May 19, 2009
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 2005.
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.”
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.