Walcott Event Disrupted by Protesters

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Demonstrators calling themselves "Occupy the Department of Education" interrupt a presentation by Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

8:17 p.m. | Updated Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott's planned event to promote Parents as Partners week, and to discuss the new Common Core curriculum standards, was disrupted Tuesday night when he could not be heard over the din of protesters.

The meeting at the Seward Park High School at 350 Grand Street on the Lower East Side was to feature speakers and a question-and-answer session, according to the Department of Education's news release.

But as soon as the meeting started, the chancellor was drowned out by about 200 protesters, some of whom were affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Others identified themselves as public-school teachers and parents. Unable to be heard over the crowd, the speakers, some parents and Education Department administrators were moved from the auditorium to three classrooms upstairs. There, parents and teachers listened to presentations on the Common Core curriculum.

Police officers were blocking protesters from following the event participants. Many of the protesters remained in the auditorium, talking, but then dispersed by 7:45 p.m. after declaring victory and reaching consensus that it was time to go.

The protest was publicized as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and participants handed out fliers that read "Occupy the DOE!" They urged speakers to shout "mic check" when they wanted a turn to address the crowd. Once speakers had the crowd's attention, they would say a few words, wait for the audience to repeat them, and then say a few more, creating an echo effect.

Many of the teachers who spoke talked about the state and city's emphasis on standardized tests, the most recent budget cuts and the layoffs of parent coordinators and school support staff. Others said they were in the Absent Teacher Reserve, meaning they were cut from schools' budgets and have not found new teaching jobs, yet continue to be paid by the city.

Justin Wedes, a former city schoolteacher and an organizer with Occupy Wall Street, said the protest was intended to highlight the lack of public input in the city's education policy decisions.

"The reality is that in normal PEP meetings," Mr. Wedes said, referring to the Panel for Education Policy, "the public comment session is a token. There’s no real platform for public input. After all the hours of public comment, decisions are made on the spot."

After disrupting the meeting, protesters invited Chancellor Walcott to a general assembly on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse on Nov. 7.

Asked if he planned to address the protestors, the chancellor said: "Why? Why would I want to talk to them? This is a meeting about Common Core."

He added, "I don’t have to have a special meeting to talk about whatever the issues they’re raising are.”

The Education Department meeting was to include presentations by David Coleman, an author of the new Common Core literacy standards; members of the Panel for Educational Policy; and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer, among others.

The presentation in the classroom ended around 8 p.m., as scheduled.