NYC and NAACP Battle About Race and Education

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott

    The city isn't exactly seeing eye to eye with and old civil rights institution.

    Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott, who is black, said Monday that it is "mind boggling" that the NAACP is suing to keep 19 failing NYC schools open.

    The Bloomberg administration recommended closing the schools because of what they call unacceptably low performance and graduation rates as low as 40%. That recommendation was approved at a vote last week.

    And Walcott was defending the city against some very strong racially tinged rhetoric at a news conference to announce the lawsuit, filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court.

    "As long as there is an NAACP there will be no segregation!" insisted Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP NY chapter, implying that low performing students of color were being abandoned by the school system instead of given the resources they need to improve.

    The Bloomberg administration has refuted accusations that they will starve the 19 schools of resources during the three year phase out period.   A fear expressed today by Christopher Petrillo, a student at Beach Channel High School, in the list to close.

    "They'll take resources out of the school. They'll cut vital teachers and security. They'll cut everything until we are nothing," Petrillo said.

    The teachers union, some parents and local politicians are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which focuses primarily on the City's alleged failure to analyze the impact of the school closings on students.

    But the suit appears intended to block the closings, not just quibble with the process..

    Local politicians are clearly at odds with what they call Mayor Bloomberg's "hidden agenda." Councilman Robert Jackson called Chancellor Joel Klein and the Panel members who supported the closings "political hacks of the Mayor."  

    And Councilman Lew Fidler accused Bloomberg of closing public schools so he can make room for charter schools and bust the teachers union.

    Mayor Bloomberg, a supporter of expanding charter schools has said he supports closing the lowest-performing 10 percent of public schools.  And he claims he has demonstrated significant success in closing and replacing more than 90 other schools over the past eight years.

    But if Bloomberg has an agenda, it's likely so does the teacher's union. UFT critics say they are trying to protect the teachers from those failing schools at the expense of students.  While it is difficult for the DOE to fire teachers, younger teachers who have been displaced from a school are more vulnerable to layoffs. And layoffs are a distinct possibility in the current fiscal climate.

    Walcott says if fear of layoffs is behind the lawsuit then there should be a conversation about layoffs. Not about keeping failing schools open.

    "We're talking about schools that have not done their job. And we're talking about putting in place schools that will do their job," Walcott said.

    Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said "If you're gonna put all these high need students in our schools you have to give us the support to do the right thing."

    There's plenty of emotional debate over exactly what the right thing is. Should failing schools be closed? or infused with extra cash?

    President Obama's Race To the Top program involves a mandate to close the lowest performing 5 percent of schools nationwide.

    The NAACP also takes issue with that program.

    "I disagree with the President on Race to the Top," said Dukes.