Coalition Rallies against School Closings

Dorothy Rowley | 3/6/2013, 1 p.m.

Parents who oppose District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor (DCPS) Kaya Henderson's mandate to shutter 15 schools by the end of 2014, contend that the closings are just an excuse for the eventual privatization of a system that clearly under-values the education of their children.

They also said that with the apparent ambush of DCPS by existing and imminent charters, corporations like the Chicago-based Illinois Facilities Fund that was commissioned two years ago to study District schools, will soon be conveying to parents that they have little voice in which schools their children will attend and what they learn.

"This is where we're headed and we won't have any control," said Ayesha Fleary, 34, whose fiery comments resonated with the audience during a Feb. 28 forum at Howard University. "They will be able to tell your child they can no longer attend a public school, and tell parents that they have no say-so in what kinds of programs are offered. However, as long as we keep it in the public sphere - even though things are not good right now - we have some say-so."

Henderson had initially decided to close 20 schools when she announced her controversial plan last November. But she said she reduced the list to 15 after a series of community meetings.

The Howard forum attracted about 75 people from across the District, and was sponsored by Black is Back (BIB), a coalition of local grass roots organizations that formed in 2009 to shed light on the displacement of low-income families from their communities as the result of issues like unemployment, unaffordable housing - and school closings.

"The system is rotten to the core," said 58-year-old Ousainou Mbenga. "I have children enrolled in the D.C. system, and parents are often told by school officials that they have to sacrifice for their children, and many parents are intimidated," he said, adding that there's a contradiction in the system which creates conditions that are not conducive to learning. "That's why we need to take these closings seriously and make education a priority in D.C," said Mbenga who lives in Northeast.

Donna Stewart, PTA president at M.C. Terrell-McGogney Elementary School in Southeast echoed Mbenga's sentiments. She's angry that her daughter won't be able to continue classes at the Southeast neighborhood school she's become attached to.

"The chancellor's plan calls for [my child] to attend Martin Luther King Elementary School next fall, and we're both upset about that," said Stewart, 41. "My daughter doesn't want to have to leave her school and keeps asking me 'why'. . . In Ward 8, other parents and I have [experienced] all of the broken promises, so it looks like we'll be right back at this issue again because it's not over with."

Stewart said that contrary to Henderson's goal to increase DCPS's enrollment, her plan only encourages parents of displaced students to enroll them in charter schools.

"It seems like what she really wants is a charter system," said Stewart, who did not attend the forum at Howard.