By Michèle De Meglio
Outrage continues over the city Department of Education’s (DOE) practice of restructuring the public school system without asking parents for their input. The latest rumblings of discontent come from the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), an alliance of parent organizations, which held a protest outside of schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s recent meeting with community activists in Brooklyn. With many of the protestors hailing from Canarsie and Flatbush, the group criticized Klein for announcing plans for another shake-up – this time eliminating regions – even though parents were never asked to weigh in on the new structure when it was being considered by department officials. “Joel Klein, Mayor Bloomberg and their consultants came up with this scheme without ever asking parents or teachers what is working and what needs to change,” said Ana Cartanega, a parent leader of CEJ and Make the Road by Walking, a not-for-profit organization assisting Brooklyn’s low-income Hispanic and African-American residents. “It is our children that will continue to suffer,” she added. Similar criticism was offered by parents when the DOE suddenly announced it would phase out two local high schools – South Shore in Canarsie and Samuel J. Tilden in East Flatbush – and put small schools in their buildings. Department officials met with parents after the announcement of the closures, which, at that point, parents could not stop. At a recent town hall at Tilden, Muba Yarofulani, president of the Presidents’ Council for District 18, which covers East Flatbush and Canarsie, said she’d like the chancellor and mayor to meet with parents to discuss the plans for Tilden and South Shore. And city Councilmember Lew Fidler said DOE officials must bring their ideas about school system reforms to parents “before decisions are made.” Pat Boone, president of the New York chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which is a member of CEJ, echoed sentiments that the DOE must alter its communication procedures with parents. “There needs to be a transparent public dialogue that will lead to real change rather than the increasingly behind the scenes, closed door decision making that has become the norm at the DOE,” Boone said. Members of CEJ also questioned whether an additional restructuring of the school system is even necessary. They say it would just cause chaos for parents trying to navigate the school system. “To radically reorganize the system once again is completely irresponsible” said Lenore Brown, a member of CEJ and the Brooklyn Education Collaborative (BEC), a coalition of parents, teachers and community residents fighting to improve schools in Canarsie, Flatbush and central Brooklyn. Ironically, the meeting CEJ members rallied outside of was held as part of the chancellor’s just-announced plan to attend meetings of Community Education Councils (CEC) to explain the reforms and answer parents’ questions.