Night of Outrage: Thousands Protest NYC School Closings

by Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau

The Brooklyn Technical HS auditorium was packed for the Feb. 9 meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy. Photo by Dave Sanders

In one of the angriest demonstrations yet against Mayor Bloomberg’s failed education policies, thousands of teachers, parents, students and community members turned out to protest school closings at a Feb. 9 meeting of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy at Brooklyn Technical HS.

Despite virtually unanimous opposition, the panel approved the Department of Education’s bid to close 18 schools and eliminate grades from five others. The decision marked the largest number of school closings ever approved in a single meeting. Bloomberg has closed 117 schools since taking control of the school system in 2002, while opening 396 new schools that rarely serve the same high-needs students.

Some 500 UFT members, community allies and elected officials rallied at a press conference across the street from the meeting before entering.

“The entire city is sick and tired of the way the school system is being treated,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the crowd. “Enough is enough!”

Mulgrew also took aim at the PEP. “It doesn’t even do justice to the words ‘kangaroo court,’” he said.

The panel, dominated by mayoral appointees, has never rejected a proposal to close a school.

State Sen. John Sampson, who was among the 28 local elected officials at the press conference, gave the DOE an F for failing students and schools.

“It’s time not only to shut down Tweed, but to remove everyone in Tweed,” he said.

The UFT had initially planned to march to nearby PS 20, where it would hold an alternative “People’s PEP,” but, after police barred those assembled from marching in the street, Mulgrew led the crowd into the PEP meeting.

The UFT contingent starts a march toward the People’s PEP at nearby PS 20.

UFT  President Michael Mulgrew (center) and New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes (right of Mulgrew) are among those leading the pre-meeting protest. Miller Photography

Inside the capacious Brooklyn Tech auditorium, the rage was palpable. The police were out in force, with NYPD officers standing in a phalanx near the stage and along the sides of the auditorium

Standing on a chair in the heart of the crowd, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “We have come here tonight to speak truth to power. The only thing that needs to be closed is the Department of Education.”

His words, not amplified by a microphone, echoed in waves through the auditorium as the crowd repeated them using the “people’s microphone.”

The more than 100 speakers, including many parents, almost all slammed the closings.

New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes demanded that the DOE keep schools open.

“You’ve hired consultants who know nothing about our children,” she said. “Use that money instead to give schools the resources they need.”

Ernest Uthgenannt, the chapter leader at Grace Dodge HS in the Bronx, had intended to defend the importance of his school’s CTE programs at the “People’s PEP,” but instead told the New York Teacher that they offer “an alternative path” to students who may not be inclined to pursue higher education and in many cases “provide the motivation to get through the academic classes that are necessary to graduate.”

“I’m afraid to think of what might happen to some of these kids if their CTE programs are taken away,” Uthgenannt said, noting his school’s CTE programs are among the last remaining in the Bronx. “They might decide not to come to school at all.”

Uthgenannt said that the DOE placed Grace Dodge in the “transformation” model, a three-year process, in August. “How do they change their minds in four months? What kind of planning is that?” he asked.

Another chapter leader, Mavis Yon of General Chappie James Elementary School of Science in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, told the New York Teacher about the overwhelming — and overlooked — social issues confronting her school, where 98 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Yon said that her school community’s pleas to the DOE for additional “wrap-around” social services at their school fell on deaf ears.

“There are kids who need glasses, but their parents can’t afford them,” she said. “If you can’t see, you can’t read. You just can’t.”

She warned, “Until the DOE realizes you have to educate the whole child, they’ll have similar results.”

Harry Rivas, a freshman at Manhattan’s Legacy HS and a leader in the fight to save it, said that “if you close down the school, you close down the students with it.”

Of the coming four years, Rivas said, “We’re not going to be able to get the support and help we need. And we’re not going to be able to get the proper education we need.”

Natasha Capers, an alumna of PS/IS 298 and the vice president of the school’s PTA, asked the panelists when they will “stand up and do what’s right for New York City children?”

