Thousands of parents, teachers, and charter school students dressed in all red “Don’t Steal Possible,” t-shirts rallied Oct. 2 in Manhattan’s Foley Square to call attention to the failures of the Department of Education.
Instead of pushing pro-charter demands, participants focused on persistently failing schools in the city system, a rallying cry meant to call attention to charter schools as solutions.
“I’m shocked to say that more than 143,000 students city-wide are stuck in failing schools,” said democratic Assemblyman Robert Rodrigues who represents East Harlem.“That’s not a statistic that’s a crisis. We must stop playing politics with the future of our children.”
Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who represents the Bronx and Westchester, took the mic to describe a Carribbean-born Bronx mother, whose children were first placed in special education in a public school and are now earning straight-As in a Bronx charter school.
More than 9,000 children from 32 charter schools in the Success Academy charter network were excused from school Thursday and given the option to attend the rally if they were accompanied by a chaperone.
Throughout the event, Emcee Samantha Tweedy announced the rally was “21,000 strong to fight for every single kid in our city to have a great school.”
After the rally, organizers from the Success Academy charter networks gave parents metro tickets to return home, or to bring their children back to school for a half day.
Families for Excellent Schools, the primary pro-charter organizing advocacy group, was expected to use the event to openly push legislators to expand New York State’s charter cap. The message in the end was more subtle. The rally’s location near Tweed Hall, headquarters of the Department of Education, was an indication that the agenda was targeted toward City Hall public school policies. Currently, New York City has 183 charter schools, with 28 more approved but not yet open, a small percentage of the total 1,750 public schools.
Public school parents from a public advocacy group handed out fliers at the rally calling for Families for Excellent Schools and other organizing groups to reveal their hedge fund-backed donors.
“The folks funding this have done nothing but steal the very ‘possible’ out of our schools,” said Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director at Alliance for Quality Education, a public school advocacy group. Ansari walked through Thursday’s crowd with another public school teacher distributing their counter message.
The funders, Ansari claimed, are the “one percent of the one percent,” and their goal is to privatize the schools, not provide a quality education. “These are the same people that crashed our economy,” she said. “Public school families are tired of seeing them try to make money privatizing our schools.”
Other counter protesters carried a large sign that read “#RevealYourDonors Wall-St? Wal-Mart?” “These are Wall Street Tycoons using education as a political front to block a minimum wage increase and more affordable housing,” said Elzora Cleveland, parent leader with New York Communities for Change, a pro-public school advocacy group.
A special education teacher in a Harlem public school said she believes the slogan, “Don’t Stop Possible” is a joke. “For eight years, Harlem Success Academy has stolen from us,” said Mindy Rofier, who teaches in a public school in Harlem, a neighborhood with the highest concentration of charters in the city. “My school has the castaways Harlem Academy doesn’t want.”
Rally organizers did not reveal the total cost or source of their funding. However, they did point out with pride their own personal public school roots. Included in the group of public school alums were Sen. Klein, musical performer Questlove, Assemblymen Rodrigues and Marcos Crespo, Harlem Success Academy 5’s Principal, Khari Shabazz, and parent organizers Shamona Kirkland and Au Hogan.
The Bronx was well represented at the rally. Andrea Soto of the Bronx brought her son, Omar, 7, who attends Success Academy Bronx 1. “I’m here because I want everyone to have not a failing school, but a good school with supplies,” said Omar holding a painted sign that read “Niño’s No Pueden Esperar!”
“I’m here to support you,” said his mother.