January 26, 2010
Anna and Maura were on the scene of the Panel for Educational Policy’s meeting Tuesday night to decide on proposed school closures. They provided dispatches until the meeting’s bitter end, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
4 a.m. After a two-hour protest that closed the streets in Fort Greene; nearly nine hours of testimony by concerned elected officials, parents, teachers, and students; and a series of votes that underscored the divide between Mayor Bloomberg and panel appointees from most of city’s boroughs, the Panel for Educational Policy determined early this morning that 20 city schools, both young and old, small and large, will begin to close this fall. We’ll have more about the implications of the panel’s decisions starting sometime tomorrow afternoon.
But for now, with Brooklyn Tech empty, at least for a few hours, and Anna and Maura safely in taxis, we’re closing the blog for the night. Be sure to scroll through all 70+ entries to see exactly how the marathon meeting unfolded.
3:43 a.m. Maura managed to corner mayoral appointee David Chang before he left the building. “These are tough decisions but I think they’re all thoughtful,” he said. “I’m convinced the change is for the better.”
3:42 a.m. City Hall just sent out a press release with statements from Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. The release is dated Jan. 26 — the day the PEP meeting began, but not when it ended.
Here’s what Bloomberg had to say:
This morning, following a 45-day consultation period in which thousands of New Yorkers participated in dozens of hearings and parent meetings or registered their views online, the Panel for Educational Policy took the difficult but necessary step of voting to phase-out and replace chronically underperforming schools. I’ve listened to the arguments carefully, and I appreciate the traditions of these schools, but we cannot continue to send our children to schools that have failed them for years. They deserve better, and tonight, the Panel for Educational Policy made the right decision, which will allow us to continue opening new high quality schools for students throughout the city.
And here’s Klein’s official statement:
The vote to phase-out and replace schools that were not meeting the standard of success we demand for our students will allow us to create far better opportunities for children in these communities and Citywide. Since 2003, we have phased out 91 schools and created 335 schools. While high schools citywide graduate 60 percent of students, our new high schools graduate 75 percent of students. When we know we can do better for students, we must. The vote today will pave the way for us to build on the remarkable progress we’ve made and continue to best prepare students for the next phase of their lives.
3:32 a.m. The meeting is officially adjourned, more than nine hours after it began. Chancellor Klein is about to take questions from a gaggle of very tired reporters.
3:28 a.m. The auditorium is quickly emptying, and few are interested in talking. “We have work in three hours, thank you,” said one teacher on her way out.
3:27 a.m. And it’s over. The panel has voted to close all 19 schools and passed all of the 32 total utilization changes the city had proposed.
The changes to the chancellor’s regulations that were supposed to be on the PEP’s agenda tonight will instead be voted on Feb. 10, per a resolution proposed by mayoral appointee David Chang and voted up by the entire panel. Everyone’s ready to call it a night.
3:25 a.m. The panel has just voted to close Jamaica High School, which mounted a spirited defense in recent weeks. The final count was nine in favor of closure and four opposed.
3:20 a.m. The votes are barreling along, and we’ll have a full accounting shortly. Every closure is going through. The panel just finished voting to close Beach Channel High School in Queens.
Patrick Sullivan, trying to put pressure on panel members, is having them give their votes individually rather than by a show of hands. Every time a panel member votes to close a school, audience members yell, “Puppet!” When a panel member votes against a closure, he gets a shout of “leader!”
3:16 a.m. So far, the panel has voted to close Christopher Columbus High School, Paul Robeson High School, and Maxwell High School.
3:14 a.m. Anna writes that almost every school is being closed with nine votes, from the eight mayoral appointees and the Staten Island representative. All of the other four borough representatives are voting against the closures.
“Shame on you,” people are yelling. “You’re on the wrong side of history.”
