On Jan. 29, the U.S Department of Education (US ED) hosted a public forum requested by ‘Journey for Justice,’ a grassroots coalition of teachers, parents and communities, to demand that US ED place an immediate moratorium on charter school expansion and take action against public school closings.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hosted the event in the U.S. ED Auditorium on Maryland Avenue, SW, but he also drew some ire directly from several speakers.
Hundreds of students, parents and community leaders gathered to represent at least 18 cities across the country including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, District of Columbia, Eupora, Miss., Hartford, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Wichita, and Wilmington.
There were 2 distinctly common themes in every speaker’s presentation. Every city representative demonstrated that:
- Public school closures disproportionately affect minority and low-income students.
- Private ‘Charters’ are for-profit corporations seeking opportunities to exploit low-income and minority children, and they are becoming a nation-wide trend.
According to Examiner, more than 10 cities have already filed, or are in the process of filing, Title VI Civil Rights complaints with the U.S. ED Office of Civil Rights, citing the closing of schools and the criteria and methods for administering those actions as discriminatory toward low-income, minority communities.
Many students stepped up to testify. Terrell Major, a Louisiana public school student described the “separate but not equal” environment in his unique situation. His public school houses a charter school within its building.
The public school side is falling apart and in need of repair, while the charter school side looks brand new. The cafeteria is the most glaring illustration of the inequality of resources: the side where the charter students eat is freshly painted and clean while the public school side is old and run down.
‘We should not have to fight for the same resources. Charters treat us as if we’re undeserving of an education.’
The most notable speaker was Helen Moore from Detroit. She described herself as “an activist for over 40 years”. She was Co-Chair of Black Parents for Quality Education that made history in 1972 with a protest called, ‘Keep the vote–No takeover’ that shut down a public school until her organization was given a voice.
Audience members cheered loudly when she implored, “These are our children! These are our schools! This is our money!”
The public hearing even brought “Hallelujahs” from the crowd when Moore said, “No education? No liberation!”
The crowd became increasingly responsive when she asserted that:
‘Racism is well and alive in this country. We are reverting back to slavery.’
The audience even joined in with her and helped her finished her next phrase.
“All of you can remember these words: ”Backward never! Forward ever!”
A culminating event was held afterwards for inspiration and solidarity beginning at 5 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Memorial at 1964 Independence Ave, SW.