March 7, 2012
When student protesters came knocking on the front door of Eduardo Martí’s office building this afternoon, the mayoral appointee to the Panel for Education Policy wasn’t there. The same was true when they tried the offices of fellow appointees Linda Bryant and Judy Bergtraum.
But the band of eight students, all from high schools the city has put up for closure, still used chants, drumming, and “wanted” posters with the panelists faces on them to leave them a message: that they should not vote to close their schools.
A City University of New York official blocked the students from entering Martí’s office on East 80th Street shortly before 3 p.m. But a receptionist listened patiently by phone as Diana Rodriguez, a senior at Grover Cleveland High School, read off a list of “crimes he is wanted for”:
“One, violation of civil rights: He approved 23 school closing affecting 10,000 students. He approved countless policies that have resulted in only 13 percent of Black and Latino students graduating ready for college,” she said. “Two, breach of the public trust: He rubber stamped all of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposals, against the will of parents, students and communities. Three, conflict of interest: He received funds from the mayor’s administration while holding public office.”
Students from Cleveland and Grady, which the city wants to close using the controversial turnaround school reform model this year, were later joined by a student and parent from Legacy High School for Integrated Studies, a small Union Square high school the PEP voted to close this winter.
The students, who were organized by the advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, said they had two main reasons for protesting: solidarity with the schools that the PEP has already voted to close, and a desire to protect their schools from the turnaround, which would call for the firing of half the schools’ staff and replacing its name. The PEP, which has never rejected a city proposal, will vote on the turnaround proposals on April 26.
Students from William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School taped the wanted posters–which entreated viewers to call Martí at his office number and say, “you are wanted for crimes against New York City students”—to street poles around the block while two Cleveland students pounded on makeshift bucket-drums.
“I’ve had two years to get comfortable with the teachers,” Wassem Albakka, a sophomore from Grady, told me. “Walking up and down the hallway is going to be a little awkward, seeing teachers we don’t know.”
Albakka said he is especially worried about whether the city will fire his football coach, who spends free periods reviewing games with students.
“Grady is like a family,” Mohannad Ikhma, also a sophomore, added. “Alumni come back here to visit. If they take the name away, where are they going to come back to?”
Ikhma also said he expected new teachers would have a difficult time commanding respect from the students, many of whom have rallied in opposition to the turnaround plan at the school in the past month.
Several Upper East Side residents passing by stopped to read the posters and ask the students what they were protesting.
“I don’t have any children in school,” one said. “But why does the mayor want to close the schools?”
At Bryant’s office two blocks north, an employee of Inwood House, the pregnancy-prevention program she runs, opened the building’s front door a crack to tell the students that Bryant was gone for the day, too. Rodriguez offered the woman a “wanted” poster with Bryant’s face on it, and she responded, “How cute,” before shutting the door.
The students also struck out at Bergraum’s office in Midtown West. They were told it was closing for the day when they arrived close to 5 p.m, so they resumed chanting outside the high-rise.