2012-02-17 / Columnists

School Scope

Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Setting:

Thursday, February 9, 2012, 5-11PM

Brooklyn Technical HS, housed in an 8 story fortress like building in Fort Greene on Dekalb Avenue. A very tall antenna sitting on the roof that can be seen from miles away. A double level balcony in its auditorium, one of the largest in the city schools. The Panel for Educational Policy meeting is meeting to vote to phase out 22 schools. Over 2000 people saying “no” to school closings will end up filling the space. The Players

Tweedie-Dees and Tweedie- Dums: Anyone connected with the NYCDOE.

Panel for Educational Policy (PEP): Bloomberg puppet dominated board of education with eight mayoral appointees and five borough president appointees.

Occupy DoE (ODOE): a coalition of forces and offshoot of OWS aiming to take over the meeting by holding its own meeting using the People’s Mic to give people from closing schools a chance to speak on their terms by drowning out the audio from the amplified sound. The ultimate goal is to force the Panel to hold the vote in such chaos they violate the open meetings law, provoking a possible court case to invalidate the vote.

Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ): an Annenberg Institute backed coalition of community organizations, organizing parents and students at a number of closing schools. They will march to Brooklyn Tech and join ODOE in the use of the People’s Mic with students from closing schools playing a major role.

UFT (playing the role of Hamlet): To go or not to go into the PEP or march instead to an alternate site, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of those ODOE and CEJ people who enter the PEP to challenge the forces of the vassals of King Bloomberg or to take arms against a sea of closing schools and by opposing end them. Un---like Hamlet, the UFT takes a halfway position. At first they say they will go in with ODOE and CEJ and then walk out en masse with the hope everyone else goes with them four blocks away to an alternate site where they have 600 seats reserved. ODOE, CEJ, the NAACP and other groups allied with the UFT are balking, saying they don’t intend to leave. The UFT will flip-flop – more than once as the evening goes on.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj: Queens borough rep appointed by Borough President Helen Marshall who was often silent on the ed deforms under Bloomberg but has been increasingly vocal. The Action

5PM: The UFT, which originally was supposed to enter the PEP, join ODOE in making some noise and using the People’s Mic, changes policy. Rumors circulate that they are diverting the buses away from Brooklyn Tech and sending them directly to PS 20 four blocks away where they would get to make statements about their schools to politicians. The UFT holds a rally across Dekalb Avenue from Tech in front of Fort Greene Park. Many schools on the school closing list are there and have mixed feelings between following the UFT lead or joining ODOE in staying in the PEP and using the People’s Mic to have their say. Occupy DOE sets up with their signs directly across Dekalb and starts serenading the people at the UFT rally with union songs before crossing the street to lobby people to join them inside to help disrupt the meeting. ODOE distributes palm cards saying, “Occupy and Stay, Don’t Walk Away.” There is a mixed reaction as some say they would go in if the UFT said it is OK. At this point the UFT sticks to its guns and officials start passing out leaflets urging people affiliated with ODOE to not go in but go to PS 20 instead.

5:30: CEJ marching from Flatbush Avenue along Dekalb arrives with masses of cheering students and every- one starts entering the auditorium past a massive police presence. The UFT is supposed to send in HSVP Leo Casey with 10 reps from closing schools in each borough to get to a mic and urge people to leave. It doesn’t happen.

6-8PM: The orchestra fills up and people are making lots of noise. “Whose schools? Our schools.” “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” As the meeting starts, ODOE people and the students start shouting “mic check” and begin the People’s Mic where one person makes a short statement and everyone repeats it. The space is so big much of what is said gets lost. Lots of people are not really clear on how to use this technique. Politicians get to speak first and when they use the amplified mic they are shouted down with chants of “use the People’s Mic.” Some work their way through the crowd and join in with ODOE.

Once it is clear that no one is leaving, the UFT reverses direction again and decide to stay. UFT sends emissaries to ODOE to say UFT President Mulgrew wants to use the People’s Mic. They welcome him with cheers. The UFT sends the people back from PS 20 to Tech. Many in this upstart group feel they have won a pissing contest with the goliath.

Things get increasingly chaotic. The DOE cranks up the decibel level of the amplified sound which begins to drown out the People’s Mic. People begin to speak at the regular mic. ODOE is in some retreat. Students decide to walk out and meet in the lobby where a student led People’s Mic takes place with passionate statements defending their schools. They decide to go back in and continue the battle. Police block the doors. There is much pushing and shoving with charges that a lockout constitutes a violation of the open meeting law. Police stand aside. Students flood into the left aisle.

Some in ODOE are getting worried the extremely volatile situation might lead to police overreaction and a decision is made to have one speaker use the amplified mic with a speech urging people to leave, an ironic twist given ODOE had been urging people to stay ‘till the bitter end.” But staying and listening passively to each two minute plea to save a school, only to know that the PEP will vote to close them anyway is just not in the DNA of many ODOE people. Most people leave with just a few hundred left to harass the PEP as they vote to close the schools. The meeting drones on for hours with speakers pouring their hearts out in two minute segments about why their schools should not be phased out. The finale

Before the meeting ends at 11p.m., the panel members from the boroughs force Dennis Walcott and other DOE officials to justify the closing of schools. It is here that Queens rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj comes up big, real big. Fedkowskyj questions DOE officials Dennis Walcott, Marc Sternberg and Shael Polokow-Suransky with an intensity and seething anger not seen before, forcing them to defend the concept that closing schools is a solution. Fedkowskyj makes a passionate statement,

(nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2012/02/dmytro-fedkowskyj-onwhy he-voted-no-on.html), joining the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan reps who also stand firm in defense of the schools in their boroughs. In the end all four vote against the closing of every school. Only the Staten Island rep stands with the eight Bloomberg panel members. The remnants of ODOE heckle and boo as the vote is taken.

As the audience files out, James Eterno, union rep from Jamaica HS, who sat through the same kind of vote to close his school a year ago, says, “No matter how many times I come here and see the PEP vote to shut down schools, it never stops the hurt. It’s like watching a death in the family.” Postscript: Monday, February 13

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall (who has often supported Bloomberg or been mostly silent on education issues) and Fedkowskyj host a hearing at borough hall for the eight so-called “turn-around” schools in the borough faced with closing in the next round where at least 50% of the teachers will be replaced, vowing to push back against the DOE, which has been accused of holding these schools hostage to force the union into agreeing to a plan to evaluate teachers based 40% on one test score a year. Gotham Schools reports, “Marshall often clapped and cheered as she listened to dozens of teachers and families defend their schools. Occasionally she even interjected to describe how her respect for teachers developed over years of working as an early childhood educator.” Is it possible the message is seeping through? That handing total power over the school system to one person is a very dangerous thing?

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