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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Protesting School Closings, in a Noisy Annual Ritual

The seven-foot, blue-eyed beaver mascot in a red Jamaica High School sweatshirt bobbed his head above teachers and parents chanting, “Whose schools? Our schools!”

Above them, a 12-foot-high JumboTron screen, set up outside Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, broadcast rock-music video montages of past protests to a crowd of hundreds.**

Students blew whistles, rang cowbells and shouted, “Save our schools.” Christopher Martinez, 16, held up a sign with the words “Egypt is N.Y.,” in a nod to the continuing pro-democracy protests there. “We want to show that our voices can be heard here, too,” he said.

It was the second day of what has become the New York City school system’s annual Lollapalooza of anti-Bloomberg fury: the rowdy, ear-splitting, all-night, midwinter meetings at which failing schools get closed.

On Tuesday, a city panel voted to close 10 schools, and on Thursday, the panel voted to close 12 more. Among them were large high schools once considered stars, like Jamaica High School in Queens, and John F. Kennedy High School and Columbus High School in the Bronx, that have since run into difficulties.

Roughly 350 speakers signed up to give two-minute public comments at the meeting, which started at 6 p.m. and, according to the Department of Education, was attended by about 2,000 people.

As members of the crowd jeered, Cathleen P. Black, the chancellor, took her place at center stage in the three-tiered auditorium, surrounded by aides and the Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on the closings.

She tried to give an introduction, but was drowned out by teenagers shouting, “We don’t care.”

The demonstrators said they knew that their noise would not change anything, given that the panel, controlled by the mayor, had never voted against a closing. But they came anyway, to be heard, some of them said.

“If it takes a revolution in this city,” said Tony Avella, a state senator from Queens backing Jamaica High School, “we are going to take back our schools.” To Ms. Black, he said: “You should not be sitting there as chancellor. You have no educational experience.”

Ms. Black did not respond to Mr. Avella, or to the students who chanted, “Black is wack!” Nor did she respond to Charles Barron, the Brooklyn councilman, who criticized her for her reaction on Tuesday night, when she answered the crowd’s constant chanting with a mocking, two-second taunt of her own.

Closing schools has been one of the mayor’s signature policies, and perhaps his most controversial. More than 100 schools, many of them large comprehensive high schools, have been phased out, and broken up into smaller, themed schools.

The city has emphasized the success of these schools, whose graduation rates are often far higher than the failing schools that they replaced. But the themed schools have also had more control over their enrollment; even so, some of them are also failing. Eight schools opened by the mayor are among those being closed. The city said its willingness to close those schools was evidence that all schools were being held accountable.

The teachers’ union, which supplied the JumboTron, has strongly opposed closings, in part because it is one of the few ways the city can remove a large number of teachers from a particular school.

At one point, the clamor took over the auditorium, making it impossible for speakers to take the microphone. The room reverberated with the sound of bongos and the repeated chant: “Fix our schools now.” About 7:30 p.m., most of the students began to walk out in protest.

In the relative quiet that was left behind, the speaker list moved quickly, and by 11 p.m. the closings were put before the panel for their questions. In the end, before 1 a.m. Friday, the 12-member panel voted as expected, and all the closings were approved.”It’s been a long night, it’s been a productive one,” Ms. Black said in brief closing remarks. “These are never easy decisions,” she added, “but we believe we’ve come out in the right place.”

**Along with members of Make the Road New York.

For original article, click here.