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Panel Approves School Closings

Monday, March 11, 2013 - 06:15 PM

The Panel for Educational Policy on Monday approved the city's proposal to phase out 20 schools and close two more. The proceedings were long and, at times, heated but overall the evening was more subdued than in years past. SchoolBook live blogged the hearing at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Click here for a complete list of the school changes under consideration.

6:30 p.m. |Update

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott addressed reporters ahead of the meeting, saying that some schools do not get better even after they receive support from the Department of Education.

"The goal is to have more quality choices for our students and we cannot just sit on our hands and allow poor performing schools to just exist for the emotional sake," he said.

Inside the auditorium, a fairly small crowd took their seats while the members of the Panel for Educational Policy were seated on stage.

7:15 p.m. |Update

Thin crowds of protesters gathered outside as the panel prepared to decide on the fates of 22 schools.

Michael Schirtzer led a group of from the Movement of Rank & File Educators (MORE), a faction of the teachers' union that is critical of the current leadership, in a chant.

"Who's schools?"
"Our schools."
"What do we want?"
"End of school closings!"
"When do we want it?"
"NOW!"

Although the panel has never voted against a proposal to shutter a school, Schirtzer said he was optimistic.

"Right now, the mayor and the PEP is one voice," he said. "You need checks and balances. The reason I'm here is so there's at least a democracy.

A few feet away, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson gave a brief statement.

"We need to end the arbitrary closing of schools," he said. "We'd much prefer to see the Bloomberg administration stand up and fix schools and not close them."

8:26 p.m. |Update

Four panel members -- the borough appointees from Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx-- introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on closures and charter school co-locations. Instead of closing schools, they said, the city should conduct in-depth reviews of how these policies affect children's education.

Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg tried to speak against the resolution, but couldn't get a word in over chanting crowds.

The moratorium failed to pass.

For the most part, the meeting is less raucous than in previous years. The crowd is relatively quiet, aside from applause after a speaker finishes.

9:11 p.m. |Update

Adults with restless children took occasional breaks in the lobby.

Vanessa Pire waked around with her two nieces and son, proudly sporting a bright yellow shirt that read: "Children First. Save P.S. 167. Save our schools."

"Why don't you ask my niece, Alayih, why she's here," she said.

The shy second grader stuttered, until Pire whispered something in her ear.

"Oh!" She said. "I'm here cause it don't make no sense they're closing our school. How will we learn?"

Supporters of her school argue that P.S. 167 should stay open because for many kids it's like a second home.

"A lot of the students are in temporary living situations, in shelters," said Nikiella Reece, who has a son in pre-K at the school.

Meanwhile, three hours into the meeting, some attendees were heading home, thinning out the already small crowd when compared to previous school closure votes.

Some protesters said the low turnout was due to low morale.

"It's not like it's a real debate," said Kerry Dowling, a high school teacher. "People don't see the point in coming anymore. I think they're defeated."

10:15 p.m. |Update

A debate erupted over the role of panel members appointed by the mayor who comprise a majority voting bloc.

Patrick Sullivan, who was appointed by the Manhattan borough president, asked why the mayoral appointees don't ask questions about the proposals.

"You're here to do what you're told to do," he said.

Some mayoral appointees took offense. Milton Williams said he reviews proposals thoroughly ahead of the panel meetings.

Judy Bergtraum added: "I think I can speak on behalf of mayoral appointees. We're here because we believe in what's being done."

11:00 p.m. |Update

Much of the testimony has been from students, mostly from J.H.S. 292 who opposed sharing space with the U.F.T. Charter School run by the teacher's union.

Isabel Santiago Lewis, an 8th grader at J.H.S. 292, said she was concerned about the potential risks of sharing space.

"We'd be restricted to one floor, instead of three," she said. "It would result in the extinction of Regents classes, specialized high school preparation and Saturday classes, which contribute to our success."

Many adults and parents followed the students with matched, if not stronger, vigor.

"An educational murder is going to happen tonight," said Michael Maiglow, a social studies teacher at J.H.S. 292. "A successful thriving school is going to have the life choked out of it by a failing charter school."

1:30 a.m. |Update

The final vote came in well after midnight and long after most of the participants stayed to watch what they knew was coming.

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