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Name-calling and calling the police: How New York’s PTA got mean

New York City has never been immune to bitter education battles, but their vitriol and aggression have reached new levels and expanded in recent months. arrive Wider issues of disagreement.

The fights reflect the nation’s growing political divisions, even in this deep blue city, as parents prioritize old arguments – such as how race and discrimination are taught in schools – over new ones. Such as the role of transgender students in athletics and how to address these issues. Schools should address the Israel-Hamas war.

Parents galvanized each other, calling each other bigots and filing formal performance complaints over conduct at meetings traditionally focused on issues such as school improvement and student progress.. Some parents reported each other for harassment to the police. One woman said she received a package containing feces.

The battlefields also multiplied, from some notoriously brawling parent councils to traditionally peaceful spots around the city.

In other parts of the country, changes in school board policies can change what happens in classrooms. In New York City, the parent councils where many of the fights broke out – representing the 32 districts in the public school system – have little power because the mayor controls the schools.

But new fights — involving issues that don’t always fall neatly along party lines — pose challenges for an administration trying to govern what may be the most diverse school district in the country.

The city’s schools superintendent, David C. Banks, has previously expressed a willingness to listen to families’ concerns about the direction of the system, including how desegregation of elite schools is being handled. But the tone of the new debate is that families are demanding more intervention from officials.

As the fight continues, Banks said last week that city education leaders will soon have more to say about “the nonsense we’re seeing.”

“What I find most disappointing about being Prime Minister is the poor behavior of adults,” he said.

Perhaps nowhere are the tensions more apparent than in the Second Ward, a vast and diverse swath of the entire Manhattan system, from the West Village to Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper East Side.

Parent-teacher conferences in school districts have been contentious, but families there are divided largely over efforts to ease admissions to selective schools. Recently, however, they have quarreled over some issues. Books with more diverse storylines and Deny or not Right-wing advocacy organization “Liberty Moms” and others.

Last month, parents there passed a proposal asking the city’s Department of Education to review its gender guidelines, which currently allow students to compete on sports teams based on their gender identity, regardless of their sex at birth.

This work was led in part by Maud Maron, a particularly outspoken parent leader whose Speeches criticized During a tense in-person and online meeting in March, she and other parents said the current policy “creates challenges for youth athletes and coaches” and does not consider the “well-being of girls.” “

During the meeting, parents attending from afar debated whether their children would be unsafe if transgender athletes joined the girls’ team. Several elected officials called the discussion “shameful.” Mr Banks later asked: “Won’t you leave the children alone?”

The proposal, which is a non-binding recommendation for officials, was approved by an 8-3 vote. Post on XMothers for Liberty called the vote “a huge step for New York City!” This year the group held first major local eventSeveral District 2 parent leaders participated as members of the group, which now has a small chapter in Queens.

It’s unclear to what extent the parent council represents the broader views of District 2. Members of the board recently won seats by hundreds of votes, and the district has about 20,000 eligible parent voters.

Still, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levin, a progressive Democrat, said, “The MAGA movement has come to Manhattan.”

Other communities are becoming battlegrounds, too.

In the 14th District, which includes Williamsburg, Brooklyn, some parent leaders have publicly called for a ceasefire in Gaza and say their position is under threat.At the same time, other parents also filed complaints federal lawsuit Last week took aim at the board’s policy, arguing that those who “disagree with official orthodoxy” face unfair scrutiny from school officials.

Even students sometimes join the fight. At the city’s most prestigious high school, teenagers launched a campaign to have Ms Malone kicked off the school’s leadership team for making “extremely hurtful” comments about minorities on social media.

“The safety of our most vulnerable students is at risk,” they wrote. Ms. Malone did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent years, some parents have formally organized over their dissatisfaction with the school, sparking conflict. Suggestions for reforming admissions Experts say the message from groups like Liberty Moms may resonate when moderate or conservative parents feel their concerns aren’t being heard in more progressive places.

Rebecca Jacobsen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, said the increasingly tense environment may reflect lasting changes. “It’s not going to go back to the way it was,” she said, referring to the national landscape.

Others who study the political battles in education point to school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. “They’ve stirred up a kind of conservatism in New York City that we haven’t seen in a while.” New School.

Now, she added, “it has taken over other issues.”

In recent months, Mr Banks, the school’s headteacher, has begun criticizing parents’ behavior more frequently.

But the fight raises questions about how far officials should go. Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers union, wants them to do more. He said in a recent letter that some parent leaders have used their platforms to “defame and harm students” and raise concerns about potential suffering for children.

Still, Kenita Lloyd, the senior school official who oversees family engagement, said at a news conference last week that removing elected parent leaders could set a “dangerous precedent.”

But some parents remain disappointed. “The adults in the Ministry of Education really need to step in,” said District 2 parent leader Gavin Healy.

In New York, several principals have recently encouraged schools to expand the type of teaching on issues like identity and discrimination, something that some other cities have limited. It also appears to have sparked new dissent in at least one community.

News website Gothamist It was reported last month that books on the subject For example, Native American history and the Black Panther superhero were found in a trash can at a Staten Island elementary school. Some had labels including “Unapproved. Discussion of dad being transgender. Teenage girl has a crush on another girl in class.”

In a recently unveiled new curriculum on the African diaspora, Mr. Banks said the teaching of black history “is under attack across America.” He said students would be exposed to a variety of topics “whether people like it or not.” s story.

The abstract parent battle may have more resonance as the state Legislature considers whether to extend the mayor’s control of the city’s public schools. Some want state lawmakers to give elected school boards the power to set real policy.

Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who represents much of Manhattan’s West Side, said “we need to be mindful” of how school boards and parent councils are being “hijacked.”

However, experts point out that voter turnout was around 2% In parent council elections – that could be increased if the stakes were higher.

Regardless of what senators decide, national political conflict over school issues is likely to intensify ahead of the presidential election, said John Rogers, a UCLA professor who studies education struggles.

“I think it’s just going to take a breather in the next few months,” he said.

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