison. They also want to take away our metro cards. How will we even get to the new building?
Marilyn Rosario: What bothers me the most about this move is that the panel and Joel Klein saw and heard our pleas and our cries to keep the school where it is and they still said we have to move. There were 250 students at the meeting, which was a beautiful thing. We protested in the snow and wrote letters to elected politicians including Klein. I am proud of myself and my classmates because we made a difference and we learned something that sitting in a classroom would never teach us. If you win or lose, no matter the outcome, the time and dedication you took to make a difference pays off.
Thalia Quezada: I learned so much about protesting and to fight for things in a legal way. I went to almost all the meeting and some protests because I believe that it is worth fighting for this school. Relocating our school is going to affect each students in a different way. If we move to the South Bronx, I will have to take a bus, then a train, then transfer to another train, plus do some walking, to get to school each morning. Another problem is that they are going to cut the metro cards and my parents won't be able to afford for me to go to school. My father is currently without a job and my mom doesn't get paid a lot.
Victor Guzman: When I first heard about the relocation of our school I thought it was just a rumor that the students were spreading. When the teachers started talking about it, I knew the college was really trying to kick us out. The first meeting we had on the college campus we had a very big turnout with over 700 people. We are doing the best we can to stop this move. We will not give up.
Shakira Reed: I can't believe that they are moving us. The D.O.E didn't take us seriously. They thought of us as ghetto and we were not going to do anything about the issue. Just picture how you would feel if you were going to be kicked out of your home.
Yurissan Navarro: I went to every protest and meetings and even meetings for other schools. We took busloads of students, teachers, and parents to Staten Island for the hearing. We had hundreds of people, not 10, not 20 nor 50. Still we get turned down. I don't know what kind of message the DOE is trying to send to people but obviously no matter what, no matter how hard we try, no matter how big you are, if they got the higher power they will turn you down.
Paulino Balbuena: I transferred to this school in my sophomore year and I was just starting to feel at home. I didn't think that any of the students and faculty was going to care about the moving of our school and that it was settled. As time passed I noticed that some of my classmates started making groups to make plans and to talk to us about fighting back. I attended the first meeting, which inspired me to fight back. I went there thinking no one was going to be there. I was shocked and couldn't believe that so many parents, teachers, and friends were there. Whether we win or lose, I am getting a lot from this experience and will carry it with me for the rest of my life.
Yenfiry Jimenez: I never really liked to get involved in school activities after dismissal. When they announced the relocation of our school, I realized it was time to get involved. motivated. We had a silent protest outside BCC campus. I went to every single hearing so my presence along with others could be felt. The last hearing was in Staten Island. It was a very smart move on the part of the DOE. What they didn't realize was that they were messing with not only a school but a school with leaders.
Kassandra Mojica: I learned that there are legal ways to take action without violence. This school has been very strong for what we believe is the right thing to do.We have had numerous protests, meetings with local officials, meetings with the community, as well as the president of BCC. Even though the final decision was made, University Heights High School will not give up, THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER. This decision is just making us stronger and is making us realize how the doesn't care for the poor.
Maria Candelier: The panel showed no emotions, it was obvious they did not care about anything that was being said. Most of them were on their cell phones, looking away or talking to each other. All the schools lost last night. I feel that they do not have any consideration for us. I am very angry and sad at the same time. They will hear our voices again, and we will fight until we get what we want.
Chastity Ortiz: Our location is the safest place you can set foot on. There will not be that same feeling at the South Bronx campus. We will move as one into our new location but the fight back will really begin, to fight for our rights and what we believe in.
Genesis Nunez: This has been a long, frustrating, and very sad fight. My school has done everything from protesting to writing letters to the elected officials to get their support. During these meetings I have noticed what a great school we do have. Going to the South Bronx Campus and actually seeing the place we are going to be in really hit me. It is nothing like what we have at Bronx Community College that has inspiring things that make me want to go to college.