Students “need time, they need love and they need a proper education,” none of which they are getting from the DOE, she said.

Harlem Sen. Bill Perkins condemned “the slow death of space being taken away, piece by piece” from three schools just blocks from each other in his district. These schools would now be squeezed or closed to make room for new co-located schools, he said.

“The DOE often says they are providing these new schools to offer choice,” Perkins said. “If you live in this part of the city, you will have no choice as a result of them giving all of our public schools away.”

Educators from schools labeled “persistently lowest achieving” also turned out in force at the meeting after the mayor threatened to close 31 of these schools and remove half of the staff in each.

Brett Green, a music teacher at Grover Cleveland HS, which had been in the federal “restart” model, said that Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a recent visit to the school, promised the school community, “I can see your progress. I will do what I can to help your school. It will not close.”

The mayor’s vow to close the school, Green said, has left students, families and teachers “demoralized, to say nothing of being thrown into complete and utter turmoil.”

At the end of the long night, true to form, the mayoral appointees voted to approve all the closings, while the representatives from Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn dissented. The Staten Island representative voted in favor of the closings, except for PS 14 in her borough, on which she abstained from voting.

Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau are on the staff of the New York Teacher, where this report originally appeared.


Harvest America or Invest in America

by Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher

Many American voters seem ready to run our country as if it were a business.

Some businesses take a long-range growth perspective, and honor all their stakeholders. A country run that way would be OK.

However, other businesses believe their markets are “unattractive,” to use the business school expression. If your business is in an unattractive market, your smart business move is to defer investment in new plant and equipment, cut back on worker training, freeze or terminate pensions, reduce R&D, extract as much value from the business as possible, return the cash to shareholders, and dump whatever remains. I wouldn’t run a country that way.

For decades, industrialists have looked at America and concluded that our domestic economy was unattractive compared to low-wage alternatives. We don’t invest in industrial capacity, we treat our schools as a cost to be minimized rather than a social investment in our children, we terminate pensions, we reduce our investment in infrastructure to a fraction of other countries’, and what R&D we fund seems to create jobs in “more attractive” places, outside the United States.

In business school, this is called a harvest strategy. Economists explain that harvest strategies can be good, pruning away the old to make way for the new.

Continue reading

Stopping Evictions in Detroit

Steve Babson , People Before Banks

The Garretts

The scene is straight out of Charles Dickens: shortly before Christmas, bank officers notify an elderly couple that they will be evicted from their home of 22 years in the dead of winter. The Garrett family has fallen behind on the mortgage.

William Garrett, who is legally blind and disabled by stroke, can no longer work in his trade as barber and hairdresser. His son-in-law, whose name is on the mortgage and whose business has suffered in the slumping economy, can no longer help shoulder the cost. William and his wife Bertha are scrimping by on social security and disability payments of less than $700 a month. The sheriff has already sold the house at foreclosure auction to the bank for $12,000, and the court-ordered eviction was scheduled for January 31.

Continue reading

Workers Claim Victory After an Occupation with Serious Energy

By Dan Massoglia

(Feb 24) Dozens of workers emerged from the Serious Materials factory building at 1333 N. Hickory Avenue last night, chanting “Si se pudo!” to cheers from a wet but excited crowd of roughly thirty, many of whom had planned to spend the night in solidarity. Led by UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles, they exchanged hugs as Robles spoke into a camera. First in English, then in Spanish, he welcomed the result.

“We got a good resolution, better than we expected,” he said, and thanked those there for their support. The main portion of the settlement was an agreement that the workers could keep their jobs for 90 days while searching for new owners for the plant, and Robles’ suggestion that the workers could run the company under their own banner was met with applause. “Give us hope, give us work! For the workers of America!” cheered someone from the crowd.
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YDS Organizes a week of student protests

English: New, simple logo for YDS.