3:07 a.m. Scratch that. Linda Lausell Bryant, a parent whom Mayor Bloomberg appointed to the panel in August to satisfy new requirements of the school governance law, is speaking. “We all want to vote our conscience,” she says. “We’re not just here to rubber stamp anything.” She has recused herself from two votes, one about closing New Day Academy and the siting of PAVE Academy. It’s not clear why.
3:04 a.m. Now David Chang, a mayoral appointee, says he wants to do the votes item by item. The panel is about to start voting and not one mayoral appointee has spoken about the content of the proposals.
3:01 a.m. Gbubemi Okotieuro, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s representative on the panel, says he’ll also vote no. “I have never been so disappointed in my life until this afternoon,” he said. Then he corrected himself: “This morning.”
Okotieuro says he’s mostly disappointed in the rush. There’s no reason to vote today, he argues. “I thought that after hours of testimony my colleagues would have supported my resolution to seek some kind of a time for the IBO to help us make decisions,” he said. “I do not understand for the life of me why we’re rushing this through.”
Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate, argues that there’s a reason for the rush in the school governance law itself. She says the law requires the PEP to vote on school closures six months before the school year when the phase-outs start. If the proposals were tabled tonight, the city would have only one more PEP meeting, next month, to push the closures through. After that, it wouldn’t be able to close any of the schools for another year.
2:59 a.m. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s representative and one the only voices of dissent on the panel, says he’s voting no. He says his vote is based on DOE’s violations of the school governance law; the department presented error-ridden data, failed to consult stakeholders, and backdated documents, he charges.
Sullivan asked the mayoral appointees to defend the city’s school closure plans and to explain how they would vote if the proposals were actually brought to a vote. “We’ll vote and you’ll find out,” answered David Chang, one of the mayor’s appointees.
Sullivan received big cheers from the remaining audience members.
2:54 a.m. The voting is underway. Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s appointee, says he’ll vote no. “There may well come a point when I will raise my hand in support of closing these schools, but it has not come to that point,” he said. “Tonight I vote no and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”
2:52 a.m. Anna just got a behind-the-scenes tour of the DOE’s planning for tonight. It turns out that the department had prepared for the audience to be so loud that the meeting wouldn’t be able to go forward. Plan B would have removed the panel members to the gym, where five speakers would be brought in at a time. The audience would have watched the proceedings on a screen in the auditorium.
2:51 a.m. The remaining crowd is huddled together in front of the stage as the panel members debate whether to vote on the 32 proposals one at a time or in bulk.
2:45 a.m. Public comment is over. Now the panel has to vote on 32 school utilization plan changes, which include school closures. David Chang, a mayoral appointee, wants them all voted on at once, but Patrick Sullivan and Anna Santos, borough presidents’ appointees who favored tabling tonight’s vote, are objecting.
2:40 a.m. The penultimate speaker was Jeanette De Jesus, a parent of children in both district and charter schools who delivered an impassioned, reasoned defense of school choice. “Public schools aren’t the best option for everyone,” she said.
Now the remaining audience members are moving up to the front of the auditorium to watch the vote, at the urging of sock-puppetmasters Lisa Donlan and Jane Hirschmann. “So they’ll have to look in our eyes,” Donlan explained.
2:35 a.m. We’re closing in on the very end of the public comment session. Next up is discussion among the panel members.
According to officials, there were 100 police officers and security guards working the PEP meeting tonight.
2:24 a.m. Finally, PAVE Academy head Spencer Robertson’s number has been called. Like Mona Davids, he emphasizes that charter schools like the one he runs aren’t the reason for the anger tonight. “The young who attend both our schools are innocent in this,” he said. “They don’t not like each other because they go to different schools, they model the behavior of the adults around them.” He is booed until he stops speaking.
2:21 a.m. After hours of listening to people bash charter schools, charter school parent advocate Mona Davids got up and tried to make the case that charters are not at fault for school closings. She was booed. Then she appealed to the DOE: “What happened in East New York Preparatory is systematic. Charters need to be more accountable and transparent.” The DOE revealed today that it would close East New York Prep, a charter school, in June because of serious financial mismanagement.
