‘We were denied’: Parents in western Queens furious at DOE for not allowing public to ask questions during superintendent town hall

District 30 Community Education Council Member Deborah Alexander, who previously voiced her displeasure with the DOE for their treatment of Superintendent Philip Composto, called the May 20 superintendent town hall an “epic fail.” (Photo by Alexander Marion)

A town hall for District 30 superintendent candidates on Friday, May 20, was derailed by parents and community leaders who strongly condemned the Department of Education for denying the public the opportunity to ask any questions. 

The Department of Education (DOE) had denied the District 30 Community Education Council’s (CEC) request for an open chat feature on the virtual Zoom town hall Friday night, disallowing community members from engaging in the meeting. Parents were allotted time at the end of the meeting for comments; however, no questions were answered.

Kelly Craig, a District 30 Community Education Council member, openly criticized the town hall, calling it a “farce.”

“Most of us fought for the right to have chat on tonight and we were denied. Shame on the DOE,” Craig said. “They want you to believe this is community engagement it’s not. We have been silenced. We won’t tolerate this.”

After being appointed earlier this year, DOE Chancellor David Banks introduced new ideas meant to defeat the agency’s bureaucracy. One of these ideas included a process by which superintendents would have to reapply for their job. 

Last week, the DOE had told the current — and beloved — District 30 Superintendent, Dr. Philip Composto, that he was not able to move forward in the rehiring process. However, the DOE was forced to walk back on this decision after an outpouring of support for Composto brought attention from local media and elected officials including state Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. 

Banks has assured more community engagement would be taken into account when making education decisions since he was appointed earlier this year. However, parents and Community Education Council (CEC) members scoff at this promise, since many feel the DOE is acting in direct contradiction to what the district wants — which is keeping Composto in his position.

“The central pillar of this administration is parent and community engagement,” Banks said in a statement. “We’ve worked with [Community Education Council] and Presidents’ Council members in creating a historically inclusive hiring process, and after listening to community feedback we are inviting all incumbent superintendents to be interviewed as part of the community process.”

Deborah Alexander, another CEC member, agreed with Craig, saying that the town hall was an “epic fail.”

“What a shame the DOE made this entire forum about suppressing parent voices instead of listening to the candidates,” Alexander said. “Don’t worry, we parents will pick up the slack.”

Secretary of PTA 212 Gloria Contreras said that it was disgraceful that local parents couldn’t participate or be heard by the candidates. 

“I believe we’re being shafted by the DOE and Mr. Banks,” Contreras said. “I am very very upset by the way this was handled. I attended this meeting ready to participate in the chat but was forced out of that.”

The question and answer portion of the meeting — which covered topics concerning Individualized Education Program (IEP), dual language programs and the achievement gap — took a backseat to the logistical nightmare of the virtual town hall. 

The meeting had ironically opened with a statement from the DOE, saying the agency is dedicated to hearing the voices of the community when hiring a superintendent. 

“Your voices and feedback are an important contribution to this process,” the statement read. “We do not take this process lightly as these leaders will directly influence how our schools operate, how parents’ concerns are addressed and how this district achieves the educational goals for our children.”

Another candidate forum is expected to take place in the near future, and CEC members encouraged community members to attend once the date is posted.