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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Tribune
Subject: Youth & School Programs
Type: Media Coverage

Boro Teens Skip Out To Protest Fares

It looked more like a typical dismissal than an act of civil disobedience, but the students who walked out of Flushing High School at noon on Friday, June 11, were not doing so for fun; they were making a point.

Angry that their free student MetroCards may be axed as part of the MTA’s draconian budget cuts, students at Flushing High School joined 1,000 students from around the city who participated in a walkout to protest the planned cuts.

There were no chants, no organized marching, though the steady stream of students did walk out onto Northern Boulevard and Union Street, and headed toward the “7” train, where they met up with their colleagues from elsewhere in the city for a protest on the steps of City Hall early in the afternoon, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to MTA headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn.

Some headed into cars and minivans driven by their parents, who supported their protest by offering lifts into Manhattan. Many carried signs that showed the student MetroCard design, with the green font, and the word “SAVE” in red lettering.

“Is [Mayor] Bloomberg going to pay for our MetroCards?” asked one angry Flushing High School junior.

Organized by the Urban Youth Collaborative, which consists of the pro-immigrant rights groups Make the Road New York and Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the protest also included students from two other Queens high schools; Hillcrest High School and Long Island City High School. Some students from other Queens high schools also took part.

“If student MetroCards are cut, many of Queens mostly immigrant and low-income families will suffer greatly,” said Shoshi Chowdhury of DRUM, who noted that it would cost families upwards of $1,200 a year in traveling expenses for children to go to school – a lot of money for low-income and recession-battered families. “This means many low-income immigrant students will be pushed out of education and a good future.”

According to Make the Road, the cost of student MetroCards are shared between the MTA, State and City. The MTA said that it would not be able to fund its share this year, and the state budget may also call for cutting its share. On his radio show on June 11, Mayor Bloomberg said the city would not cut its share of the funding, and urged protestors to aim their frustrations at the state government.

“This is all we can do. We’re not going to make up for the state,” the Mayor said. “So maybe they should be at the state Capitol steps and not the City Hall steps.”

Bloomberg said the protestors would regret walking out of classes. Many students had final exams scheduled on Friday.

“If I were them, I’d just think long and hard someday,” he said. “If I didn’t pass a test, I’d always go back and wonder, ‘Was it that afternoon when I was trying to be cute and be out there and picketing?’”

Department of Education officials urged students to stay in school during school hours and some were threatened with detention, suspension or other disciplinary actions if they participated. For one Flushing High School sophomore, that was enough to keep her on campus.

“Why bother risking getting in trouble at the end of the year?” she asked. “It’s not like it’ll change anything.”