2:06 a.m. “Teachers, do your principals know where you are?” asked a science teacher.
2:03 a.m. The crowd is smaller, but there are still about 100 people scattered throughout the auditorium. Right now it’s just a matter of waiting until the speaker list is exhausted and the panel can get down to a vote. To pass the time, DOE press secretary David Cantor is analyzing Jennifer Medina’s report about the meeting for the New York Times, which has gone to press without a resolution.
1:50 a.m. Klein is back, but the crowd is still angry. “How dare you? Twice in one night!” they’re shouting. DOE spokesman Daniel Kanner has confirmed a second trip to the bathroom. Department officials are debating who should take the blame.
1:48 a.m. Joel Klein took another break — hey, it’s been four hours — and the remaining crowd has spent several minutes demanding his return while the at-bat speaker waits.
1:38 a.m. It took a few hours, but someone has finally hurled a Yiddish word at Joel Klein. Marcy Lican, a teacher at Clara Barton High School, which is not at risk of closure this year, yelled out the word “shonda,” which means “shame.” Said Lican about Clara Barton, “They’re already starting to destroy us.”
1:24 a.m. Maura explains that because of a happy quirk in the speaker number system, we’ve actually powered through just over 200 speakers, well over half of the people who signed up to comment.
1:16 a.m. William Hargraves, the Harlem parent who made an impassioned speech during a walkout of the PEP meeting last May, is standing at the microphone, which is off, and yelling for the right to speak. He has already spoken once tonight.
1:10 a.m. Attrition has ramped up in the last few minutes. The last 10 speakers called have all been no-shows, Maura reports.
1:03 a.m. Anna says that the lights in Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium have begun to flicker. The evening is turning out to have some similarities to the plot of “Gaslight.”
1:01 a.m. Spencer Robertson, the head of PAVE Academy, says he plans to stay until the final vote. He looks exhausted, Maura reports. He’s speaker number 124, but the count is currently only at around 80.
12:56 a.m. One last word from the NYC Student Union’s Chris Petrillo: He’s serious about the union suing the city if the panel votes tonight to close schools. Union members met with Norman Siegel on Tuesday morning to plot their legal strategy.
12:50 a.m. Could a second wind blow through Brooklyn Tech? We just heard from a Paul Robeson HS teacher who had to stay home with her child tonight and couldn’t attend the PEP meeting. But now her husband is home from work, and she wants to know if it’s too late to head over.
12:45 a.m. I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Don’t expect Remainders tonight.
12:40 a.m. Just a reminder that there are a number of items on the PEP’s agenda that don’t involve school closures. One of those is the space plan for PS 15 and PAVE Academy in Red Hook. Julie Cavanagh, the PS 15 teacher who tried to win the right to picket outside Mayor Bloomberg’s house last week, explained why she’s still out on a school night: “I am going to make them look me in the eye when they vote.”
12:38 a.m. Lisa Fuentes, Columbus High School’s principal, just had her turn at the microphone. “We all know how important data is, but what’s also important is context,” she said. “How would you feel if you were diagnosed with cancer and given no treatment plan?”
12:30 a.m. Anna reports that over in the Paul Robeson HS camp, several students have fallen asleep.
12:22 a.m. Chris Petrillo, the high school student who testified on behalf of the NYC Student Union, is back. He dropped his mother off at home in Far Rockaway and then jumped right back on the train. Why isn’t he studying? “I started this, and I want to be here until the end,” he told Maura.
12:12 a.m. Pretty much all the people who signed up to speak are making their way to the microphone when their number is called. If someone on the list had to leave, there’s someone ready to speak on his behalf. There just hasn’t been the attrition we saw at other hearings that went late.
12:06 a.m. “Thank you and good morning,” said Carla Phillip, a District 13 mother who ushered in Wednesday. Phillip doesn’t have a child at any of the schools that might be closed, but she says she’s concerned about the welfare of the children who do attend those schools.
