Tuesday night's marathon session of the Panel for Educational Policy at Brooklyn Tech that lasted till nearly 4 AM was one of the most inspiring and awful events I have ever witnessed.
Inspiring because there were thousands of people there to protest the closing of 19 schools, and hundreds spoke out, for more than eight hours: eloquently, angrily, passionately and intelligently, about why their schools should not be closed and why the administration's blind and reckless policies would hurt our most vulnerable children. These English language learners, special education students, poor and homeless, will likely be excluded from the new small schools and charter schools that will replace their schools, and will undoubtedly be discharged in huge numbers as these schools phase out, never to receive a fair chance at a high school diploma.
Parents, students and teachers cited facts and numbers, personal experience, trenchant analysis and damning evidence of the DOE's malignant neglect and botched statistics.
Though the testimony started at 6 PM and continued until 2:45 AM, it was never boring. Early on, there was even humor from Lisa Donlan and Jane Hirschmann, who put on an inspired puppet show -- excerpts of which are below.
It was inspiring because at long last, Joel Klein got the reception he deserved: booed, jeered, criticized, compared to the Bernie Madoff of educational policy, with his destructive Ponzi scheme of closing schools and shifting around high-needs students; a scheme that will soon collapse, when there is nowhere left for these children to go.
It was awful because nothing that anyone said made any difference in the final vote.
The PEP, which the legislature in their wisdom allowed to continue with its a supermajority of mayoral appointees, was intent on rubberstamping whatever flawed or ridiculous policies put forward by the administration.
Shamefully, there was not a word from the chair, David Chang, or any other mayoral appointee to any of the thousands of people who urged them to think twice. Only the independent members from Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and the Bronx voted no.
When Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan member, asked the mayoral "yes men" if they had anything to say to justify these closings, not one of them felt obligated to explain his or her vote.
This event should never have been allowed to occur in a city and a nation that calls itself a democracy; with all the power in the hands of one man to make the decisions for thousands of other people's children, but this is the ugly naked face of mayoral control.
See also City Panel Backs Closing of 19 Schools (NY Times), Public sentiment has turned against Mayor Bloomberg's dictatorial school reforms (Daily News); The School Closing Marathon (Gotham Gazette); School Vote Scene Report: Joel Klein Called "Racist," (Village Voice); City's reasoning for wanting to close Jamaica HS based on faulty statistics (YourNabe.com); Parents Battle for a Say in Educational Policy (Gabe Pressman, NBC); Panel Decides to Shutter 19 NYC Public Schools (NBC New York) NYC school officials vote to close 19 underperforming schools (7Online.com); Rage as 19 schools get the axe (New York Post); “Attack” on Brooklyn high schools (YourNabe.com.)