Occupy the ballot box

On Election Day, Cuomo protesters voted with their voices

The Occupy Wall Street movement spawned another education protest spin-off today, this time led by parents and held at the steps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in midtown Manhattan.

The new coalition of parents, many of them from Brownstone Brooklyn and accompanied by young children, assembled to voice opposition to the governor’s plan not to extend a tax on the state’s wealthiest residents.

“Occupy the DOE,” another education protest staged last night at Tweed, featured mostly teachers and veteran education activists.

Today’s event, dubbed “Occupy for Education,” was not affiliated with any previous Occupy protest, organizers said, but they borrowed heavily from them, including a human mic and many of the same chants: “We are the 99 percent” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

The protest also featured symbolic ballot boxes for people to vote in support of the so-called “millionaires’ tax,” an income surcharge for individuals who make over $200,000 or families who make over $300,000. Cuomo has repeatedly said he wants the tax to expire at the end of the year, despite voter polls showing widespread support for a newer version that would only tax millionaires. His argument is that the tax threatens to chase away the state’s wealthiest residents, which would, in effect, result in less job creation and less tax revenue, not more.

But parents today said that revenue from the tax, estimated to be $2.8 billion next year, could help restore funding to schools after years of budget cuts that have caused class sizes to rise.

“The short term job creation or protection that he claims will be the result of repealing the tax on millionaires does not justify jeopardizing or not supporting education,” said Liz Rosenberg, a Park Slope parent who helped organize the event.

Rosenberg, whose daughter attends Brooklyn New School, said she and a small group of neighborhood parents thought of the idea to protest last month in response to what they saw from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The protest swelled to more than 100 hundred people at one point, at times stopping rush hour traffic as they marched the perimeter of the 3rd Ave. block between 41st and 42nd Sts. They stoppped outside the doors to Cuomo’s office to stuff cardboard boxes with fluorescent-colored ballots.

Polls show that more than 70 percent of voters disagree with Cuomo’s position. Last month, he compared his unpopular support for allowing the tax to expire to his father’s opposition to the death penalty when he was governor in the 1980s.

But Rosenberg says the younger Cuomo is driven more by ambition than by morals.

“It’s about wanting to run for president,” Rosenberg said. “He doesn’t want to repeal the millionaire’s tax because that’s a constituency he would need to rely on to give him money for his campaign.”

Janice Bloom, another organizer, said she helped because she said parents needed to use their numbers to raise the stakes on policies set by elected officials.

“It feels like parents are a sleeping giant in the city because we’re all voters, but we don’t exercise our votes,” said Bloom, a parent from P.S. 10. “I started thinking, what can we do to get Cuomo’s attention?”


Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.