Sometime around midnight: Please pardon our formatting errors. This little site just couldn’t take all of our updates. There won’t be any pictures for now but we’re committed to continuing to update until every last PEP member and speaker goes home. More to come in just a moment.
11:54 p.m. Khem Irby, a parent on District 13’s CEC, said she and others aren’t giving up hope, despite the panel’s decision not to table the vote tonight. ”We want to see them do the wrong thing” she said of the panel. “We want to witness it. It’s a part of history.”
11:37 p.m.: The principal of Global Enterprise High School, a small school located in Columbus High School that could be closed tonight, says the only justification she has heard for her school’s closure was that it lacks capacity for improvement. “As an educator I do not know what that means,” said Michelle Joseph. “I am in the business of seeing potential.”
11:36 p.m. James Devor, of District 15’s parent council, asks, “Wouldn’t this have been a great night for a bake sale?”
11:34 p.m. Lots of squabbling within the ranks on the PEP. Patrick Sullivan asks, ”Do you have anything to say in defense of your policies?” He wants to know whether the crowd will ever hear a response from the DOE or the mayor, considering the “extraordinary amount of opposition to these plans.”
“Deputy Mayor Walcott?” he asks. No dice. Chang moves on.
11:29 p.m. Chang put the resolution up for a vote. All five of the borough presidents’ representatives voted yes, but none of the other appointees agreed. So we’re back to public comment now. But it does look like there will be a vote tonight.
11:28 p.m. Gbubemi Okotieuro, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s representative on the panel, just asked David Chang to bring to a vote the resolution to table the school closure vote. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan rep, and Ana Santos from the Bronx are backing Okotieuro up. So is the crowd.
11:22 p.m. First Klein Blackberry sighting of the night. The crowd shouted for him to put his device away.
11:18 p.m. A graduate of Paul Robeson High School delivered stirring testimony about her school earlier tonight. Stephanie Adams, 22, described being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, getting turned away from school after school in a couple of states, and eventually enrolling at Robeson in the 10th grade. She started out in ninth-grade special education classes but was transferred to general education classes the following year and later graduated 11th in her class, despite being homeless for two years while in high school.
Adams told Maura that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott approached her after her testimony and told her to be in touch if she needed anything. She said she plans to take him up on the offer. What is she going to say to him? “That you’re not just giving up on institutions, you’re giving up on the kids, you’re giving up on the teachers.” Pointing to all of the student speakers, Adams said, “The fact that they’re here and speaking shows that these schools are helping them.”
“Without Robeson to light the way I don’t know where I’d be,” Adams told Maura.
11:15 p.m. Anna just had a conversation with Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers union. He said the UFT has kept a close eye on all the DOE’s paperwork surrounding school closures, and especially all the notices around the public hearings. Tomorrow union officials are going to sift through it and by the afternoon, they’ll make a decision about whether to sue.
“I can tell you there are real discrepancies,” he said, meaning that the DOE didn’t absolutely follow the school government law passed in August. The law set out new requirements for public notice about major policy changes and is the reason that tonight’s hearing is taking place at all.
The DOE expects the suit, Anna reports.
11 p.m. Maura snapped a picture of the thinned-out-but-still-strong crowd at Brooklyn Tech. A speaker just told panel members that he hoped they had read the transcript from the public hearing about Norman Thomas’s proposed closure. Let’s hope panel members were able to figure out that the Norman Thomas transcript was mislabeled as coming from another school on the department’s Web site.
10:57 p.m. Christine Rowland, a Columbus teacher who wrote about the DOE’s move to close her school on GothamSchools, is here with a number of her colleagues. She says she’s still hopeful that the PEP will vote down the proposed school closures. ”I’m an optimist,” Rowland said. “It’s been important that I go all out on this. That way whatever happens, my conscience is clear.”
