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UFT members protest at PEP meeting, then walk out en masse

The agenda items before the Panel for Educational Policy Wednesday night were relatively uncontroversial. But that didn’t dissuade the teachers union from staging a mass protest.

The protest was aimed at Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to remove half of teachers at 33 low-performing schools, which he announced during his State of the City speech last week. It began when more than 100 members of the United Federation of Teachers flooded the front rows of Brooklyn Technical High School’s auditorium, breaking into chants of “Save Our Schools!” and blasting whistles to delay the meeting’s start.

Michael Mendel, a union official, took the microphone to lambaste the panel, which has approved hundreds of school closure proposals since Bloomberg gained control of the city’s schools in 2003.

“You should be removed from office,” Mendel said. “You are a disgrace to public education.”

Then, in the middle of the public comment period, the group of teachers stood up and walked out en masse.

Plans to close and reopen struggling schools won’t start appearing on the panel’s agenda until next month. Last night, the agenda focused instead on proposals to move or expand schools, including Community Roots Charter School and the Academy of Young Writers.

Community Roots Charter School, a socioeconomically and racially diverse elementary school in Fort Greene that put its expansion plans on hold last year amid protest, has struggled to show academic progress. It earned a C on its most recent city progress report and an F in 2010 — a lower grade than the one earned by another charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, that the city is closing this year.

PEP member Patrick Sullivan voted against the proposal. He questioned why the city wanted to expand a “failing” school and suggested the decision was politically motivated to serve the community’s newer, more affluent residents. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the school was in high demand in the neighborhood and had shown improvement.

In a brief exchange, Sternberg invited Sullivan to visit the school, but Sullivan declined. “I don’t need to visit the school,” Sullivan said. “It probably looks exactly like a school on the Upper West Side.”

Parents and teachers at the school where Community Roots is slated to open its middle school, P.S. 287, said they weren’t opposed to the charter school’s expansion as much as they objected to the DOE’s decision to move it into their building. The plan, they said, would stall P.S 287’s own efforts to expand.

The panel approved the plan by a vote of 9-3.

Then, members of District 19’s elected parent council criticized the DOE for not following through on a plan to open a new secondary school with middle school grades. Instead, the department decided to move an existing high school, Academy for Young Writers, into the district from Williamsburg and allow it to add a middle school starting next year.

“The kids were supposed to be starting in sixth grade and work their way up to 12th,” said Erica Perez, a council member who brought a petition opposing the school’s move that she said had more than 1,200 signatures.

Stephen Lazar, a Young Writers teacher (and a panel member at a GothamSchools event in August) said he agreed with Perez and other CEC members that the city had not included the community’s input in its decision. But in his testimony, which is below, he pleaded for the community to give the school a chance.

“I feel bad for the administrators who are now in this oppositional position with CEC 19, but it’s a good school that deserves support and I really hope that 19 will grow to love it,” Lazar said in an interview after his testimony.

The panel approved that plan 10-0, with two abstentions.

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