It's school closing season again in New York City. As there are only ten months left in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's disastrous term as dictator over the schools, this is his last shot to close schools. 26 are on the list this year to be closed or phased out.
The UFT should be ratcheting up the pressure for one last fight over this totally failed policy. Law and Government High School in Queens was conducting their Joint Public Hearing last Wednesday and the UFT presence, while strong, did not include one of the eleven Officers.
The only potential UFT Officer there was my wife, Camille Eterno, who is a candidate for UFT Treasurer from the new MORE slate. During the public comment portion of the hearing, Camille brought the house down when she came right out and said that the policy of closing schools is pure racism. She asserted that there are never schools that have significant white populations that are targeted for closure but rather it is in places like Southeast Queens, a mostly African American neighborhood and in other predominantly African American or Latino areas where schools are closed. Camille went on to say how Law and Government was denied resources, particularly guidance help and lower class sizes, and then deemed a failure. She was very well received by the audience.
William McDonald from the NAACP followed a few minutes later and cited Camille's remarks on racism in his speech. Law and Government's School Leadership Team gave a fantastic presentation comparing numbers and proving that the Department of Education was arbitrary in selecting them for closure and leaving other schools alone that have much worse results. Many speakers pointed out how Andrew Jackson High School was phased out in the 1990s and replaced with small schools and now the DOE is admitting that these small schools are a failure too.
The UFT was represented by Borough Representative Rona Freiser, District Representative James Vasquez and others from the Queens UFT office as well as some Chapter Leaders including the head of the Lab Specialist Chapter. Also, Greg Lundhal from the phasing out Washington Irving in Manhattan spoke for Vice President Janella Hinds. While this was a good turnout of UFT people, at past Joint Public Hearings I have attended, the Union usually sent an Officer or the Staff Director to show support.
Perhaps no Officer was in attendance because there were just too many school closing hearings on this particular evening, or maybe the UFT is downplaying the fight to stop school phase outs this year because our protests are normally futile and the Union's main strategy is now to wait for the next mayor. Under a new mayor, they reason, we can hope for better results. I agree we need to vote smart but a new mayor will not solve all of our problems, no matter how friendly. We should be turning up the heat against school closings now by applying maximum public pressure.
I also spoke at the Law and Government hearing and described what life is like in a phasing out school. It is not pretty to watch students leave and those left behind not getting the programs and classes they were promised when they enrolled.
Unfortunately, too many other students and educators will be going through what my school, Jamaica high School, is going through in phase out. I hope the UFT finds some legal grounds to at least sue the DOE again on this issue.