THE SCHOOL CLOSURE EPIDEMIC: On March 7, some 500 protesters—including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten—blocked a road and entrances to a hearing that would decide the fate of twenty-seven Philadelphia schools. As police escorted a handcuffed Weingarten and eighteen others off the premises, the School Reform Commission voted to shutter approximately one in ten district schools by the end of the year.
In Chicago, eighty schools are on the chopping block; in New York, the number is twenty-two. Twenty-eight closures have been proposed in Detroit, fifteen in Washington, and more in Sacramento, Baltimore, Birmingham and St. Louis. Although the politics differ by district, a shared sense of foreboding hangs over several major cities.
Neoliberal school reformers call this “school choice.” Parents have voted with their feet, they argue, depopulating “underperforming” district schools as they moved their kids into charter schools. Funding followed the pupils out, as education budgets shrank.
But for the families of some 9,000 kids in Philadelphia alone, it doesn’t feel like “choice.” Reports show that the savings from shuttering schools are paltry and that closures rarely lead to improved academics. Since students of color are disproportionately affected, activists describe these peremptory closures as a wholesale violation of civil rights.
Gaining momentum is a national movement calling for an end to “corporate-style” education reform. In January, 500 students, parents and activists demanded a moratorium on school closings at a DC hearing with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. On April 4 through 7, demonstrators plan to “occupy” the Department of Education. As Weingarten told The Nation, if any winners exist in the drive to “privatize” education, they’re charter school operators, budget-slashing politicians and corporations. “If you follow the money, you will see that it’s not kids or parents that are benefiting from these mass closings.” ALLEEN BROWN
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MAPPING MUSLIMS: On March 11, a diverse group of interfaith students, community organizers and religious leaders gathered at the New York Police Department headquarters in lower Manhattan. They came to deliver a new report to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on his clandestine surveillance program. The report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims,” was written by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, the City University of New York’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). It highlights the many harmful effects of surveillance on Muslim life, showing its chilling effect on religious expression, freedom of speech and social interactions. Providing firsthand accounts by Muslims throughout the city’s five boroughs, whose daily life is now pervaded by a thoroughgoing sense of fear, the report is a rebuttal to the police insistence that targets “have nothing to fear, if they have nothing to hide.”