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Know Your Rights
Source: Gotham Schools
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Mayoral control critics give school board literal rubber stamps

Protesters derailed the monthly city school board meeting last night, filing
out during the middle of the meeting with chants of “Hey hey, ho ho,
one-man-rule has got to go!”

The protesters
are part of the **Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups
that is pushing the state legislature to add checks to the mayor’s control of
public schools. They argue that the school board, currently known as the Panel
for Educational Policy, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the mayor’s
school policies. Panel members have almost always voted with the administration since Mayor Bloomberg fired three
members who signaled they would oppose a third-grade promotion policy in

The group began the meeting, at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan,
with a rally outside the school, then filed quietly into the meeting room,
nearly filling the lower level of an auditorium as they listened to a
presentation about swine flu. But as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who chairs
the PEP, tried to shift the topic of conversation to test scores, the Campaign
for Better Schools protesters stood up, and one member launched into a speech
encouraging panel members to “think for yourselves.”

“In the meantime, for those of you who cannot, we have brought you something
that we hope you can use moving forward,” the speaker said, referring to actual
rubber stamps the campaign had made that read “PEP approved.”

As the protesters left the auditorium, one of them, William Hargraves,
launched into an impassioned speech of his own, which starts at the beginning of
the second minute of the video above. “Yo, chancellor,” he said. “What did you
prove? Ninety percent of your audience left. … You’d rather be in front of
nobody so that you can say what you’ve got to say, than to hear what the
majority got to say?”

“I’ve heard your view,” Klein said. “We’ve got a meeting to conduct.”

“A meeting in front of who?” Hargraves asked. A moment later, when he had
reached the auditorium doors to exit, he said angrily, pointing at the
chancellor, “Maybe you could sway somebody – maybe you could just sway somebody
if you’d just take the time to listen.”

A Campaign for Better Schools supporter at yesterday's rally, with counter-protesters from Learn NY behind her.

A Campaign for Better Schools supporter at yesterday’s
rally, with counter-protesters from Learn NY behind her.

Hargraves told me he is angry because his school, PS 123 in Harlem, is
crunched for space and cannot add the programs it wants ever since a charter
school, Harlem Success Academy 2, moved into the building. That school is one of
four run by the charter school operator Eva Moskowitz.

Organizers at the Campaign for Better Schools told me they thought the
protest was effective despite some facility hurdles. The room the Department of
Education selected for yesterday’s meeting had an orchestra pit separating the
audience from the panel onstage, preventing campaign members from
hand-delivering the stamps to panel members. Panel meetings are often held down
the street from Stuyvesant, at Tweed Courthouse, in a room where audience
members nudge right against panel members.

“We didn’t anticipate the security,” April Humphrey, a campaign organizer,
told me.

About 20 counter-protesters from Learn NY, the organization that is lobbying
to preserve the mayor’s control of the schools, also attended the rally before
the meeting. Humphrey told me that yesterday was the first time Learn NY
supporters staged a counter-rally.

One Learn NY supporter, Abiodun Bello, a parent leader from Brooklyn, said he
supports mayoral control because the graduation rate in his neighborhood,
Bushwick, has risen in the last seven years.

**Make the Road NY is an active "Campaign for Better Schools" coalition member.