Image via Wikipedia

YDS mobilizes to participate in protests during National Student Debt Week, Feb.27- March 2, across the country.  Over 170 members of the Young Democratic Socialists met in New York City along with Dr. Cornel West  over the weekend of Feb.17-19, and planned their participation in the escalation of protests during National Student Debt Week.

Cornel West wants you to join the Week of Action.

Student debt exceeded $1 Trillion in 2011- exceeding even U.S. credit card debt.  For too many students access to college is being closed by  unsustainable debt  burdens. College tuition and fees have quadrupled fro 1982- 2007, far exceeding the rate of inflation.  Deregulation of the finance industry, particularly student loans, budget cuts to higher education, threats to privatize programs in  public colleges and universities, and the recession and loss of career and job opportunities  for the young  have created a crisis for thousands of students. Continue reading

Black America: A Prescription for the Future–NYC meeting on Feb 26

Panel discussion with  Moderator Jerold Podair, history professor, Lawrence College; author of Bayard Rustin, American Dreamer and panelists

  • Dr. William Julius Wilson, noted author and distinguished professor of sociology, Harvard University
  • Dr. Bernard Anderson, economics professor emeritus, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; former asst. secretary of labor in the Clinton Administration
  • Rev. Al Sharpton, PoliticNation, MSNBC
  • Rick Kahlenberg, senior fellow, Century Foundation
  • Richard Trumka, president, AFL-CIO
  • Velma Murphy Hill, civil rights and labor activist, Summary and Closing

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Sunday, Feb. 26 2–6 p.m.   515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY

Reception to follow.

Sponsored by the NYC Central Labor Council, Amalgamated Bank, Metro New York A. Philip Randolph Institute, Amalgamated Transit Union.

Apple Refuses to Meet With Hong Kong Consumers

by Debby Chan

Protest at Apple Store in Hong Kong

Labour groups and media have been reporting the unethical labour practices at Apple suppliers in China in the past 2 years. Under the intense pressure, Apple joined the Fair Labour Association (FLA) in January 2012 in an attempt to create a transparent and socially responsible image. Regrettably, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) delivered the petition letter to the Apple Store yesterday, Apple refused to receive the letter and called the police to disperse the protesters.

Without a doubt, Apple products are extremely popular all over the world. No Apple consumer would expect the Apple gadgets are produced under sweatshop-like conditions in China. In 2009, over 137 workers in Wintek, an Apple supplier in Suzhou China, were poisoned by n-hexane while cleaning the iPhone touch screens. The victims have written 3 letters to Apple but there is no response from the company. Last year, a deadly explosion occurred in the polishing department of Foxconn’s Chengdu factory. Four workers died and 18 were injured.

Furthrmore, Apple also approves the use of student workers as de facto labour at Foxconn. If students refuse to do internship, they are threatened with not being permitted to graduate from school. The use of student workers is definitely a form of involuntary labour. More importantly, these are not single incidents but systematic problems at Apple suppliers.

 Consumers across the world are disturbed by the deplorable working conditions at Apple suppliers. There are dozens of concerned groups or individuals launched signature campaign on Apple labour practices. One of the groups, Sum of Us, has launched an online signature campaign to urge Apple to make iPhone 5 ethically. As of 22 February, the group has collected over 110,000 signatures to urge Apple. Sum Of Us has called on supporters to deliver signatures to the Apple Store. Yesterday, SACOM supported the initiative and intended to send the signatures to the Apple Store in Hong Kong. SACOM has patiently waited for a representative from the Apple Store to receive the letter for an hour. It was outrageous that Apple refused to accept the letter and called the police to send our group away. Although Apple has joined the FLA as if it is more open to public scrutiny, it simply ignores the petition from 110,000 signatories.

 Apple’s stock surpassed $500 last week and keeps climbing. As the world’s most valuable brand, it can certainly afford to pay a living wage to the production workers. However, Apple fans who demand ethical Apple products are ignored. This demonstrates the arrogance and hypocrisy of the corporation. And the FLA membership does not make any difference to Apple.

Sze Wan Debby Chan is Project Officer for the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).