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Tweed Protesters Denounce 'Privatization' of Schools

Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - 08:16 AM

They may not have been a big crowd, but they were spirited. A group calling itself Occupy the DOE — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street — gathered on the steps Tweed Hall on Monday evening with a litany of complaints against the Department of Education.

Police officers ushered the crowd of more than 150 parents, students, teachers, aides and educators up the stairs and toward the center of the steps as voices chanted and echoed one another. Their grievances were many, including a unified call against mayoral control of the school system and the privatization of New York City public schools.

After the Oct. 25 meeting of the Panel for Education Policy, where about 200 parents and teachers protested against Department of Education leadership, it was time to take a different approach, said Leia Petty, an Occupy the DOE organizer.

She said the grass-roots group started as a grade-in last month in Zuccotti Park to address a growing list of issues with the Education Department that included overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and school closings. Yet after the Oct. 25 meeting, it was clear that Occupy the DOE struck a chord with the public, and a nerve with the city’s top education officials.

“We want to create an agenda for the 99 percent, to strategize actions,” said Ms. Petty, 30, a high school guidance counselor from Bushwick, Brooklyn. “We came together today to realize that agenda.”

Carl Neltzer, 51, from the Upper West Side, and an English teacher at Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, sat on the steps near the sidewalk and held up a sign with the words “Privatization = For the 1%.” He said that the Department of Education continues to spend money on consultants who visit his classroom paid for with dollars that he said could be spent on building better schools.

“Education is being destroyed by corporations that want to make money off of education,” Mr. Neltzer said. “Privatization will only marginalize a growing number of students; the more we privatize, the less we serve the public need.”

To Zoe Beloff, 53, a Queens College media studies professor from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, overcrowded schools have meant fewer students ready to compete at the college level.

“People coming out of the public schools are really struggling with the basics,” Ms. Beloff said. “The smaller the classrooms, the better the education.”

Much like the organizers of its big brother, Occupy Wall Street, those involved in Occupy the DOE still have not decided how they will execute their goals, Ms. Petty said. For now, at least, she said it would continue to act as a soundboard for teachers and parents who are fed up with the system, and would offer a sign of hope at setting a new agenda.

“The beauty of this thing is the people get to decide,” Ms. Petty said. “This is just the beginning.”

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