10:45 p.m. About 30 teachers from Columbus are waiting to speak. They’re number 70 — but it could be midnight before they get the microphone. Without the students around, speakers are losing their focus on individual schools, Anna reports. There’s starting to be a lot more talk about how the system isn’t working, and how schools aren’t funded fairly.
10:40 p.m. Almost all of the students have left. The speaker list was rearranged so that they could catch their buses home. Soon we’ll switch back to hearing from teachers and other adults.
10:23 p.m. WNYC’s Beth Fertig sent over a picture she took of Anna and Maura hard at work. Anna reports that the press corps is flagging in the hot auditorium. About a third of the original audience members are still in their seats. Maura just ran into Chris Petrillo, the NYC Student Union representative, on his way out the door. He was headed home to study for a Regents exam.
9:55 p.m. Four hours into the hearing, it’s mostly students who are still sticking around, despite this week’s Regents exams, Anna reports. The president of Columbus High School’s Muslim student group just spoke eloquently about the school. “Christopher Columbus was my lifeline away from ignorance,” the student said.
9:45 p.m. Maura just dropped hundreds of photographs from tonight into GothamSchools’ Flickr feed, including the first we’ve had of the panel itself.
9:44 p.m. The chancellor is back, after nearly five minutes of angry chanting from the audience.
9:40 p.m. Chancellor Klein isn’t in his seat, and the audience is angry about it. The entire audience is standing, and many members are shouting, “Where is Klein?” According to a DOE spokesman, Klein is on a bathroom break.
9:30 p.m. If city officials weren’t moved by Michael Mulgrew’s lawsuit threat, then maybe Chris Petrillo’s testimony has them scared. Petrillo, representing the NYC Student Union, a group of activist high school students from across the city, told the panel,
We will bring the full force of the law down on you. Every person in here deserves an answer. And until there’s another set of public hearings to better explain this, this should not happen. This is injust to everyone. In closing, we will join with the UFT and we will sue you guys. I’m not joking.
9:20 p.m. The number of people who have spoken is into the sixties now. Only about 250 left to go.
9 p.m. We’ve borrowed a Blackberry charger. Which is good, because people weren’t joking about spending the night: The permit for the meeting lasts until 8 a.m. And just in case anyone was worried, panel members are getting sandwiches, cookies, and water courtesy of the DOE.
8:52 p.m. Does anyone inside Brooklyn Tech have a Blackberry charger? Ours are running low on juice.
8:50 p.m. City Councilman Charles Barron, who last summer tried to evict Chancellor Klein from Tweed Courthouse, wants a stronger response to the education department’s policies. “Let’s shut down Tweed,” he said. “We’ve got to get more militant in this town.”
Then he warned, “If you shut off this mic, I’m going to take your mics. I don’t care how many cops you got here.”
8:40 p.m. Anna just spoke with Michael Ross, a social studies and special education teacher at New Day Academy, a new small school that could be closed tonight. He arrived with a bus of 16 students and 10 teachers, who have been at Brooklyn Tech for hours and ordered pizza to eat in the hallway. (Full disclosure: Anna ate a piece.) Ross said the school has seen three principals in five years. The newest principal arrived in November.
“This is a priceless experience for these students,” Ross said about attending the PEP meeting, where New Day Academy students are among many students of color in attendance. “If they didn’t think this was about race and class, now they know it.”
8:20 p.m. Anna reports that the crowd in balcony is thinning out, two hours into the hearing. She also notes that in that time, she hasn’t seen Chancellor Klein look at his Blackberry once.
8:10 p.m. Lenore Krieger, a guidance counselor at the School of Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship in Queens, testified about the conflicting information her school has gotten. First, she read aloud a congratulatory letter the DOE’s accountability office sent in September: “To your credit, your school has beaten the odds by being designated as a school in good standing…”
Now the school is on the closure list.
8:04 p.m. NY1′s education reporter, Lindsey Christ, sometimes has five cameras trailing her. But a GothamSchools reader who’s watching the station writes that it’s not actually cutting away from normal programming that much. “Their promo promised far more than they are delivering,” our reader says.
