Hundreds of parents, students and teachers** attended a rowdy meeting in Brooklyn Thursday night before the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close 12 more city schools.
More than 2,000 people arrived at Brooklyn Tech High School in Fort Greene and about 350 people were signed up to speak to the panel, which held its second meeting of the week about school closures.
The public comments section lasted until the early morning hours, with a final vote immediately following.
When Schools Chancellor Cathie Black arrived on the stage, the crowd erupted into boos and jeers. After about five minutes, the panel decided to begin with the chancellor’s speech which was completely drowned out by the heckling crowd.
One of the first speakers to follow was City Councilman Charles Barron, who criticized Black for her response to the crowd at Tuesday’s hearing.
"Miss Black, you have a lot of nerve," said Barron. "That little ugly sound that you made on TV jeering our parents is a height of disrespect. No one would ever make a funny sound like that and taunting parents after you’re closing their schools down."
Around 7:10 p.m., a large portion of the auditorium stood up and began marching out to the sound of drums and whistles, forcing the panel to suspend the hearing for the next half hour.
The president of the teachers union later revealed that the mass exodus had been preplanned.
Those who walked out say the meeting would reach a forgone conclusion and there was no point in staying.
"We know what the DOE is gonna do, we know what the Panel of Educational Policy is gonna do, they gonna vote to phase out Jamaica High School because they are paid by Bloomberg, they are just a bunch of puppets," said one student. "They gonna do exactly what Bloomberg says. So we are out here because we know they are not listening to us. So why should we listen to them."
"We’re walking out to let them know that we are not gonna listen to them. They have never listened to us therefore we are not listening to them," said one parent.
In the end, only those who support a plan to move charter schools into existing school buildings stayed and spoke to the panel.
The vote originally concerned 13 schools, but Department of Education officials delayed the vote of P.S. 114 in Brooklyn to do more analysis and respond to public comments.
NY1 did a series of stories on P.S. 114, which showed there is evidence that the Department of Education mishandled the situation at the school for several years.
Thursday night’s meeting was expected to mirror the panel’s seven-hour meeting on Tuesday that resulted with the approval of 10 school closings. Despite the bad weather, more than 3,000 people attended and more than 350 signed up to speak before the panel.
The vote on another two schools will come in March.
The mayor appoints a majority of the panels’ members, so the panel was likely to approve of the closure of all 25 schools, the highest number ever attempted by the DOE.
When the PEP voted last year to close 19 schools, the United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit that overturned those closings. Now, seven of the schools that avoided being closed last year will find out their fates tonight.
The teachers’ union staged a rally before Thursday night’s meeting began, and members said they are enraged and will not back down.
"Teachers are upset about the closures, but they also understand that they believe that the Department of Education has completely abdicated its responsibility to help support teaching and learning in New York City," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Education reform activists and parents also formed a last minute counter-rally before the meeting in support of the school closures. They said they want better schools, including charter schools, opening in the outgoing schools’ spaces.
"It’s simple, when a large school is wasting not only time, but money, funds that should be going to real results," said parent Marcelo Echeverria.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the chancellor needs to respond to the concerns of parents, and not dismiss them with sarcasm. He said Black can learn a few things from Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Jay Walder, who has built a reputation as being respectful and willing to listen to the riding public.
**Along with members of Make the Road New York (MRNY).
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