For years, P.S. 289 George V. Brower School, a New York City public school, has been failing the children of Crown Heights. Thankfully many of these kids, mostly low-income African Americans and Latinos, have parents who are deeply concerned and are fighting for change.
Despite social and economic challenges, they find time to speak up for their kids. And just days before the end of this school year, these Crown Heights parents decided enough is enough.
With temperatures soaring past 90 degrees and a thunderstorm brewing, a few dozen parents from P.S. 289 gathered with handmade signs. They were nervous. They held out hope that the principal would somehow come around and listen to their concerns about the lack of quality teaching.
These parents were disenfranchised, familiar with being dismissed and used to being treated as if they were the problem. Their goal was not to embarrass the school in the media but simply to march around the school and deliver a letter of demands. Unfortunately, they were met at the door by notably upset school staff, who insulted the parents and blamed them and their children for the decay of the school.
And then, the school staff called the police.
For quietly and respectfully protesting the quality of teaching and lack of response by the de Blasio administration to a school in ruins, the parents of P.S. 289 were met by the police. This, in a school that has lagged behind other schools in New York City, with just 30 percent proficient in math and only 1 in 4 children reading at grade level.
In a school where many parents say their children are bullied, where they can’t get through on the school’s main phone line, where instruction time has been cut and where the principal has been largely dismissive of parent concerns, the school staff had the audacity to call the police on parents who expressed concern over these issues. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and no one was arrested.
These parents didn’t just show up one day. They started, nearly a year ago, exploring ways to improve their school. They visited two other New York City public schools that were high-performing, high-minority and high-poverty. They took notes. They talked with principals and school staff who greeted them with respect and humility. They, the parents of P.S. 289, were interested in helping the school. They sat with the principal, who assured them that he would try to restore their faith in the school.
The parents, whose children are assigned to a school that is historically and persistently underperforming, wanted better outcomes for their children. They wanted computers and books. They wanted displays of artwork in the hallways.
They wanted teachers to be held accountable for the successes and failures of each student. They wanted progress reports so they could better understand how to help their children. They wanted the class time to increase. They wanted high expectations for their kids.
They wanted their children to be in schools that valued them and their safety. They wanted the same thing every parent wants for their child, regardless of race, class or zip code—a quality education.
All of us who work in public education should welcome committed, involved parents like the ones from P.S. 289, and yet they have been harassed by staff, kicked out of PTA meetings for speaking up, whisked away from auditoriums, hung up on by school staff, blown off by the superintendent and met by the police.
This administration prides itself on tolerance and acceptance. The parents of P.S. 289 are asking for nothing less.
I hope their concerns will be heard. I hope that their requests, big and small, will be met with viable solutions. Above all, I hope that the parents of P.S. 289—Jonathan and Xiomara, Cheryl and Jeanette, Angelette and Shannon—will finally get the quality education that every parent wants and every child needs.