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Parents Furious Over Schools Closures, Massive Protest Planned

SchoolsHigh SchoolsMichael BloombergHearst CorporationElections

Cathie Black, the new New York City schools chancellor is under fire again. This time, it's for how she spoke to parents and others at the end of a five-and-a-half hour public hearing on Tuesday over the closing of schools.

"I can't speak if you're shouting," the schools chancellor said to the 150 or so people remaining toward the end of the meeting around 1 a.m. Wednesday. When there was an audible reaction to her statement from the audience, she repeated their reaction, in a decidedly mocking tone. "Ohhhhhhhhh," she said into a microphone.

It was a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), a 13-member board which decides, among other things, whether or not individual New York City public schools are successful enough at educating students to remain open. PEP also determines how to replace schools it deems unsuccessful. Often, that decision includes placing new, smaller schools in parts of larger schools that PEP shuts down.

Many of the 3,000 people in attendance at Tuesday's hearing identified themselves as supporters of those smaller schools. Still, it was clear that many people in the audience at the Brooklyn Technical High School auditorium took offense with the chancellor's presentation.

PEP members ended up voting to close 10 schools that it determined are failing students. The panel will meet again at another public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Tech in Fort Greene to decide the fate of 13 more schools that it regards as failing educational institutions.

A protest is scheduled to take place in front of Brooklyn Tech at 4:30 p.m. That rally was intended to criticize the city's school closing process. However, it may also include criticism of the chancellor herself.

A teacher at one of the 13 schools whose fate will be decided Thursday night, Norman Thomas High School in Midtown Manhattan, said he's less offended by the chancellor's comments, and more upset about the whole PEP process.

"They have these PEP meetings and, it's a foregone conclusion what's going to happen," Matthew Schley told PIX 11 News. He is a teacher's union representative at his school, and feels that PEP makes its school closure votes with the full intention to shut schools down, no matter what members of the public who attend PEP meetings say. "The disrespect is everybody goes to the meetings... but everybody knows that their voice is meaningless."

His school, Norman Thomas High, was on a school closure list last year, but a court ruling prevented it from happening. If PEP approves its closure Thursday evening, the school's current students would still graduate from Norman Thomas. It and all other closing high schools would be phased out over the course of three years, allowing students who are freshmen this year to receive a diploma from the school where they are currently enrolled.

The latest Cathie Black controversy comes three weeks after she joked at another public meeting, saying that birth control may be a solution to school overcrowding.

In the days following that meeting, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that Black, a former CEO of the Hearst Corporation, should not have made the remark. Still, he defended her, saying that the former publisher was learning how to handle public comments in a way that is different from protocol in the private sector.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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SchoolsHigh SchoolsMichael BloombergHearst CorporationElections