7:58 p.m. Newly minted City Councilman Jumaane Williams spoke:
I’ve been a City Council member for 30 days. My proudest moment was watching the outpouring of aid to Haiti. My least proud moment is now because I’m part of a city government that, even though there are thousands of teachers and parents here, has already made up its mind.
7:55 p.m. Some of the speakers offer a reminder of how students feel when the city tells them their schools are failing: They take it personally.
Rebekah Freeman, a 17-year old-student at Paul Robeson High School is here with her 1-year-old daughter. “I started Paul Robeson last year and I\’m graduating next year,” she told the PEP. “You’re telling me I’m a failure. I am not a failure.”
7:50 p.m. A side note: School closing season must be boon for T-shirt printers. Robeson HS has custom shirts, as does the School for Community Research and Learning.
7:45 p.m. Are we really going to see a PEP vote tonight? Everyone from the DOE says yes. DOE press secretary David Cantor jokes, “If we’re still here at 3 tomorrow afternoon we’ll recess until 6.” Maura notes that a security guard told her he’s been at Brooklyn Tech since 7:30 a.m. and is drawing overtime for working the PEP meeting. Staying overnight could be a problem for high school students, who are taking Regents examinations this week.
7:42 p.m. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s PEP appointee, caused a stir when he told Michael Best, the panel’s secretary, who was appointed by Chancellor Klein, to turn moderation over to David Chang, a panel member. “Michael, if you’re going to turn the mic off on the NAACP, have the mayor’s appointee do it,” Sullivan said. Best has not ceded control.
7:38 p.m. All the comments are divided into two streams: Why didn’t you do more to help us? Where will our students go?
7:36 p.m. Are you watching NY1? The station is covering tonight’s meeting in real time, cutting in on its regularly scheduled programming to bring live updates from Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium.
7:33 p.m. An update on the PAVE Academy charter school space-sharing plan, which is also up for a vote tonight. According to James Devor, a member of District 15′s CEC, the DOE is only going to ask for PAVE to be allowed to stay in PS 15 for three years, instead of the five it originally proposed.
7:32 p.m. The final speaker count for tonight is 32o, plus 27 elected officials, according to the DOE’s Ann Forte. Paul Robeson High School appears to have brought the largest contingent, Anna says. A science teacher told her that about 150 students had come to Brooklyn by subway and bus.
7:30 p.m. Robert Jackson, head of the City Council’s education committee, has joined the chorus of people calling for the PEP to delay voting on the closure proposals. “Please do not stamp a rubber red stamp on the foreheads of our children,” he said.
7:21 p.m. Abby Fenalon, the mother of an autistic child who attends a charter school: “My child goes to charter school but charter schools are not the answer. Whatever you did to make the charters successful, do for these teachers and students.”
7:17 p.m. The treasurer of the Citywide Council on High Schools, a Nigerian immigrant, is the first person to speak out in favor of closing the schools. He is booed.
7:15 p.m. Anna just sent another installment from the puppet conversation:
Puppet 1: Education puppet, did you visit the schools?
Puppet 2: “I don’t go there, my kids go to private school.”
Puppet 1: “Education puppet, did you go to the schools and listen to the parents and students and teachers?”
Puppet 2: “Listen? No no no, I am much too busy on my Blackberry.”
Puppet 1: “Education puppet, do you really feel you’re qualified to take this vote tonight?”
And then the microphone was turned off.
7:09 p.m. Here’s a conversation that just took place between two sock puppets, manned by CEC 1′s Lisa Donlan and Jane Hirschmann, the head of Time Out From Testing. “We thought if we were going to come to a puppet show we might as well bring our own,” said Donlan, referring to the PEP’s record as a rubber stamp for the mayor’s policies.
Puppet 1: “Hi everybody, I’m a parent.”
Puppet 2: “I’m a puppet from the panel of education policy.”
