2010-02-12 / School News

NAACP: School Closings Racist

By Howard Schwach

Officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation, have charged that the plan to close 19 public schools is racially motivated.

“The education department disrespects the students and their parents with poorly planned and executed school closures. The department did not even announce where the students would end up. Instead, they kept parents in the dark, worsening a situation in which trust was already a scarce commodity,” wrote NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous and its New York State Chair Hazel Dukes in an op-ed piece in the Daily News. “If the students were from affluent communities, it’s doubtful the administration would run roughshod over the democratic process – and doubtful the schools would even be closed.”

The two officials were reacting to the Department of Education’s planned phase-out and closing of the 19 schools, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway.

The NAACP has joined with the United Federation of Teachers in suing to stop the closings.

“We are suing because democracy was overlooked and citizens’ voices – the concerns of those most affected – were left out,” the two added. “In our view, the city blatantly disregarded the state-mandated analysis of how the closings would affect the more than 13,000 students who attend the schools, particularly special education and other special needs students, and how the closings would impact the often overcrowded schools they are going to be sent to.”

With all of the mayor’s appointees voting in lockstep, the Panel for Educational Policy voted 9-4 to close the 19 schools, including Beach Channel High School, at a raucous meeting that began early on Tuesday evening, January 26, and ended at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

The New York Times called the meeting “one of the most contentious in [the PEP’s] eight-year history” and many of those who attended and spoke out against the closings called it a “scam” and a “waste of time.”

“It was a real show,” said school activist and Wave columnist Norm Scott, who stayed at the meeting to the bitter end. “The PEP was hammered for seven hours straight by more than 350 speakers, the great majority of whom were minority parents, students and alumni from the schools that are going to be closed.”

Scott said that a number of speakers called the board members “mayoral puppets” and two school activists actually put on a puppet show at the microphone when it was their turn to speak.

“This farce really opened the eyes of a lot of people to what the board and the mayor are all about,” Scott added. “They turned off the mike after two minutes and would not even allow the people from the NAACP to finish their statement.”

Hundreds of protestors crowded the Brooklyn Technical High School auditorium, cheering, shouting and booing the board members, often drowning out the proceedings.

While hundreds of protestors spoke at the meeting, a DOE spokesperson said that most of them were teachers and United Federation of Teachers officials.

A number of locals who attended, however, including BCHS senior Chris Petrillo, said that the great majority of speakers were parents and students, mostly from the minority community.

“Our lawsuit is about upholding democracy and inclusion, the ethos that drives all of our work,” the oped piece concludes. “It’s the underlying principle that led to Brown vs. Board of Education. The parents and students of New York City deserve no less. They should be given the right to raise their voices about decisions affecting one of the most fundamental and cherished aspects for any family – a quality education in a good school.”

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