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Bringing Democracy Back to Our Schools

The bake-in rally that we organized last Thursday outside City Hall to protest the new chancellor’s regulation banning the sale of home-cooked foods at schools while allowing highly processed foods to be sold instead wasn’t simply a contest between Mommy’s oatmeal raisin cookies and a bag of cool-ranch Doritos. It was about restoring the democratic process and curbing the corporate takeover of our schools.

Officials at the Department of Education consistently fail to engage parents on policy involving their children, and in this instance they have experienced a serious backlash. Parents don’t want the city mandating what to buy and feed their children if they want to raise money for their underfunded schools. Many administrators and teachers aren’t happy about the regulation, but the regulation (included at the end of this post) states that “failure to follow this regulation … may result in adverse impact on the principal’s compliance performance rating.” They’re scared to speak out. Parents, administrators and teachers are being held hostage by a policy they don’t want, and the Department of Education still believes it’s doing the right thing.

We believe we have shown broad opposition to the regulation, with our robust event, coverage by national media, and an online petition with more than 1,500 signatures. But why should it be the responsibility of mothers, juggling careers and families, to demonstrate broad opposition? When opposition is so clear and strong, should it not be the responsibility of DOE officials to hold a public forum where they can hear from parents and students directly?

With the assistance of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, parents have every intention of building up a broad coalition of parents, community boards and City Council members to get the ban on the sale of home-cooked food in our schools repealed. Community Board 2 in Manhattan has already passed a resolution urging the chancellor to repeal the ban. Council Member Gale Brewer will be reintroducing a similar resolution at the Council’s meeting this Thursday, March 25. The bake-in rally was just the beginning of a long, coordinated grassroots movement to get the ban repealed and to bring democracy back to our schools.

UPDATE: This post originally mischaracterized discussions between the DOE and the public advocate’s office about scheduling a meeting between the city and rally organizers. As we originally reported, the DOE requested an in-person meeting with rally organizers, ourselves included, and representatives of the public advocate’s office on the morning of the rally to discuss possible changes to the regulation. But we did not agree to attend, because we did not feel that we could speak on behalf of all parents involved in this grassroots movement. The public advocate’s office asked to meet with us after the rally to discuss ways to create effective dialogue with the DOE.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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