March 13, 2015

NYC educators, parents, students shield their schools from Gov. Cuomo's harmful agenda

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: Parents and educators stand up for students at PS 159 in the Bronx. Photo by Miller Photography.

Hundreds of New York City public schools this week staged protests against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's ill-conceived education proposals.

The culmination took place March 12 when parents, students and educators at most of the schools before classes held hands and created human chains around their building to shield them from the governor's harmful agenda. Many held signs, wore the same color clothing or specially made T-shirts, sang and chanted slogans such as "Ban Cuomo's plan" and "protect our schools, respect our teachers."

AFT President Randi Weingarten and UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined a morning protest at PS 10 and an afternoon protest at PS 200, both in Brooklyn. Mulgrew led the groups in cries of "Whose schools? Our schools!"

Weingarten told the protesters, "This is what public education is. This is a school Cuomo should learn from, and be at."

Before the March 12 action, parents from that school delivered more than 300 letters to Albany lawmakers, and members have taken to Twitter and Facebook to raise the alarm.

"We're telling family and friends to wake up, open your eyes," UFT Chapter Leader Heidi Bookman said. "The media is not focusing on this. So parents have been delivering fliers near the subway, and members have been attending the education forums."

At PS 159 in the Bronx, some 250 members of the school community joined hands as they circled their building. Evelyn Ortiz, UFT chapter leader at the school, was touched by the showing. "We're a small school, and we're like family," she said. "This is home, and it touched my heart."

At PS 3 in lower Manhattan, some 300 parents, teachers and students formed a chain before classes and wore red, as in "wear red for public ed."

Cuomo's calls for tying 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to student test scores, raising the charter school cap and giving outside groups control of struggling schools "has pulled the community together, especially parents and teachers, so the community is becoming stronger as it mobilizes around this issue," UFT Chapter Leader Jessica Harvey said. Harvey also wrote a song, "Cuomo's Dirty Budget Blues."

"PS 3 has a long tradition of being on board for protesting for social justice," she said. "And this is a social justice issue. Children don't vote, so we have to speak out for them."

Chanting "More teaching, less testing, support our kids now," more than 160 students, teachers, administrators, parents and community activists rallied in front of PS 372 in Brooklyn.

"My class is doing an hour and a half of test prep a day and it's gotten worse every year," said Joell Baxter, a parent activist who has a second-grader at PS 372. Baxter said the success of the rally was largely due to the steady communication between parents in school communities at PS 321, PS 261 and PS 372.

At IS 2 on Staten Island, a school that suffered devastating damage from Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012 and fought back a co-location attempt two years ago, educators and parents protested in the late afternoon, holding hands and chanting "Fight Cuomo!" Many wore black T-shirts lettered in yellow: "Teachers and students are more than a test score."

UFT Chapter Leader Mark Zink said the school has already collected hundreds of signatures on a petition to send to legislators in Albany, urging them to oppose Cuomo's policies. And teachers are sending UFT postcards to Gov. Cuomo to express their opposition to his proposals.

More than 100 UFT members, parents and children dominstrated in front of PS 88 in Queens, wearing yellow contruction helmets and carrying a sign that said, "Caution: Protecting Our Schools Against Cuomo." They chanted "Show us the money," a reference to the state's failure to pay $2.5 billion owed to city schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court victory.


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