Carrying small coffins and wearing mostly black, a group of about 100 high school students held a “memorial service” today for schools the city has closed.
The teens were organized by the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of activist groups that is advocating for the city to add new resources for struggling schools instead of closing them. A recent graduate, Anzhela Mordyga, wore a black gown as she conducted the mock funeral service outside Department of Education headquarters. Another student scattered flowers as the group recessed to City Hall Park.
“This funeral service represents the damages and pain when schools are closed,” said Joseph Duarte, a freshman at Samuel Gompers High School, where students are worried that their school could be next to land on the city’s chopping block. Students who spoke at the event said they mourned not only school closures — Mayor Bloomberg has attempted 91 since he took control of schools — but also a lack of public engagement in education.
The memorial service drew attention to an issue that is at the heart of the UFT-NAACP lawsuit currently working its way through the courts.
Last month, the city teachers union and NAACP sued to stop 22 school closures and 17 charter school co-locations. Since then, the co-locations have dominated public discussion, even though they comprise a smaller portion of the lawsuit — 11 pages to closures’ 19 — and would not affect as many families.
Department of Education officials said about 10,000 students could be affected if the city is forced to revise its high school admissions offers. That includes students who were matched to new schools that might not be able to open, students who listed one of the closing schools on their applications, and others.
In contrast, if charter schools are prevented from opening, moving, or expanding, charter school advocates estimate that 7,000 families would be affected.
A major reason for the discrepancy is that charter schools have a strong and politicized constituency that was easily mobilized for a rally and campaign against the lawsuit. A rally against the NAACP’s involvement in the suit last month on the grounds that the charter schools being challenged would serve minority children drew more than two thousand attendees.
Litigation is one way to push back against school closures, but public rallies fill an important role, said Jorel Moore, a student who participated in the memorial service today.
“It’s more to the people,” said Moore, who graduates Friday from Franklin K. Lane High School, one of four high schools that will finish phasing out this year. “There are no judges, and there’s no one even judging.”