THE BLOG

Students, Teachers, and Parents Defend Their Schools

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In order to secure legislative renewal of mayoral control over the New York City school system last year, Michael Bloomberg agreed to turn over a new leaf and permit greater parental and community input in decision-making. The teachers' union acquiesced, its leadership deciding they could work with the Mayor Money Bags after all, and mayoral control was allowed to continue. In a post-reelection editorial, the New York Times announced that a new, humbler Bloomberg was prepared to listen to dissenting voices and maybe even change his mind on issues.

Even those who were willing to delude themselves before, need to admit that the Bloomberg administration remains as autocratic as ever. If you want to be heard in New York City and you are not a wealthy developer, you need to mobilize mass protest. Maybe then the New York Times will deign to cover your story and Bloomberg will be forced to hear.

The Bloomberg/Klein Department of Education is now involved in another round of school closings and people are starting to get angry. Citywide protest rallies have been called Thursday January 21 from 4 to 6:30 PM at 5th Avenue and 79th Street and Tuesday January 26 at Brooklyn Tech High School at 5 PM where the decision to close the schools will be finalized. The city has tried to bloc permits to hold the demonstrations (what a surprise), but the New York Civil Liberties union is pressing in the courts.

Bloomberg/Klein have decided, without significant evidence, and certainly without any experience working in schools, that the problem facing New York City students is that the high schools are too big. They want them replaced by small mini-high schools, many housed together in the old buildings. This "reform" is little more than reshuffling the deck while keeping the same old cards. "Big" schools identified as failing and targeted for closing this year include Christopher Columbus High School and Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, Paul Robeson High School and W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School in Brooklyn, Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan, and Beach Channel High School and Jamaica High School in Queens.

The fallacy behind the Bloomberg/Klein massacre approach to school reform is that also targeted for closing are a number of smaller schools that were created during earlier waves of school closings. If smaller schools were the answer, why does the school closing list include Business, Computer Applications, and Entrepreneurship High School in Queens, one of for schools housed in the old Andrew Jackson High School building; the School for Community Research & Learning, Frederick Douglass Academy III Secondary School Global Enterprise High School, and Monroe Academy for Business/Law, all in the Bronx; the Academy of Collaborative Education, Choir Academy of Harlem, Academy of Environmental Science, and the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, all in Manhattan?

Parents and community residents fear students will simply be sent from the closed schools to other failing schools at greater distances from home, which was done in the past. Teachers suspect, with justification, that Bloomberg/Klein will use this to circumvent contractual seniority rules as more expensive senor teachers are denied reassignment and pressured out of the system.

The proposed school closings are government by deceit, government by pretense, and government fiat - government by Bloomberg. State legislators from affected districts need to support parents and teachers and immediately introduce legislation to rescind mayoral control over New York City schools. Maybe then Mayor Money Bags will start to listen.

These are some of the reports I have received from the field.

One of the four mini-schools in the Campus Magnet complex, Business, Computer Application, and Entrepreneurship High School, is being phased out following its "D" grade on the DOE report card. Next school year, Business HS will have only a 10th, 11th, and 12th grade; the following school year, it will have only 11th and 12th, etc. It is unclear as of now whether the new school, which is unnamed and will have only a freshmen class next year, will be a regular high school, a charter, or some other concoction. At the hearing staff, parents, and students from the school, as well as supporters from the other three schools and from the community, vociferously expressed criticism of the DOE plan. The final hearing will take place January 26th, at Brooklyn Technical High School, and will address the phasing out of a total of 28 city schools. It also should be added that the cap on the number of charter schools was lifted today.

University Heights High School in the Bronx is being relocated off of the Bronx Community College Campus despite continuing receiving the highest grades on the Bloomberg/Klein rating system. At an alumni association meeting, over 250 graduates come to support the school and the cause. They were scheduled to meet with CUNY and DOE officials on January 15, 2010 to demand that the school not be relocated, and that if it is, students, parents, and staff be involved in locating and outfitting new facilities. They had learned that other CUNY campus based high schools including Hostos High School at Hostos Community College and Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College were being threatened. They also learned from a local newspaper report that CUNY had already moved to cancel the high school's lease in December so the expulsion was a done deal and the consultation meetings were only for show.

At Jamaica High School in Queens hundreds of students, parents, staff, and community residents held a protest rally when a question and answer session with DOE officials showed that all decisions about the future of the school had already been made. As DOE department officials tried to explain per-pupil funding and the school's phase-out plan, people chanted "Save our school" and "Four more years." Jamaica High School is being closed because of its has low graduation rates, which are largely a product of the large number of recent immigrants, students who do not speak English, and students diagnosed with learning disabilities who attend the school.

Beach Channel High School in Queens was purposely set up by the DOE for failure to prove that large schools do not work. It was a highly successful school until the DOE closed nearby Far Rockaway High School and transferred large numbers of poorly performing students to Beach Channel. At the same time the DOE placed a mini-magnet school in the same building to draw off the better performing students who would have normally attended Beach Channel. Low and behold, Beach Channel made the failing school list. Some local politicians are licking their teeth, hoping to grab the building for their own pet projects. State Senate leader Malcolm Smith is a founder and on the Board of Peninsula Prep Charter School, which is viewed as a potential occupant of a vacated Beach Channel building. Former Congressman Floyd Flake is a long-time backer of charter schools and his church supported schools hope to "influence" the new schools that will be housed there.

Parents and staff are also fighting backing elementary and middle schools. On Wednesday January 13, WNYC radio highlighted efforts to save P.S. 232 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Teachers fear they will face dislocation and layoff after years of service to the community. Parents fear their children will be closed out of charters and sent to of poorly performing schools. They all know that changing the name on the front door will do nothing to improve living conditions in the poverty-stricken community. They wonder when they are supposed to be consulted about the education of their children.