Over 200 activists, community organizers, parents and students from cities across the U.S. gathered in Washington Tuesday to tell U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that Obama's signature 'Race to the Top' education policy—which has lead to widespread public school closures—is wreaking havoc on public education.
"The voices of the people directly impacted can no longer be ignored," said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago at the meeting that included both Duncan and Obama education adviser Roberto Rodriguez. The groups urged that the the Education Department's School Improvement Grant, among other programs, increases unnecessary school closures. The grant program awards school districts with grant money, but only to those who enforce cut-backs and "shake-ups" including mass school closures—leaving many communities without neighborhood schools.
Brown called the policies "a violation of our human rights."
The activists, who belong to the group Journey for Justice Movement, argued that such policies specifically hurt minority students. The group has filed multiple Title VI civil rights complaints with the Education Department Office of Civil Rights, the Huffington Post reports.
Duncan left the meeting after only 45 minutes, reportedly due to his schedule. The activists promptly responded by chanting: "Where is Duncan? Where is Duncan?"
On the widespread school closures proposed in Philadelphia, Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, recently stated:
Whatever your opinion may be of [charter schools], there’s no question that the District has failed to explain its inconsistent approach of allowing charter expansion without regard to expense or academic quality while insisting on draconian and widespread sacrifice among District schools. This despite the fact that many of the District schools targeted for closure outperform some of the charters that the SRC renewed and expanded last spring.
Among the cities most affected by such policies, Philadelphia is slated to close 37 schools by June.
Meanwhile, at a Public Schools hearing in Chicago Monday parents and teachers expressed outrage over recent steps towards mass closings within the city. Shouts and chants from the nearly 200 attendees drowned out school officials who attempted to pitch "under-used" school closures.
The Education Department is currently probing complaints that school closings in six cities — D.C., Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, New York City and Chicago — violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The National Schools Board Association criticized the Obama administration’s education policies, in a statement released Tuesday, saying Duncan has pushed “unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion” onto local school districts, and urged members of Congress to co-sponsor legislation, developed by NSBA, to protect local school district governance from over-reaching federal policies.