The Time is Always Right to Do What is Right

Zakiyah Ansari

In New York City, the last 10 years of educational reform has consisted of stripping parent and community voice from the system and the belief by Mayor Bloomberg that closing schools is a school reform strategy (more than 100 schools closed under Mayor Bloomberg). This strategy has resulted in the creation of more than 400 new small schools, but they have largely left behind the lowest-performing schools serving the highest-needs communities, predominantly in  Black and Latino neighborhoods.

As a mother, advocate and an organizer with Alliance for Quality Education I signed my name to the lawsuit along with AQE, NAACP, UFT, other parents and elected officials because the politics DOE is playing with our children must stop. They claim that they have raised the graduation rates, closed the achievement gap and tout that their policies over the last 9 years have been successful. Yet as a result of Bloomberg’s school reforms the racial achievement gap has widened since 2003 and now white students are twice as likely to read on grade level as Black or Latino students.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s comments in response to the lawsuit are not surprising but are frustrating because they don’t address the issues laid out in the lawsuit.  He is playing one side of a story– that is clearly the side that Mayor Bloomberg wants him to promote. This falls in line with the Mayor’s response to the lawsuit when asked about the parents in the schools scheduled for closure, “Unfortunately there are some parents who just come from — they never had a formal education, and they don’t understand the value of education.” For the record I will never let him forget those words because it shows how disconnected he is from the community. Shame on the Mayor thinking that parents would want to keep their children in failing schools and that teachers would want to work in one.

How do parents, students, teachers and our communities get the Department of Education(DOE) to acknowledge and address the very real concerns with their process on school closures and co-locations? In Bloomberg’s NYC we are unfortunately left  with little recourse other than filing a lawsuit.  Not only do they ignore our voices, as last year’s lawsuit showed, they ignore the law.

In 2010, New York Supreme Court Judge ruled and ordered DOE to create a educational plans for the schools scheduled for closure in the lawsuit and to provide supports to help them implement the plans (it is a shame it took a judge to tell DOE this is their job). This was a victory for students, parents, teachers and community  it showed for the first time that DOE was accountable for these schools.  A whole year gone by and the Bloomberg DOE continues to act as if they are above the law, many if not all of the schools they were ordered to support have not gotten any help.

This year’s lawsuit is broader to include co-location (the placing of a charter school into the same building as  an already existing district public school). While a small number of co-locations actually are successful it is not okay to create these separate and unequal schools. It is not fair that the existing schools have  to now eat lunch at unreasonable times like at 10 am. It is not fair that libraries, science labs, small group instruction rooms, dance and art rooms are being taken away from these schools to accommodate the charter school that will undoubtedly use those rooms to offer their students many of those same educational opportunities.   It is not fair that some for profit charter management officers are feeding off of parents desperation to find a good school for their child and then once they are in create a fear among parents that it will all be taken away if they don’t find a space. Then the DOE and the charter management companies organize these parents  to fight to take space from another school that is often at the expense of the children’s education in the existing school.  It is wrong that Mayor Bloomberg and  DOE are creating and perpetuating this divide among parents in our communities.  It is not fair for Chancellor Walcott to attack the NAACP for standing up for the very group of students that the Bloomberg and the DOE is pushing aside. Who is responsible for making charter parents believe that there is a guaranteed space for them in the existing school before a vote is placed? Is the DOE once again putting the cart before the horse?

Are there any positives that can come from this lawsuit?

Parents believe that under mayoral control the school system is immovable after attending press conferences and rallies protesting the failed policies of DOE and offering hours upon hours of testimonials at City Council hearings. This lawsuit has shined the spot light on the need to support our struggling schools. It gives parent and communities who have been legitimately complaining about the DOE’s thoughtless co-locations process and ever changing criteria for closing schools hope that the system can be moved. If we are bold enough it has the potential to highlight the deliberate divide  created among parents of color and the strategic method of pitting Black and Latino parents in charter schools against Black and Latino parents in traditional public schools. This is a divide that will not easily be healed but the healing is necessary to ensure that there is a real educational plan that will make all schools great schools. We must no longer allow others to divide us!

If after all of this we can get Chancellor Walcott to publicly lay out a comprehensive educational plan that includes research based strategies to support the hundreds of struggling schools in NYC, a plan that includes stakeholders that would be the first step in a different but positive direction for our children.

Injustice anywhere, is a threat justice everywhere!

Zakiyah Ansari is an organizer with the New York State Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)

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