Puppet 1: “Education puppet, did you actually read all the written testimony?”
Puppet 2: “Read? I’m a puppet, I don’t read!”
6:55 p.m. Comparing this meeting to some of the public hearings about school closures she attended earlier this month, Anna says tonight is turning out to be more orderly, perhaps because there are more adults and fewer students.
Presidents of 11 of the 32 CECs are gearing up to speak, including Lisa Donlan and her sock puppet.
6:43 p.m. The president of the Community Education Council for District 1, Lisa Donlan, who is wearing a sock puppet on one hand, says CEC representatives were allowed to sign up as elected officials rather than parents, so they’ll get to speak first. According to DOE spokeswoman, Ann Forte, 320 people have signed up to speak, and they’re all going to get a chance. At two minutes a pop, that’s nearly six hours of public comment.
6:41 p.m. Michael Mulgrew is speaking now, and he’s making a threat. “My organization has been watching this process closely at each school,” he says to the panel. “If we feel that the provisions of the school governance law were not followed, I assure you and everyone in this audience that we’ll be seeing you court.” He gets a standing ovation.
6:34 p.m. Several state senators, including Eric Adams, Malcolm Smith, and John Sampson, have sent representatives to read statements into the record.
6:25 p.m. Bill de Blasio and Scott Stringer, the first two speakers, both called for the vote to be postponed. Stringer says his PEP appointee, Patrick Sullivan, has not received any of the information he requested about school closures. “This meeting looks good,” Stringer said. “It may feel good. I don’t believe it’s legal on the face of it.” Now the DOE has turned his microphone off, as it’s doing to all speakers who exceed their alloted time.
6:20 p.m. State Sen. Martin Dilan is speaking about PS 332 and Maxwell High School, two schools in his district that are on the chopping block tonight. “If the school is failing, why did you leave an administration in place for 7 years?” he asks about PS 332. Then he’s out of time. “This is a farce,” he says.
6:17 p.m. The first names called are Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who released his testimony earlier tonight. It could be a while before teachers and parents get a chance to speak.
6:15 p.m. Speaker comment is starting now. Each speaker has two minutes, and the DOE brought a countdown clock. Half an hour ago, there were 100 people on the speaker list and 250 more waiting to sign up, according to a DOE spokesman, Daniel Kanner. The audience has been warned that anyone who is disruptive will be thrown out.
6:13 p.m. David Chang, a panel member since 2002, has just proposed that the panel skip straight to the school closing comment session.
6:11 p.m. “This is totally out of control,” Anna reports. The mention of Joel Klein’s name drew loud shouts and boos. Anna is sitting right next to the stage and can’t hear Klein, or anything else, over the yelling.
6:09 p.m. Chants from the audience are drowning out PEP secretary Michael Best’s attempt to call roll.
And now a banner has been draped from the auditorium’s second level. It reads, “Fund education, not war.” Earlier, a high school student, surveying the antiwar protesters scattered throughout the crowd told Anna, “The connections between stopping the war and this are simple.”
6:02 p.m. We’re in! Finally, Anna and Maura are starting to thaw out after being outside in the cold for two hours. Brooklyn Tech’s 3,500-seat auditorium is about half-full right now, they report.
5:55 p.m. GothamSchools has still not been allowed into the auditorium. The meeting is 5 minutes away.
5:51 p.m. Anna and Maura are standing behind Michael Mulgrew in line to get into Brooklyn Tech through the press entrance. Mass confusion is reigning: First the police officers wouldn’t let Mulgrew, Anna, or Maura inside without press IDs. Now Mulgrew is in but Anna and Maura are still shut out, and the meeting is supposed to start in 10 minutes.
Note to NYPD: Maybe now we’ll get the press IDs you’ve stonewalled us on for nearly a year?
5:47 p.m. Michael Mulgrew just closed out the protest with lots of fist-pumping. The closing song: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
5:40 p.m. Anna says most of the people she’s meeting don’t actually have anything to do with the schools that could get closed tonight. Instead, they’re mostly teachers who think the DOE’s school closures have been arbitrary.
