trump's america

‘Education not deportation’: Hundreds of NYC students walk out of class, march to Trump Tower in protest

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Beacon High School students marched to Trump Tower Tuesday morning.

Leaving biology, English, and calculus behind, hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class and into the pouring rain, marching to Trump Tower exactly a week after the eponymous candidate’s victory.

The march began around 10 a.m., when well over 100 students streamed out of Manhattan’s selective Beacon High School, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Education, not deportation!” The protest coincided with others at colleges and university across the country.

Organized largely over Facebook and Instagram, New York City’s protest included at least two high schools — and was not the first time local students have walked out of class since the election.

Tuesday’s march captured the fear and anger many students have felt toward an election they could not directly influence.

“The day after the election, I was in tears,” said Hebh Jamal, a Beacon senior and one of the protest’s organizers. “A lot of my friends are disabled, a lot of my friends are immigrants, a lot of my friends are undocumented. This is scary. Everyone was just so distraught, and we all want to do something.”

After Jamal discovered a Facebook group that encouraged students to walk out of class, she helped spread the word at her school, and said teachers and staff were accommodating — even if they didn’t all support the protest directly.

Across the country, teachers have been forced to reckon with a president-elect whose rhetoric often comes at the expense of marginalized communities, and wouldn’t be tolerated in many schools.

But on Tuesday, the focus was on students. Their mile-and-a-half-long march to Trump’s soaring Fifth Avenue tower was accompanied only by a single NYPD van that blocked intersections still choked with rush-hour traffic so students could safely cross. Onlookers and tourists occasionally joined the chants, or took video as students marched past.

Beacon junior Chrys Fernandez, who participated in the march, worried that Trump’s policies could soon have a direct effect on her undocumented family members from the Dominican Republic.

“I don’t want [them] to disappear,” she said while standing in a barricaded area across the street from Trump Tower.

Fernandez, who identifies as queer, emphasized a Trump administration’s potentially devastating stance toward LGBT people. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, she pointed out, has suggested diverting HIV and AIDS funding for “conversion therapy” to reverse the sexual orientations of queer people.

“I’ve never been in a position where being queer is a bad thing,” she said. “We’re outraged that this election will affect us directly the most but we had no say in it.”

Other students wondered whether Trump might eviscerate a variety of programs and protections, including federal Pell Grant funding, Obamacare and reproductive rights.

About 30 minutes after the Beacon students left, roughly a dozen students walked out of Harvest Collegiate High School near Union Square and hopped on the subway to Midtown.

Students from both Beacon and Harvest Collegiate said their teachers did not try to block them from leaving — and some encouraged the act of civil disobedience.

“My English teacher was like, ‘It’s fine I get it,’” said Beacon sophomore Jasmine Niang.

Beacon Principal Ruth Lacey did not return interview requests. The school’s parent coordinator, Erdene Greene, said Lacey generally does not speak to the press because reporters “always twist things around.” Officials at Harvest Collegiate did not return a call.

An education department official would not comment directly on the protests, but noted that students “who leave school will be subject to appropriate consequences in accordance with the Discipline Code.”

Still, Jamal, one of the protest’s organizers, said the march left her feeling hopeful.

“The fact that [Beacon staff members] didn’t stop us was very inspiring,” she added. “If this organized event proves to students that they can organize and can be a part of something, then we can do even more next time.”

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis struggles to balance how much money schools need with what people will pay

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Without a massive influx of cash from taxpayers, Indianapolis’ largest school district could be in dire financial straits. But the fate of the referendums asking voters for more money is in limbo.

Even as the Indianapolis Public Schools board revealed plans to reduce how much money it is seeking from voters, the administration portrayed the district’s financial future as precarious. During a board discussion Thursday, officials underscored how critical it would be for the tax increase to pass. It’s unclear, however, whether the district will get the extra cash it needs to avoid making painful cuts.

Critics have suggested the request — $936 million over eight years — is too high and that the district has not offered enough detail on how the money raised would be spent. With only tepid support for the tax plan, district leaders appear poised to reduce the amount they are seeking. That move could win over new allies, but it could also undercut their efforts to gain support.

Next year, the administration is expecting spending could outpace income by more than $45 million. The plan for filling that gap hinges on raising more than $46 million from a referendum that will go before voters in May.

Without that extra money, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said, the district would have to burn through its savings or make vast cuts that could include freezing teacher pay, cutting school budgets, and reducing transportation.

The district would need to begin making cuts immediately, said board member Kelly Bentley. “It’s just going to get worse the next year, and the next year,” she added.

The district’s future will look brighter if leaders are able to win public support for more funding, although it’s no longer clear how much money they will ask for. The original plan, which was approved by the board in December, includes two referendums to raise property taxes. One would ask voters to give the district as much as $92 million more per year for eight years for operating expenses such as teacher pay. Another measure, which the district is not expected to change, would pay for $200 million in improvements to buildings.

Ferebee said the amount he originally proposed was based on what the district needs rather than what would be politically feasible. In the face of community feedback, however, the district is crafting a plan that would have a lower price tag. Next, the district will need to explain what services will be cut to keep down costs, he said.

“I anticipate people will want to know, ‘what are the tradeoffs?’ ” Ferebee said. “We owe it to the community to provide that explanation, and we will.”

Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008, when state lawmakers created the current school funding system. About 60 percent of those referendums have been successful, according to data from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Stephen Hiller, who has been studying referendums with the center for nearly a decade, said that it’s likely that many districts have had to reconcile how much money they would ideally want with how much taxpayers might be willing to pay. But that conversation likely happens before a referendum is announced and approved by the board.

“I think IPS has it a little more difficult here that it’s happening in the open after they’ve approved it in a very public way,” he added.

School board president Michael O’Connor said that the district’s willingness to change the plan is a sign that local government works.

“We live in the community within which we serve, and all of us have heard pretty plainly and clearly, ‘we think that number might be too big,’ ” he said. “We are being responsive to our constituents.”

Reducing the referendum could be enough to win over many supporters. Several groups that have supported the current administration in the past have not yet taken a stand.

Tony Mason of the Indianapolis Urban League said in a statement that the district needs more money to pay high-quality teachers and meet the needs of its diverse students. But he raised concerns about the potential impact of the tax increase on residents with fixed- or low-incomes.

“IPS will still need to continue in its efforts to make the case for the substantial amount it is requesting,” Mason said. “The IUL is an avid supporter of education, particularly for urban schools that struggle with unique challenges.”

Chelsea Koehring, who taught in the district and now has two children at the Butler Lab School, shares the view that the district needs more money. But leaders have not offered enough details about how the money would be spent, she said, and changing the request raises red flags.

“People, you should’ve had this together before you asked,” she said. “Lowering it at this point — I don’t know that that’s going to instill confidence in anyone that they have any clue what they are doing.”

Correction: February 17, 2018: This story has been corrected to reflect that Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008. Some districts have held multiple referendums.