Feb 6, 2013

US Dept.of Education Faces Pushback on School Closures

By Candi Peterson

Last week on January 29, 2013, activists arrived in Washington, DC for what has been described as a "Journey for Justice." Seventeen cities were represented including:  Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, District of Columbia, Detroit, Eupora- (Miss), Hartford, Kansas City- (Mo.), Newark, New York, L.A., New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia and Witchita, Ks. Among their chief demands is a call to the US Department of Education's civil rights office to end top down discriminatory closings of public schools, phase outs and turn-arounds nationally and the sabotage and disinvestment of public schools.

In an AP article titled “SchoolTurn-arounds Prompt Community Backlash”, written by Christina Hoag on Feb. 5, 2013 -  “The U.S. Department of Education’s  (DOE) civil rights office has opened investigations into 33 complaints from parents and community members, representing 29 districts ranging from big city systems such as Chicago, Detroit and Washington, DC to smaller cities… said spokesman Daren Briscoe.” Complaints allege that the criteria and methods used in deciding school closings and turn-arounds are discriminatory.

Eleven cities testified at the DOE hearing. EmpowerDC, a well respected grassroots organization from Washington, DC was represented by Julianne Robertson- King, Esq., a DC Public Schools parent who has a daughter who attends Phelps Senior High School.  King represented both EmpowerDC, as well as Washington, DC at DOE hearings.

According to a Huffington Post article, members of the Obama administration were present for the hearings. US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan remained for 45 minutes despite the chants of protesters demanding to know where Mr. Duncan was once he exited the hearings. Also Obama Education Advisor, Roberto Rodriguez was present.

The overarching theme of the hearings from students and parents included testimony on how the closing of minority neighborhoods displaced students of color without a neighborhood school and destabilized entire communities.
While US Secretary, Duncan proffered to hearing participants that he has no control over local school closings, Journey to Justice activists saw it differently. Their January 2013 press release sums up their beliefs this way - "Despite current research showing that closing these public schools does not improve test scores or graduation rates. Closings have continued primarily because current federal Race To The Top policy has incentivized the closing and turn around of schools by supporting privatization. However, the privatization of schools has resulted in unchecked actions and processes where the primary fallout is those low income minority communities. The devastating impact of these actions has only been tolerated because of the race and class of communities affected."

Other demands of Journey for Justice include the implementation of a sustainable community driven school improvement process as national policy. Daniel del Pielago, Education Organizer of EmpowerDC states that moving forward -  “Communities are planning national days of action and pushing for a meeting with President Obama on this issue. This movement has allowed us to see that we (individual cities) are not in this fight alone and that we will use People Power to continue to organize to bring an end to unjust/discriminatory school closures.”
Following the DOE hearings, students, parents and community activists marched down Independence Avenue with police escorts alongside of them to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Mall chanting, "We won't take it no more, we're fired up," donning t-shirts that read "No schools + no jobs = death." I’m glad Journey for Justice came to DC, and honored to have been among the participants.

© Candi Peterson 2013


Unknown said...

I am glad that you guys are not sitting down on this. We have to take control of our communities and schools. Our kids are suffering at their hands.

Anonymous said...

Ladies and Gentlemen: The neighborhood and black organization are sleeping too late. Anytime you allowed your educated folks to be disrespected and treated the way the former Chancellor Rhee Rheeform treated DC educators in DCPS, we know most of us were sleeping too long to allow it to happen. The woman Rhee get away with a lot of her lies by disorganizing the families and educated citizen in DCPS. Wake Up Black Folks! If you think its none of your business, you continue to watch what they are doing and they will rip off all what we fought for years back. I know for fact that Hispanics will not allow all this disrespect but African-Americans are dealing with it. ENOGH IS ENOGH, FOLKS.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting! I am going to forward this to interested parties, including those engaged at the moment in the turnaround process and to counselors here in BCPSS who are now organizing a Baltimore chapter of the American School Counselors Association. (long overdue!)

Long time resident said...

I don't get it. We got lots of empty space in some too big schools. We got the admin and teaching staffs spread thin. We got a lot of facilities overhead from all the maintenance--and obviously it is not getting done. (Do u like the condition of your kids' schoolhouse?) There is no plot here. Once again, we District residents have done it to ourselves. Isn't it nice to have a school a few blocks away, if that? For that convenience, we contribute to the continuing decline of the School System. And, we are the people who voted in our Mayor and the clowns in most of the City Council seats. Nope, it does not take some heavy-handed outside force. We have done it to ourselves. We also can turn it around, by not by playing the Blame Game and avoiding responsibility.

Anonymous said...

This is part of a much bigger problem. Rhee was in ATL last Sept. and now many black educators may be going to jail.

Bloomberge who told Fenty to hire Rhee also has a program in NY called Stop and Frisk. They stop any black male between the ages of 14 and 21 for nothing and jail them because the cops are told to. This news is all over the net.

Listen to recordings.