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New York City education advocates, along with activists from 17 other cities, are bringing their fight against school closures to the U.S. Department of Education today.
The advocates have filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights arguing that school closure policies in their cities have disproportionately impacted poor students of color, English Language Learners and special-education students. Thus, they are demanding a national moratorium on all school closures.
Zakiyah Ansari, a public school parent and founder of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, filed complaints in July and earlier this month with the OCR documenting the failed and discriminatory results of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year reign of closure on city public schools.
Over the course of Bloomberg’s three terms, he and his Panel for Educational Policy have closed 140 schools and plan to close 26 more this year. As par-the-course under the Bloomberg regime, stakeholder input hardly, if at all, factored into the school closure and co-location policies enacted by the PEP — a panel which consists of eight members selected by Bloomberg. The mayor has the power to remove and replace those appointees at his discretion.
Since the PEP consists of only 13 members, simple math reveals that Bloomberg always has his way in dictating educational policy. As Ansari notes in the OCR complaint, the PEP hasn’t voted down a single school closure.
“The worst piece is that he has totally shut out stakeholder voice, and I think what you see at the PEP [hearings] is exactly that. For hours people sit there and they wait to testify in the hopes that something different will happen, that their voice will make a difference,” Ansari told the Voice a short time after the December PEP hearing on school co-locations.
That meeting was more like an exercise in cruel and unusual punishment than a forum for public input. Parents, students, principals and other stakeholders sat, listened, cried, yelled and pleaded with PEP to reconsider the proposed co-locations from 6 p.m. until after 11 p.m. on a school night — only for the expected majority on the PEP to vote in accordance with the mayor’s favored co-location policies.
“The reality is that if they were policies that worked, and kids were thriving and communities were great, then maybe we wouldn’t be so upset about them,” Ansari said. “But the reality is that they’re failed policies.”
The complaint highlights statistics from the New York State Board of Regents indicating that only 13 percent of black and Latino high schools students who entered high school in 2006 were college ready in 2010 — as a part of the evidence that school closures have not worked. The advocates who coalesced in D.C. today found similar evidence of the discriminatory and unfruitful nature of school closure policies in their respective cities.
The ED has only agreed to investigate school closure and reorganizing plans in Newark, Philadelphia, and Detroit. A spokesperson from the ED told The New York Times that it is not within its jurisdiction to reform local school closure policies. But, it appears that school closures plans in the above-mentioned cities are particularly alarming and warrant federal investigation.
In Philadelphia, 37 public schools are up for closure, and black students constitute 80 percent of those who will be affected by the closings, according to the Times report.
Luckily for advocates in New York, support for a moratorium on school closures has gained momentum with city council members, state assembly members and a number of mayoral hopefuls.
Each of the main Democratic mayoral candidates, excluding current front-runner Christine Quinn, stood in solidarity with parents and activists on the steps of City Hall last week as they called for a halt on school closures and co-locations.
Politicians in favor of the moratorium argue that serious research and analysis must be done to prove the effectiveness of closures and co-locations before any more are carried out.
“There’s been no level of research, strategy, or policies that this administration has put forth that we know help in supporting struggling schools,” Ansari said. She argues that more proven policies, such as the implementation of community schools and the incorporation of comprehensive arts and music programs in schools, are the types of interventions low-performing schools need.
“We need a really leader who’s going to say ‘I made a mistake, this is not working,’ ” Ansari said. “Let’s engage folks in a conversation, all stakeholders, and let’s switch direction.”