Hundreds of city students walked out of class Friday afternoon to protest the proposed elimination of their student MetroCards.
About 1,000 students from 23 high schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens met at a rally at City Hall Park, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and briefly rallied at the Transit Building on Jay Street in Brooklyn to protest the planned cut.**
At Bushwick Community High School, 60 seniors walked out of class at noon.
Some protesters told NY1 they could not afford to go to school without the free rides.
"We all came out because we can’t make it without our MetroCards," said one student. "We cannot afford it, we cannot pay. Some of us are on food stamps."
"A lot of people are angry because we need these MetroCards so we can get back and forth to school," said another. "A lot of us don’t live around here and this school helps us a lot because we don’t have good schools around us."
"It’s not right that we have to fight here when it’s a simple process," said a third student protester. "You give us our MetroCards and we can get our work done."
Fernando Castro, a protester from Francis Lewis High School in Queens, wanted to make sure his voice was heard.
"I really do need a MetroCard to get to school because I have no other way to get to school. Like, right now with the economy, my parents don’t have money to give me for school," said Castro.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed cutting the free MetroCards as part of its effort to close an $800 million budget gap.
The city, state, and MTA have shared the cost of the program, but the state’s share has been held up in budget negotiations.
While the number of protesters fell short of organizers’ original expectations of 2,400 students, those who participated said the demonstration was necessary.
"We’ve had numerous meetings and rallies and events before, but we haven’t gotten a concrete answer as to trying to save student MetroCards, so we had to resort to this," said Chanwatie Ramnauth of the Urban Youth Collaborative.
While the teachers’ union did not condone the early departure from school, the union president praised the students for taking a stand.
"We do not support students leaving school early, but we applaud them standing up for their families," said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. "They are right to be outraged."
The mayor’s office has said the city still has its share of the funding in place. Mayor Michael Bloomberg added that today’s action toward the city is misdirected.
"I’ve cut back police, fire, everything else, not that," said the mayor on his radio show this morning. "That’s all we can do. We’re not going to make up for the state. We just cannot do that in any circumstances. So maybe they should be at the state Capitol steps and not the City Hall steps."
The protest came a day after Bloomberg announced a program to combat truancy among students.
Despite the student walkouts, citywide school attendance went relatively unchanged.
Department of Education officials said the attendance rate at schools citywide was 84 percent on Friday, compared with just more than 80 percent at the same time last year.
The same proved true for city high schools, where the attendance rate was 69.8 percent Friday, compared to 66 percent this time last year.
DOE officials looked at the attendance rate for June 5, 2009, the day after all public schools were closed for Brooklyn-Queens Day.
**Make the Road New York participated in the rally.