‘Our Kids Are Not Stupid!’
'Our Kids Are Not Stupid!'
NAACP And Residents Battle CSB 27
Over Rezoning And Racial Comment
By Gary G. Toms
Representatives of the Far Rockaway Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and community residents held a meeting this week to express their outrage over comments made at a recent Community School Board 27 meeting, which has been regarded by many in the black community as a racial bigotry. The angry group also blasted a proposed plan by District 27 officials to rezone a number of school children to different sections of the peninsula.
The plan, which was outlined by Marty Barr, a planning expert with the local school district at a recent meeting at PS 104, called for students who live in the sprawling Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway to remain in the schools they now attend rather than attend the new school, PS 253, a school less than two blocks from their homes. The plan also called for a rezoning of the 400 Ocean Village children, who now attend PS 225 in Rockaway Beach to move back to their neighborhood schools - PS 105 and PS 42.
District 27 Operations Manager Sandy Brawer told the fifty people in attendance that rezoning would be a long process and that nothing in the plan presented that night would be set in stone.
"We will have a series of meetings to obtain community input. This is not a done deal," Brawer said.
Many in the audience and on the board took offense, however, when Barr put up a slide that showed Redfern children remaining in their present schools - PS 104 and PS 197 rather than the newly-constructed school. According to school board member David Hooks, Jr., who attended the meeting, Barr then made the following statement, which has sent many in the black community into a virtual rage.
"The kids in Redfern are low performing and the district does not want them in the new school."
"He basically said that they would have a negative impact on the school. I found the comment to be extremely offensive," said Hooks.
"We have to give the children the benefit of the doubt. Just because they have not performed well in school before does not mean that they won't do so in the future. I grew up in Redfern and I am personally insulted by the assumption being made about people in Redfern and in other low-performing areas," he added.
At a meeting held at the Elks Lodge, located at Nameoke and Beach Channel Drive, the NAACP's Far Rockaway Chapter President Ed Williams expressed his outrage in a 10-minute speech to many community residents from Redfern and other sections of Rockaway.
"The assumptions being made are ridiculous and asinine. This comment came from an official that is supposed to have the best interest of our children at heart," said Williams.
"If this is his line of thinking, I'm scared as hell about what the other people might be thinking. Do they think all of our kids are stupid? Well, I've got news for them. Our kids are not stupid!"
Several NAACP members noted that copies of the story that appeared in The Wave were forwarded to officials at the organization's national level.
Williams told The Wave that he spoke to District 27 Superintendent Matthew Bromme about the comment, and stated that he was extremely apologetic over the incident and acknowledged that it was a mistake that would never happen again. This week, The Wave received a letter from Bromme, on New York City Department of Education stationary, outlining his position. A portion of the letter reads as follows:
"During this meeting it was proposed by a member of my staff that the children currently residing in the Redfern Houses would continue to be bused to three schools, as is now the practice, as the new school (PS 253) would become a low performing school. If any member of the Board, or persons residing in the Redfern Houses, or anywhere on the Rockaway community, District 27 or the city were offended by those remarks, I offer my sincere and humble apologies. As Superintendent, I accept full responsibility for what was stated at the meeting, however, it does not reflect my mission in leading this District."
Despite the actions taken by Bromme, Williams, NAACP members and community residents believe that Barr will only receive "a mere slap on the wrist" for his actions.
"To say you are sorry is not enough. If we let this go, it will only allow them to do this to our community again, and again, again. We don't think it would be asking too much to call for Mr. Barr's resignation. We won't settle for anything less," said Williams.
Other audience members included Simone Meeks (wife of Congressman Gregory W. Meeks), Jameel Johnson (Meeks' Chief of Staff in Washington), Assemblywoman Michele Titus, Bob Simmons (Democratic District Leader), former City Council member Juanita Watkins and Isaac Parsee, co-chair of the chapter's Education Committee. Each took an opportunity to express their anger over the comment. The group is planning a number of demonstrations, and to pull large segments of the community together to attend future meetings on rezoning.
"We cannot let this go," said Bob Simmons.
"If we give them a pass on this one, they will expect us to do the same time and time again. They have to know that this is something we take very seriously. If we just let it slide, we are going to be in serious trouble."
The Wave attempted to contact Bromme at the District 27 office to inquire whether disciplinary action was being considered against Barr. While we were unsuccessful in our attempt to reach the Superintendent, The Wave did speak to Deputy Superintendent Martin Weinstein.
"I cannot comment on personal disciplinary actions," stated Weinstein.