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Inspired by Wall St. protest, activists vow to “Occupy the DOE”

Since the first protesters arrived at Zuccotti park nearly five weeks ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement has ignited protests from California to the United Kingdom. The city Department of Education could be next.

Calling Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott a member of the maligned “1 percent,” city education activists say they are planning to bring hundreds of protesters to next week’s school board meeting for an “Occupy the DOE” action.

The idea to form ODOE came to organizers, many of whom are city public school teachers, during a Sunday afternoon “grade-in” for educators at Occupy Wall Street, according to Leia Petty, an organizer who works as a guidance counselor in a Bushwick high school and is a long-time activist.

As the teachers discussed how the OWS movement intersected with public education, she said, they united around a shared concern that educators and families have been shut out of DOE decision-making process. So they decided to protest the entity that does ratify DOE decisions: the Panel for Educational Policy, which is holding a special meeting next week about new academic standards.

Petty said ODOE protesters will fill the 350-seat auditorium and draw attention to the PEP’s track record of ignoring public testimony before approving the DOE’s proposed policies. Most of the panel’s members were appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“The main concern people have, and why the PEP is being targeted, is we feel that it is an unelected and unrepresentative body making decisions on behalf of us. Teachers and students don’t have a voice in the DOE,” Petty said.

City education activists aren’t the first to think about taking over public education buildings in the spirit of OWS. Yesterday in Los Angeles, a handful of educators camped out infront of the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

One goal of getting OWS more involved in education issues, Petty said, is to draw people into the conversation on public education who don’t usually participate in public meetings. “That goes, not just for other OWS protestors, but also for parents, students and teachers who don’t go to PEP meetings unless their school is up for closure.”

Tomorrow evening Diane Ravitch, an outspoken critic of the DOE, will speak to OWS protesters in Zuccotti Park about the relationship between economic inequality and school reform, according to organizers.

Julie Cavanagh, an organizer with the Grassroots Education Movement who will be participating in ODOE, said the OWS message and practices reflect education activists concerns.

“There is no greater representation for the lack of democracy in what’s happening in public education policy right now than the PEP,” said Cavanagh, who works a special education teacher. “It’s a group of people who believe they are accountable to one man as opposed to 1.1 million school children. that’s wrong. We want the representational democracy we’re entitled to.”