It is surely too soon to judge the advantages for children as a result of Children
education reforms introduced this school year, but a report released
this month makes a case that the reform agenda is lacking in its efforts to
bring parents into the decision-making process, denying parents a basic human
"Civil Society and School Accountability: A Human Rights Approach to
Parent and Community Participation in NYC Schools," authored by the Center
for Economic and Social Rights and New
York University Institute
for Education and Social Policy, suggests that Mayor
Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein need to align the Children First
plan with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include greater parent
and community access, participation and monitoring.
Parental involvement is
written into the Children First agenda, frequently with similar wording to
what appears in the rights-based report--a welcoming
for parents, essential partnership, accountability--and according to Mayor
initiatives "recognize that parents must be full partners with our schools
in the important work of education."
But in most endeavors, full partners
These reforms fail to guarantee parents their human right to have an impact on
decisions that affects their child's education and to have access to school officials
and to information," said Elizabeth Sullivan, Right to Education project
coordinator at the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).
" The process by which the Children First reforms were developed is a
perfect example of this," said Sullivan. "There
were countless forums held where parents could give 'input' into what policies
might be adopted, but actual policy decisions and changes came as surprises
with little or no time to comment on them."
Diane Lowman's 14-year old son, Sivaad, is just entering ninth grade at Pablo
Neruda Academy in the Bronx. In the process of finding this school for Sivaad
and getting him registered, Lowman made several trips to the district Learning
Center where she said she was met with disregard and misinformation.
I'm trying to be patient," said Lowman, "but I don't see that much
different with Children First. It's like everything else with the Board of
Ed. It exists on paper, but there's no substance to it; it's not real."
would constitute real reform in Lowman's mind? "First of all,
when I contacted the supervisor back in April about finding a school for my
son, schools should have been identified that I could look at and visit while
were up and running. The parent coordinator should truly be knowledgeable and
know what regulations are, be a true resource, not simply say, 'I don't know.'
And someone should have asked parents what it is we need. Who do we hold
Lowman admits that she is a pushy parent who knows her rights
and will always manage to be heard. But other parents, perhaps those for whom
English is a
second language, may not be equipped to put up such a fight, and could easily
disenfranchised from their child's education.
The ability of the new Parent
Coordinator to bridge this information gap and truly be a support to parents
is also under question by rights advocates. "If
the Parent Coordinators are there to support parents," said Sullivan of
CESR, "they need the training and knowledge to help parents address their
concerns and the independence to advocate for parents before school officials.
What parents need are individuals or structures that can serve as independent
ombudspersons to monitor schools and school officials and serve as outside
independent advocates for the human rights of parents and students."
should come first and it is for that reason that Diane Lowman struggles to
stay involved. "We value education in my family," said Lowman, "but
my son, he is now feeling it's not important. Parental involvement might change
that. Parents need to know what is expected of our children. We need to stop
sending our kids to school alone."
SCHOOL BUS POLLUTION HEARING
State Senator Peter M. Rivera led a joint hearing by the New York State Assembly Committees on Environmental
Education, Transportation, and the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic
Task Force last month to hear testimony on "School Bus Pollution and its
Impact on Children."
format) have found high levels of diesel exhaust present on school buses. The
matter in diesel fumes has been linked to cancer and is a trigger for asthma,
which is on the rise among New York City children.
Significant reductions in
diesel exhaust can made by bus companies with a switch to ultra-low sulfur
diesel fuel and retrofitting school buses with particulate
filters or oxidation catalysts.
A COMMUNITY LIFELINE
In a recent Citizens
Committee for Children Millennium Report, the Lower East Side was listed
as the poorest neighborhood in New York City,
poorer than areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. But an unexpected finding
was that the children from this community were not faring at the low end by
all standard measurements of child well-being: immunization rates, infant deaths,
low birth weights, teen pregnancies, high school drop-out rates, etc. The explanation
for this twist has been attributed to the abundance of social service programs
provided to families on the Lower East Side. One of the oldest and all-encompassing
providers of these services has been the Educational
a settlement house established over 114 years ago and still vital to the community.
After September 11th, the Educational Alliance stayed open; during the blackout,
it also remained open, making hamburgers on the street and passing out milk
Elisa Izquierdo, the six-year old girl murdered by her mother in
1995, lived in the housing project right behind Educational Alliance. "After
she was killed," said the alliance's executive director, Robin Bernstein, "families
and residents all came into the office of the Senior Associate Director and
threw money down on the table--one man took a token off a chain around his
put it down--and they said, 'Will you buy this girl a funeral.' That's how
the community looks to us."
Educational Alliance staff also realized from
that tragedy that there was no safety net in place for parents who thought
they might hurt their children
and so they created a respite center where parents could drop in and talk about
was going on.
There are a wide range of other programs for children, from Head
Start to After School. Day care parents pay between $3 and $35
a week, and for some families, even $3 is hard to part with; many of
the parents work in sweatshops, an industry severely affected by 9/11. Recently
Educational Alliance started the second year of their Saturday program and
245 children were waiting at 8:45
in the morning to register. There are also many social service programs,
for pregnant teens and runaway kids and other troubled youth.
When Early Head
Start research revealed that father involvement was one of the two most important variables
in a child's life (exposure to violent incidents was the other), Educational
Alliance began a father involvement program.
Lynda Crawford wrote the social services topic page for Gotham
Gazette, and has written for City Limits, New York Woman, The New
York Observer, and The New York Daily News.
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