More than 50 New York City parents and students** brought a meeting on public education to a halt when they demanded to speak out on this year's dramatic drop in student achievement.
The Panel on Educational Policy was supposed to discuss contracts and budgets at its monthly meeting. But because of the intense public interest, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky gave a presentation on this year's test scores. He said city students scored about the same as last year on their math and reading tests. But the percentage meeting state proficiency fell by more than 25 points because the state raised the score needed to pass.
"A lot of kids got stuck in between and would have passed under last year's standards, did not pass this year, but they're close," he said, referring specifically to blacks and Hispanics, whose achievement gap with whites had grown. "And those students are the students that are going to be the first ones to pass it next year." He said the city intended to give them more intensive preparation.
Normally, the public waits until the end of the meeting to speak, after all other topics have been discussed. But the 50 or 60 parents who attended the meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan didn't want to wait that long.
"Whose schools? Our schools!" they chanted, as the panel's chairman David Chang stated, "We have to do something. This is disorderly."
Despite his pleas, the parents continued shouting for about half an hour. Evelyn Feliciano said she was furious because her son thought he would pass the 8th grade tests but she found out that he scored at the lowest level.
"My son does not deserve a one," she said, referring to Level 1 on the exams. "And we need justice and we parents we need to stick together for our kids' education. Where is the accountability?"
At one point, 11-year-old Kirstian Reyes, of the Bronx, climbed the stage to speak and was escorted off by security, crying. "They're talking about our education, but they need to go back to school to get their education," he said. His mother yelled at the panel members, who were waiting backstage. One panel member, Patrick Sullivan -- who was appointed by the Manhattan Borough President -- was not backstage. He had joined the parent protest in the auditorium because he thought they should be given time to speak before the panel debated other items.
After more shouting by parents demanding to be heard, the meeting was eventually adjourned until next month. The Chancellor's office issued a statement blaming the disruption on "an unruly group that refused to respect the process." The parents vowed they'll be back.
**Including members of Make the Road New York (MRNY).
"Today, with 12,600 dues-paying members, MRNY is a unique amalgam of worker center, legal clinic, citizenship school, mutual aid society, policy shop, protest factory and church. Its four offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island are an egalitarian oasis for members, who gather there for conversation and classes..."