Says Angela Locantore, a first-year speech therapist from PS 14 on Staten Island: “I’m here because my school is similar to the schools being closed. They’re closing the neediest schools. We’re in Stapleton, we’ve got kids from projects, kids from homeless shelters.”
5:35 p.m. Here’s that line. Audience members are entering Brooklyn Tech on Elliott Place. The line to speak turns onto Dekalb. And the line just to get in and watch is stretching down the long block toward Lafayette.
The drumline is courtesy of Paul Robeson High School, whose future is likely to be decided tonight, Maura reports.
5:30 p.m. There’s some confusion about how to enter the building for the PEP meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. One police officer just told Maura that people who want to watch the proceedings but not speak could go straight in. But it turns out that the long line stretching out of the building and around the block is just to get in. Maura also reports that a school might have brought its drumline, judging from what she can hear.
5:24 p.m. Anna just spoke to a speech teacher from Automotive High School, a vocational school in Queens that isn’t among the proposed closures tonight but where teachers fear they could find itself on the chopping block soon. Janice Ellsworth, who joined the school last year after years working as a computer programmer, said about 20 teachers from Automotive are at the rally. “I was horrified” to see Automotive on the state’s newest list of failing schools, she said. “It’s just shocking. Our school is doing better every year. I heard we’re on the list based on statistics from several years ago.” Ellsworth said a quarter of students at Automotive require special education services.
5:18 p.m. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is speaking now. “We need to slow down” on closing schools, he says, citing the report the Independent Budget Office released this week. He seems to be joining the chorus of people calling for a delay on the vote.
5:12 p.m. Maura reports that a busload of students from EBC High School for Public Service, a Bushwick high school that’s not under threat of closure tonight, just arrived with their teacher. “Instead of helping us they’re just making us all drop out,” says Andrea Galindo, 17. She says she doesn’t know students at the potentially closing schools but doesn’t want more Brooklyn schools to be phased out because overcrowding is already a problem.
5:10 p.m. There are a lot of officers from NYPD’s Community Affairs division in the street tonight, Anna reports. She says there’s also a lot of UFT bling on hand: hats, buttons, T-shirts, posters.
5:02 p.m. A busload of students from the School for Community Research and Learning, a small high school in the Bronx, has just arrived. The students have been invited onstage for a quick chant. And we hear that busloads of students are on their way from Columbus High School right now.
5 p.m. The city’s message for today: Not grassroots. They want the message out that the protest today is totally manufactured by the UFT.
4:55 p.m. After being introduced to the strains of what sounded like a power ballad, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is now addressing the crowd, flanked by the union\’s borough deputies. “The community is speaking and they’re saying you are wrong,” he said, addressing his words to the city. “There’s no other way to say it: You are wrong.”
Overheard in the crowd: “They have never had to hear from the community like they will tonight.”
4:50 p.m. Comptroller John Liu is speaking now. “We need to actually educate the kids and stop playing musical chairs,” he says. To lots of cheers, he pledges to audit the Department of Education’s school closure process. And he says there’s nothing wrong with big schools, which have been decimated under Mayor Bloomberg. Liu says he went to a school with 3,000 students. “I like to think I turned out okay,” he said. “It’s not size that matters; it’s investment of resources.”
4:45 p.m. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is speaking at the UFT rally. Reminding the crowd that he has instructed his PEP appointee to vote against the proposed school closures, Markowitz also says he’ll oppose the expansion of PAVE Academy, the controversial charter school in Red Hook, calling the situation there “a textbook example of how not to go about placing a charter in a district school.”
4:35 p.m. The UFT has a large turnout for a protest outside Brooklyn Tech, even bringing in a Jumbotron and parking it in the middle of the street, Anna reports. Protesters are wearing orange hats that say “UFT Marshall.”