Friday, April 8, 2016

Between A Rock And A School Of Hard Knocks

I'm torn over this BuzzFeed News story about a massive class-action lawsuit being leveled against NYC public schools for failing students of color across the board.

A New York City mother knew something was seriously wrong when the school called to say her eight-year old son had stabbed himself in the ear with a pencil. He had been bullied relentlessly for months, she said, and when she came to pick him up that day, he told her he had only wanted to make the insults stop. His leg was marked with visible bruises from a bully’s foot.

New York City public schools are bound by law to protect children from bullying by investigating and remediating acts of violence. But the mother said that never happened for her special-needs son. He lost sleep because of stress and anxiety for a half a year until he was finally moved to another class, away from the bully who had repeatedly hit, harassed, and chased him.

The boy and his mother are part of a new class-action lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education, alleging a systemic and unaddressed problem with violence in New York City public schools. Repeatedly, the parents allege, the country’s largest school district has failed to follow its own policies in dealing with an “epidemic” of violence against children. In a violation of state law and its own policies, it has failed to report and investigate incidents, failed to punish teachers who abuse students, and, at times, retaliated against students were themselves bullied.

The suit will be filed late Wednesday night in the Eastern District Court of New York, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said. It is the first time a class-action lawsuit has been filed over school violence in New York.

The suit alleges that New York City students are being deprived of their right to a public education because of the city’s “ineffective and inadequate” response to school violence. Those students are disproportionately black and Latino — meaning, the suit says, the city is violating students’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection.

“I want the DOE to be held accountable for how they handle violence,” the bullied boy’s mother said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “They should have had to report and investigate what happened to my son.”

And yes, unequal resources, unequal schools, de facto segregation and the mass abandonment of public schools is very much a gigantic issue of racial and social justice.

Having said that, here's the part that horrifies me.

Backing the lawsuit is one of the most powerful forces in New York politics: Families for Excellent Schools, an advocacy group that spent $10 million on state lobbying in 2014, more than any other lobby group. Until recently, FES’s efforts have been focused on promoting charter schools, in part by skewering the academic failures of the city’s public schools through biting ad campaigns.

“We think the Department of Education is not following the law, and in doing so, they’re jeopardizing the academic and physical livelihoods of kids across the city,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, the organization’s executive director, in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “Students aren’t being protected, and the DOE isn’t following their obligations under the law to remedy it.”

It's that last sentence that should be ringing alarm bells across the nation.  We know full well what the "remedy" of the multipl billion dollar charter school indistry is: turning America's public education system into for-profit centers where the same students they claim to be protecting are victimized in the name of making money off taxpayers.  We know charter schools have failed in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, California, DC and elsewhere.  Now the largest city in the US is about to fall for a scam as big as they come, and the grifters are using poor black families in terrible schools in order to do it.

And this is again an area where the Obama administration shoulders a lot of the blame.  Arne Duncan was a disaster as an Education Secretary, and his Race to the Top program and Common Core standards turned into just another way to push charter schools and endless testing quotas, micromanagement of teachers, and more racial inequality in education.

As a direct result, the charter school industry is sweeping in to pick up the pieces, and more and more states are willing to give them a foot in the door.  Republicans are gleefully helping them along with massive austerity cuts to schools and universities, leaving districts begging for private money.

I'm afraid this lawsuit, while correct, is going to be what the charter school corporate goons need to break the largest school district in the country.

Yes, racial disparities in public schools must be addressed.  But charter school funded lawsuits may make things worse in the long run.

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