By Zach Campbell
And Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — At a chaotic meeting of the Mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) Thursday night, the Department of Education (DOE) voted to close 23 schools — or sections of those schools — because of low performance.
Hundreds of parents, teachers and students — along with members of Occupy the Department of Education — arrived by charter buses from all five boroughs, first holding a rally outside Brooklyn Technical High School and then trickling into the auditorium's two levels.
As Tito Hernandez, a member of the PEP, began reading the names of the schools, murmurs of conversation became a roar of chants, nearly overpowering the room’s PA system. The meeting was held with a heavy police presence, with officers lining the front of the stage and at every entrance, although there were no arrests.
Many of the PEP members met the public comments with an air of indifference, as concerned parents, teachers, community members and even some middle and high school students used the time allotted for public comment to plead with them not to close any schools.
Few were optimistic at the effect they would have on the panel’s eventual decision to close the schools. One teacher who had come with a dozen students in tow representing a school in Manhattan said, “Let’s see if this makes a difference — I doubt it will.”
Still, one of her students, in the 10th grade at Washington Irving High School, added that he was happy to see how many schools had come for the meeting. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Community Education Councils (CECs) representing districts that would be affected by school closures were present, as were many parents, teachers and students. Those who tried to speak during the public comment were drowned out by the crowd until they began speaking the short, repeatable phrases emblematic of the “people's mic.”
"The reason no one is listening to you is because this is a sham — the decision had been unilaterally made by the Bloomberg administration to close these schools in advance,” says City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush/East Flatbush). “The fact that thousands of people, from every demographic and every part of this city, would show up to loudly protest a meeting they already knew to be a farce is a real statement. Mayoral control has failed; we need municipal control today.”
Williams also quoted a joint study by the DOE and the City University of New York that pointed out that only 13 percent of black and Latino students and 25 percent of all students citywide are college- and career-ready. “There’s no success in that,” he said.
Councilwoman Letita James (D-Fort Greene/Crown Heights) addressed the PEP panel, arguing that the amount of unrest surrounding their decisions was indicative of is performance.
"This is chaos, and this is a failure," James said. "In all of my time working in government, I've never seen anything like this."
She later issued a statement that read, "It is clear that the New York City Department of Education has not worked alongside parents and elected officials representing the community in a joint effort to increase resources, support services, and maintain school options in areas of need. Furthermore, the DOE has not provided struggling public schools with the resources and support needed to be successful, instead closing the schools, oftentimes in the face of loud community criticism."
The only proposal to win unanimous approval from all PEP members was the addition of a middle school to P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights. The middle school would be located within Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn.
As for the school closings, the PEP members who were appointed by the city’s borough presidents generally voted against the school closures, while those appointed by Mayor Bloomberg voted in favor.
Later in the night, after some staged a walkout of the meeting, a junior at the Academy of Business and Community Development (ABCD), a grade 6-12 school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, pleaded with the PEP to vote against closure.
“Please don't close my school,” he said, “This is my family — I came here as an ABCD student, and I want to finish as an ABCD student.”