Well, we’ve certainly had a busy two weeks since you received my last communication – from outer space. Where to start? In the middle, of course. I mean, why should I try to help decipher the gibberish in this column any more than I have in the past?
Last time I told you about this protest planned at Mayor Mike’s home at 17 East 79 Street on January 21. It’s a day after my deadline, so you will have to wait for the breathtaking results until my February 5 column. (Unless you check my blog, http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com.) Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel handled the case in front of Judge Alvin Hellerstein. As one of the organizers, I was in court on January 15 when the decision was handed down. Lucky I didn’t have to testify because I’m sure my big mouth would have blown it.
“The decision reaffirms the rights of citizens to protest on a city sidewalk, and prevents the mayor from turning a public city street into his own private front yard. Furthermore, it will allow parents, students, teachers, and members of the 22 communities affected by school closures to have their voices of discontent heard by the Mayor,” said Seung Ok, a teacher at Maxwell High School, one of the schools being closed down. Maxwell suffered from a massive influx of students when nearby Thomas Jefferson (my alma mater) closed down, similar to Beach Channel’s fate when Far Rockaway closed. Seung is a charter member of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), members of which have been attending and documenting closing school hearings.
“Today is historic for protesting in the City of New York,” said Julie Cavanagh, a teacher at P.S. 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Julie is a member of Concerned Educators for Public Education (CAPE) which has been fighting off the invasion of their school by the PAVE charter school, under the control of the son of billionaire Bloomberg pal Julian Robertson who contributed $10 million to Bloomberg school projects. (“Daddy, buy me a school!”) That investment has paid off in spades, as BloomKlein will be handing Spencer $26 million of our money from a charter school support slush fund to build his own play school. “I am so proud to stand with the parents and students I serve,” Julie continued, “as we fight not only for our right to organize, but as we advocate to protect and preserve public education in our great city. It is not lost on me as an educator that this decision was made on Martin Luther King’s birthday. His legacy of peaceful and loving activism captures the culture of our school, P.S. 15. It is in this spirit that we bring our voices and concerns to the Mayor’s block in the hopes that there, we will be heard.” Kudos to Seung and Julie, both in their early 30s and teaching for a little over a decade, for standing up for public schools and the children, parents and teachers of this city. In a sea of fear, their bravery is well worth noting. It is also worth noting that Norman Siegel was so impressed, he offered them his support for life if there should be one iota of retaliation against them.
Kudos also go out to the now famous Beach Channel student Chris Petrillo, whose passionate defense of his school has garnered citywide attention. At the January 6 meeting at BCHS, reported on so well by The Wave’s Miriam Rosenberg and Howie Schwach, I introduced Chris to Jamaica HS chapter leader James Eterno, whose school is also being closed and was having their hearing the next day. (James came to show his support for BCHS. CL Dave Pecoraro, who like James has been popping up at school closing hearings all over the city, returned the favor the next evening.) We talked to Chris about going to Jamaica to meet with student leaders there the next evening.
And, sure enough, Chris was first on line at Jamaica to speak about student solidarity. He and Jamaica’s student leader Rachel Ali got together later in the evening and they both went up to the microphone to make a joint statement. When I left Jamaica at 9 p.m., Chris and Rachel were still hatching plans and over the next week, became a dynamic duo, heading up the Choir Academy closing hearing in Harlem the next evening – a Friday evening, of all things and other school closing hearings. I ran into Chris at the Maxwell hearing on January 12 and he approached the arrogant Tweedie John White and wangled an invitation to Tweed for later that week.
Chris and Rachel popped up at Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters emergency parent conference on January 16, which attracted a surprisingly large group of parents and teachers for a Saturday on a holiday weekend. As the week wore on, the January 21 rally at Bloomies seemed to capture the imagination and as I write this on the morn of January 20, there were rumors of support from surprising groups, with even some politicians hankering to get on board. The UFT, of course, was nowhere to be seen for this demo because they didn’t think of it or organize it and behind the scenes were working to keep people away. Attempts will be made at today’s Delegate Assembly to shake the tree.
GEM is also organizing protests and actions for the January 26 Bloomberg rubber stamp Panel for Educational Policy meeting at Brooklyn Tech where all the school closings will be voted on. (Bring cots and food, as this will be a long one.) Beach Channel and Jamaica will be watching how Queens BP Helen Marshall orders her PEP rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj to vote. GEM is already planning follow-up events with forums and rallies, even contemplating visits to PEP members and borough presidents who ignore the outcries of their constituents. (See ya soon Helen.)
I can’t leave you without talking about State Senator Malcolm Smith. The charter school he founded in Rockaway stands to benefit from the Beach Channel HS closing. A Daily News article pointed to how Smith, with impoverished Rockaway schools enveloping the district he supposedly represents, gave $100,000 to the charter school he founded. His supporters argued that he “divested himself” from the school. Don’t you love the corporate terminology? And we find that the Victory Schools charter management company took over $750,000 in “management” fees. To top it off, the article said: “In 2006 and 2007, Smith received a total of $12,000 in campaign donations from Steven Klinsky, who founded the school’s management company, Victory Schools Inc. Victory officials said that Klinsky’s donations were meant as a show of support for Smith’s pro-charter school stance. Smith recently introduced a bill to double the amount of charters allowed under law.” Gee, I’m sorry I didn’t buy that bridge in Brooklyn Malcolm Smith was selling.