Advocates for Equity Win Big at the People’s PEP

After over 100 public comments, the People’s PEP proved a successful organizing strategy for a coalition of educational justice groups.

The Panel on Educational Policy is one of the only remaining forms of community accountability for public schools under mayoral control of public schools in New York City. With only one parent representative, the panel is primarily made up of people appointed by elected officials; the mayor, borough presidents, and local Community Education Councils (CECs)s. This body meets monthly to approve the decisions the mayor makes with regard to education, historically rubber stamping most decisions.

This January all of that changed.

After a long night of over 100 public comments, the PEP voted 8-7 in order to halt the renewal of the city’s contract with Pearson for the administration of testing for Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs. G&T programs are rooted in historical institutionalized racism, which many studies and reporting have shown, and which we as teachers have known for years. G&T testing is simply another way to further segregate our schools.

MORE members joined a coalition of organizations including CEJ and PRESS NYC to end this method of institutionalized racism and urge PEP members to vote down the Pearson contract. MORE member Jia Lee and NYC CEJ Executive Director Natasha Capers’ both made reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

We pressed the panel members by urging them to vote with their conscience, and naming white supremacy as a tool that is destroying our city in the middle of a triple pandemic (COVID, race, economic).

D Myrie’s poetic words inspired the collective:

I Take this opportunity to reflect on the space we are in and ask everyone
To focus on Collective Value one of the 13 principles of BLM
Next month we celebrate Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action
In the first week of February which is Black History Month and ironically
The time when schools will be reopened unsafely

To the PEP members
Children are more than a score
More than a number
More than a label
Gifted and Talented Not Now
What happen to the rest of us , our children
Of us parents who cannot afford rent, our cable and internet bills past due
Can’t afford Test prep rote learning
Remote learning . Promised devices
Blocked by language barriers

We are labeled failing,bad,poor,developing,ineffective
CSI TSI but we are educators, schools students
Yes we are sick, tired, fearful of COVID spread, and death
Do you hear me?

Where is empathy equality and access for
We the People
The 99% in Jeopardy !
As de Blasio bows to the lobby of the privileged 1%
Installs two economists to
Promote his ed deform policy
Both formerly of the OMB
One on the PEP
One as First deputy
The Price is Wrong not Right
Panel members Vote No on this contract
Cancel the test
End G and T.

Jia Lee reached across the aisle to those in support of G&T programs and explained “we are saying the same thing… we want a better education for all students”. Many of these parents named G&T programs as “the only way their child would be able to get a good education” to which activist and teacher Aixa Rodriguez said “You are helping us make our point about how badly all public schools need these resources and we all want something more. Except, we are arguing for money to be spent for the benefit of all and you are asking for money for your kids only disregarding how this misspent funding for a test for your small population of kids does harm to all the other kids in this city.”

In the middle of these exchanges, we learned that the mayor had threatened borough presidents with limited vaccine distribution should they not vote in favor of his contract, an obscene abuse of his power. We learned that a new mayorally appointed member was added to the panel just a day before the meeting to attempt to sway the vote. But, when we fight back, we win! In the end, the PEP voted against renewing the contract.

We learned that working in coalition and supporting each other with talking points, cheers, and joking commentary can make all the difference in these isolating Zoom meetings.

We must be sure to keep our eyes open for ways in which the system will attempt to retaliate in order to save itself and reassert white supremacy in our city’s public education system (of which over 80% of students are BIPOC). But this is one important step towards a public school system that is equitable and free. La lucha continua!

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