Parents address concerns about school violence

By Patrick Donachie

A representative for an organization supportive of charter schools addressed District 28’s Community Education Council last week about the spate of violence and guns in the city’s public schools.

The meeting came hours after 11 city families filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education, alleging that the city failed to protect students from violence and bullying.

“We’re not in a battle. We’re trying to figure out what to do in our schools,” Shamona Kirkland, the lead organizer at Families for Excellent Schools, said during the CEC’s monthly meeting at 90-27 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica. “Teachers can’t teach in a chaotic environment and students can’t learn in a violent environment.”

District 28 covers schools in Jamaica, Forest Hills and Richmond Hill.

The suit was announced during a Families for Excellent Schools rally held at City Hall April 7. The organization alleged that the DOE inaccurately reports decreases in school violence. State data indicates violent incidents in public schools are on the rise.

Last month, two students brought guns to District 28 schools in Jamaica in separate incidents. On March 14, a student smuggled a loaded 9mm pistol into Public School 40, and three days later, a student brought a loaded handgun into York Early College Academy. There were no injuries in either incident.

Families for Excellent Schools is a prominent proponent of charter schools and a frequent critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education policies. Kirkland admitted the organization had political aims, but hoped it could partner with district school parents and teachers to reduce violence.

“We’re the biggest school system in the world,” she said, referring to New York’s public education system. “If we get it right, we affect the nation.”

District 28 Superintendent Mable Muniz-Sarduy also updated the council on issues in the district and spoke about the state English Language Arts tests students in the district had completed that day.

Though many parents across the state were pulling their children out of participating in the exams, Muniz-Sarduy said only 275 students in District 28 schools had opted-out, compared to the 15,000 total number of students in the district. Muniz-Sarduy said she believed the tests were an important, if not total, barometer of students’ progress.

“In every walk of life, we’re evaluated, and we’re evaluated in many ways,” she said. “One exam does not dictate promotion and does not dictate what a year of progress means.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.