May 25, 2011
Charter school parents and advocates are planning a massive rally tomorrow to demand that the NAACP withdraw from the city teachers union’s school closure lawsuit.
The UFT is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit to halt 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. But the New York State Conference of the NAACP also signed on, as it did last year to a similar suit that ultimately blocked 19 school closures. Last year’s suit did not challenge the city’s charter school co-location plans.
Organizers expect the rally to draw thousands of attendees from dozens of charter schools, including all 17 named in the lawsuit, to 125 Street in Harlem at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. At least some schools are delaying classes to allow parents, teachers, and students to attend.
Critics of the lawsuit “can march and have rallies all day long,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the state NAACP chapter. “We will not respond.”
Dukes said she joined the lawsuit for the same reason that the NAACP brought the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended “separate but equal” schooling based on race. “Co-location is not the answer,” Dukes said. “We are setting up separate and unequal education.”
But city officials and charter school advocates say the civil rights group is working to stymie school options that would benefit mostly minority students. When the suit was filed last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was “perplexed and bothered and bewildered” by the NAACP’s involvement. Last year, he decried the organization for signing on to the union’s school closure lawsuit.
“The NAACP are the people who I think are perhaps misplaced here,” said Kathleen Kernivan, a charter school parent who plans to attend the rally. “I’m an African-American woman. Why would the NAACP get involved in something that would negatively impact me, its constituents, and its future constituents?”
Preparations for the rally were already underway at some city schools yesterday. Parents at Harlem Success Academy 1, one of six schools in the Success Charter Network affected by the lawsuit, were called to an emergency meeting before school Tuesday.
“The teachers union and NAACP sued to kick our children out. We need to fight to keep our schools open,” read a flyer handed out to parents who attended the meeting. “ALL parents, teachers, scholars and staff will attend a rally to fight to keep our schools open.”
Meeting attendees also received phone numbers of local NAACP leaders and the template for sending a letter to Dukes requesting a meeting and that the organization pull out of the lawsuit.
“Any parent that wants to meet with me, I will meet with them anywhere they want,” Dukes said. But about the rally, she said, “We’re not even going to dignify it with a response.”
HSA 1 will not open until 10 a.m. Thursday, allowing students to attend the rally with their parents, the flyer says. “Bring your scholar to the rally,” the flyer reads, later saying, “Parents need to take children back to school after the rally. We know it’s hard, but we want all children to be safe.”
“We never miss school,” said a teacher at Success Charter school who contacted GothamSchools about the rally. “It could almost be a blizzard outside and we still come to school so the fact that we are getting a delay on Thursday is a big deal here.”
Kernivan has a son in second grade at a Brooklyn charter school that’s not affected by the lawsuit and a daughter who just got off the wait list at Leadership Preparatory Ocean Hill Charter School, whose opening is in jeopardy. She said she began receiving text messages from other charter school parents about the rally yesterday and plans to attend, after dropping her daughter off at day care, even though it means she will have to work late.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Kernivan said.