School’s Out For Occupy

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Walk Out: Students #Occupy Union Square in a bid to save their schools. Photo: Allison Burtch

Hundreds of students walked out of school on Wednesday, but they weren’t ditching for conventional reasons.

The mobilized teenagers were protesting education budget cuts in Union Square, particularly the impending closure of Legacy High School for Integrated Studies on 14th Street in Manhattan.

Students unfurl a list of schools slated for closure this year. Photo: Allison Burtch

Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education are on a campaign to close public schools, one that disproportionately affects communities of color.

“Only 13% of black and Latino students are college ready,” said Justice Hatterson, 17, from the Bronx. “But it’s only schools of minorities that are getting shut down.”

In fact, the Independent Budget Office found that the 25 schools up for closure in the 2011-2012 school year have a “disproportionately large share of black students and a disproportionately small share of white students.”

A CUNY professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained Bloomberg’s methodical pattern of public school privatization. “Bloomberg’s policy is part of the neoliberal privatization agenda held by hedge funds – people who want to make a profit off of education. For the past few years he has been dismantling community schools.  He’s threatening to close 30 schools, fire all the teachers, and then re-hire only half of them.”

But Bloomberg has underestimated the power of the people.

“They expected the community to just take it and not do anything about it,” Nacirema, 16, said. “I feel proud.”

Somewhat unprecedentedly, students, teachers and parents from K-12 schools and CUNY schools are working together.

“What’s inspiring is that Occupy Wall Street has energized people from New York City to imagine what is possible,” the CUNY professor continued. “It’s encouraging people to work in coalition.”

A student activist slams budget cuts. Photo: Allison Burtch

April Pichardo, 16, a junior at Legacy, echoed that spirit of cooperation. “We have a voice. The whole school walked out,” she said proudly.

Some teachers were informed but couldn’t appear at the protests, something Pichardo, for one, understands.

“The teachers are part of the DOE,” she said. ”Let’s say they came to protests with us–they’re protesting against their own boss.”

Comments on the NYC Student Walk Out! Facebook page indicate that many students were suspended for fighting for their own right to an education.

“This was a good event except for the fact that a LOT of people in my school were suspended for leaving,” Jonah Babilonia wrote.

The final decision regarding Legacy High will be made on February 9, when the Panel for Education Policy holds a vote on proposals to close the 25 schools.

But regardless of the outcome, the action was deemed a success, partly due to the unseasonably warm January day. In the words of one protestor, “Spring’s coming early.”

He wasn’t referring to the weather.

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