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Blue-ribbon effort supports schools held hostage

UFT campaign aims to save 33 PLA schools mayor wants to close

Members staged a protest at Grover Cleveland HS Gary Shoichet

Members staged a protest at Grover Cleveland HS in Queens to save their school on Feb. 16.

Blue ribbons on trees and fence posts, posters blasting the mayor in neighborhood stores and on car windows, buttons reading “Stop holding our schools hostage” and school-based protest actions. These are the markers of a blue-ribbon campaign launched by the UFT in concert with the teachers, parents, students and community members at 33 “persistently lowest achieving” schools, who refuse to sit by while Mayor Bloomberg moves to gut their staffs.

The schools, which were eligible for federal School Improvement Grants as restart and transformation schools, were suddenly named fresh targets for closure by the mayor in January after the union stood its ground on the need for an independent review process for teacher ratings in negotiations with the Department of Education on a new evaluation process.

Stop holding our schools hostage

“These threatened schools educate large populations of high-needs learners,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in launching the campaign on Feb. 10. “Four years of budget cuts and malign neglect by the DOE have crippled our schools’ ability to focus on curriculum and instruction, interfered with helping children learn and teachers develop or even want to stay in teaching. Now the mayor’s only agenda is closing schools that were the victims of his own department’s worst policies. The campaign is saying ‘This shall not pass.’”

At Brooklyn’s W.H. Maxwell CTE HS, which catapulted from an F to an A on its School Progress Report over the past four years, UFT members held a working breakfast for 40 political leaders, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and other local elected officials. Shops along Linden Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in the area, displayed posters reading “William H. Maxwell is being held hostage by Bloomberg. Call 311.”

Maxwell HS Chapter Leader Jeffrey Bernstein said he took his school’s fight to the subway-riding public, handing out 1,000 fliers in the form of a wanted poster that read “Wanted: Public School Enemy #1 Michael Bloomberg.” It urged readers to call 311 and their local legislator “and tell them to release the hostages.”

Other schools have held actions, too. Among them:

  • The school community at Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood organized a well-attended rally on Feb. 16 outside the school, with students, staff and parents marching with signs urging the public to call 311 to report an attack on children’s education. “Blue ribbons were everywhere,” Queens HS District Representative James Vasquez said.
  • Newtown HS in Elmhurst held a Valentine’s Day event, where students wrote love letters about their school and held a protest march from the school to the athletic field five blocks away.
  • Long Island City HS students and teachers are wearing their school colors in solidarity and continue distributing protest signs at local stores. They testified at their area community board meeting and joined other Queens high schools in bringing their story to Borough President Helen Marshall at Queens Borough Hall.

The UFT website has a ticker counting the days that the 33 schools have been held hostage by the mayor’s political games.

Blue ribbons adorning the fence at John DeweyGary ShoichetWith blue ribbons adorning the fence, staff and students at John Dewey HS in Brooklyn fight for their school’s life on March 2.

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