Day of Action Unites Students, Teachers in Protest

Educators, parents and youth hold mass demonstrations nationwide to demand quality public schools.

Posted:
 
classroom_92411_large

Thinkstock

Eighteen-year-old Tre Murphy, a native of Baltimore, has been active in social justice concerns since the age of 12, he says. But on Monday, his activism will take an urgent and personal turn when he plans to participate in the National Day of Action for education.

He is among thousands of young people from more than 60 cities slated to participate in the day of protest, which is being hailed as the largest unified opposition to educational reforms that organizers say have devastated families and communities.

From Baltimore to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Chicago, parents, students and teachers will protest against mass school closings, the growing practice of turning over management of public schools to private companies and other measures that disproportionately hurt low-income students of color, organizers say. The day, which will feature dozens of coordinated events, is being organized by a coalition of labor, civic and civil rights organizations.

“The Day of Action is important because young people are under attack when it comes to public education,” Murphy, a high school senior who hopes to attend Howard University or Bowie State University next year, told The Root. “We have found that the educational decision-makers do not value the thoughts and opinions of young people. That creates a critical gap when it comes to making decisions about our future.”

Jonathan Stith, national coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, a burgeoning coalition of 1,000 minority youths who are fighting the reforms in their communities, agrees. The alliance helped organize the day, along with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. The complaint about schools that are privately managed and charter schools is that they are not neighborhood schools that can be attended by students in community, who are usually minorities and poor, he says.

“The protests represent a coming-together of communities to really change the face of public education and to transform public education in a real way. It’s about reclaiming the promise of the American educational system and really what folk have fought for 50 years after the historic March on Washington. Education was a key issue.”

He said it’s important to send a message to elected officials that every young person deserves a school. He offered these unadulterated facts: An estimated 80 percent of black youth in Chicago and Philadelphia were affected by recent school closings. Further, displaced students were sent away from their neighborhoods and required to travel through unfamiliar territory to schools that often perform worse academically than the schools they came from, he argues. Many advocates say this practice violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race-based discrimination in federally funded programs.

In Baltimore, school officials called for the closure of seven struggling schools in June. Murphy said his brother, who was forced to relocate after his school closed, was attacked because he was an unknown face in a new neighborhood.

“My brother was physically assaulted because he had to set foot into another community,” Murphy said. “He was forced to cross into dangerous territory.”

Crime was also a central issue in school closings in Chicago, so much so that officials this year created "Safe Passages," a program to help students navigate gang-infested territories as they travel farther to new schools. Last year, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close about 50 elementary schools and programs, a move that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said would improve student performance and help lower a $1 billion budget deficit. The move was accompanied by an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union to extend the school day—which Emanuel said was among the nation's shortest—and a full day of kindergarten.