In a television interview last night, the president of the NAACP of New York insisted that she does not oppose the opening of charter schools or the closure of failing schools — even as she defended her organization’s role in a lawsuit that would reverse planned school closures and slow charter school growth.
Speaking to NY1 Inside City Hall host Errol Louis, Hazel Dukes said that she only wanted district schools to have the same conditions as charter schools, which she praised. “Let’s make it an equal playing field,” she said. “That’s not hard to do. We can do that with the stroke of a pen.”
She added, “My motive is not to keep any failing schools open. My motive has never been to say that teachers who can’t teach need to be in schools. My motive is two things: justice and equality.”
Hazel Dukes said she her goal wasn’t to prevent charters from opening but that the process was hurried. The biggest effect, she said, was overcrowding in school buildings, which she said has a disproportionate — and negative — impact on district school students. “Mr. Louis, tell me why all children can’t have the same amount of library time. Tell me why all children can’t have access to a playground,” she said.
The lawsuit, which the NAACP co-filed with the United Federation of Teachers and a host of elected officials and parents, aims to halt the closure of 22 district schools and plans to co-locate 20 charter schools inside district space. City school officials have said that a victory could disturb high school admission plans for the fall, and charter school leaders have said that, without the city space that they were counting on, they would not be able to open schools that children already plan to attend.
The appearance was less provocative than Dukes’ previous statements in the last several weeks. At a rally on Friday, Dukes suggested the closures and co-locations amounted to modern-day segregation. Earlier this month, she reportedly accused charter school parents of “doing the work of slave masters.”
On Tuesday evening, Dukes was more conciliatory. She described an effort by former chancellor Joel Klein to take her to visit successful charter schools and praised the schools overall, calling out two charter school networks by name: the Harlem-based Success Academies and Democracy Prep. She said that those schools do a “great job.”
“I’m not against charter schools. Parents have a right for choice,” Dukes said. “What NAACP has been about in its advocacy role has been to ensure that justice and equality is done for everyone. Not just black and brown, but every person, regardless to race, creed or color.”
Louis, who described himself as a life member of the New York NAACP, repeatedly pressed Dukes on her characterization of the lawsuit and the NAACP’s position on charter schools. He pointed out that some students are likely to be displaced from the school they planned to attend if the suit is successful. “I feel like the lawsuit is actually intended to stop the opening of the charters,” Louis said.
“Well, that’s what you feel,” Dukes replied. “Well, let me tell you —”
“And I think a fair reading of it would support that,” Louis said. “I understand what you said about what your intentions and what your goals are. I don’t know if this lawsuit is going to bring that about, but we will see.”
“It can assist in bringing it about,” she said. “I’m sure it will. And all those children that you say will be deprived of an education, they will not,” she said.
“Mr. Louis, you are losing the point about justice and equality,” Dukes said earlier in the exchange.
Later in the program, Louis interviewed two charter school parents from the Success and Uncommon Schools networks, who presented their opposition to the lawsuit.