Dominga Sanchez wants to talk to the officials in Bushwick’s Community School District 32 about why bilingual education isn’t working there.
For years, they’ve talked her out of removing her 11-year-old American-born son Javier from the classes, even though his English is good. They’ve even implied she was betraying her heritage, she said.
Still, she knows Javier doesn’t like having to read books in Spanish – English is his language.
But Community School Board 32 does not want to hear anymore criticism. So at its Nov. 17 meeting, Chairman Tito Velez announced it would no longer talk with the group Dominga Sanchez is part of, the Bushwick Parents Organization.
This group has been saying the things that need to be said about one of the city’s worst school districts. For example, its members are not shy about saying their children are stuck in a self-perpetuating bilingual education bureaucracy that keeps getting bigger but hardly ever graduates students into English-language classes.
The solution: The board wants to silence the parents.
There is something else here that tells parents a lot about the entire public school system. District 32 acts with the approval of Donald Singer, president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the principals’ union.
The problem Velez and the principals have with the Bushwick Parents Organization is that it criticizes them.
“It’s very well to criticize, but you also must have constructive recommendations to make,” Velez said.
The principals’ union agreed, sending a letter that thanked Velez for his “loyalty.”
“We applaud your decision to sever any and all relationships with this organization,” wrote Catherine Spatola, the union’s District 32 chairperson.
“If you’re going to come in and be negative all the time and say your staff is awful, your principals are awful, that’s not the way to do things,” Spatola said.
Singer said he supports supervisors who want to cut off parent organizations that are not “legitimate.”
At this point, let’s look at what Bushwick Parents Organization is.
They are 200 parents in a grassroots group affiliated with East Brooklyn Congregations, which is made up of churches and community organizations.
East Brooklyn Congregations actually runs two high schools for the Board of Education.
The organization is recognized across the country for building whole neighborhoods of housing in some of the most hopeless stretches of New York City.
But as far as the principals’ union is concerned, you’re not “legitimate” if you criticize principals.
And what about all that criticism?
Take bilingual education.
Sister Kathy Maire, an organizer at Bushwick Parents Organization, said the group could not find out from the school district how many students ever get proficient enough in English to leave bilingual education.
A professor at NYU had the numbers, though.
The last numbers available, for 1991-92, show one junior high school with 195 students in bilingual education and not one reaching English proficiency that year. An elementary school has 134 students in the program, with three becoming proficient.
Sister Kathy said that one principal cried when shown the numbers.
But parents say that when they try to exercise their right to move the children into English-only classes, they get a hard sell.
Marino De La Cruz, a hotel worker and immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said that when he asked to transfer his son from bilingual education to one of the four English classes at his school, he was warned that those classes were the worst in the school.
“They don’t give enough Spanish and they don’t give enough English,” De La Cruz said of bilingual education.
Too much criticism?
There are schools in Bushwick in which only 15 percent of the kids are reading at grade level.
But the attitude in District 32 seems to be that things will get better.
Just ask Velez, who has served more than two decades on the board.
He said the members of Bushwick Parents Organization should just join the PTAs, whose district leaders also wanted the board to stop dealing with the group.
I told him that I’d been active in a Parents Association at one time and think they’re great. Some of the Bushwick Parents Organization members are also in the PTA.
But with East Brooklyn Congregations, we are talking about a group that trains parents to make change happen.
Wouldn’t it make sense to work with both groups?
In fact, Velez said the board is concerned over some of the same issues the parents’ group has raised.
“We don’t want to institutionalize bilingual education,” he said, adding he’s been assured by the chancellor that steps are being taken.
But parents know that childhood goes by much too fast to wait. Long-term solutions do them no good.
That’s why they’ll be back to talk to the school board that won’t listen.
Maria Perez, who was present at the Nov. 17 board meeting, said she was both surprised and angered.
“We felt they were disrespectful. We don’t ask for too much, just to work together,” she said. “They should be happy.”
She added: “If we give up, who is going to fight for our children?”