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Mayoral control “trial,” Bronx schools summit set for Saturday

A week after hundreds of its members who worked in schools were laid off, the DC-37 union is hosting a trial of the Department of Education.

The Coalition for Public Education, a local activist group, organized the trial, to be held Saturday at DC 37’s downtown headquarters, to air concerns about public education under mayoral control. Already more than 100 parents, teachers, students, and community members have signed up to testify, according to Akinlabi Mackall.

The event is meant to resemble Panel for Educational Policy meetings’ public comments segment, which frequently attract many people but rarely influence the panel’s decisions, said Mackall, the father of a public school graduate.

“The PEP and the mayor have pretty much turned a deaf ear to the voices of teachers and students,” he said. “We’ve seen people be very eloquent and very passionate, but then there’s just a rubber-stamp response.”

He said CPE would record the testimonies and present them to state lawmakers. The group will also use the complaints as a blueprint for organizing future meetings around issues that trial participants raise, he said.

Some of the same criticisms are likely to arise at a second education event being held Saturday 12 miles north, at Lehman College, where Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is convening a borough-wide education summit. Diaz’s PEP appointee, Monica Major, frequently opposes DOE policies, and Diane Ravitch, an outspoken critic of the department, is the summit’s keynote speaker. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is also scheduled to appear.

“This is the first step toward creating a new agenda for education in the Bronx,” said John DeSio, a spokesman for Diaz.

The daylong event, which closed for registration earlier this month with more than a thousand registered attendees, will feature a panel of education policy heavyweights: Major; Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE’s chief academic officer; Ernest Logan, president of the principals union; teachers union president Michael Mulgrew; James Merriman, head of the city’s Charter School Center; and Betty Rosa, a member of the state Board of Regents.

Workshops for parents and teachers will address topics such as advocating for special education services and college-readiness challenges for English Language Learners.

Desio said Walcott agreed to speak shortly after he was appointed chancellor in April, and Ravitch signed on in August.

“This is an important event and these are two of the most important individuals in education in the Bronx and the city,” DeSio added. “This will be a great opportunity for their voices to be heard.”