A city Department of Education panel approved its hotly divisive diversity policy this week, infuriating Asian parents who turned out for a raucous meeting in Chinatown, where they blasted the city for failing to initially provide a Chinese translator — and ripped the chancellor as racist.
The 10 members present from the Panel for Education Policy – comprised of mayoral and borough president appointees – unanimously adopted the so-called Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education, guidelines meant to de-emphasize Eurocentrism in the city’s predominately black and Hispanic school system.
The five-hour Wednesday night meeting at Middle School 131 on Hester Street was set to begin after Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza greeted the restive crowd of about 150 people in both English and Spanish.
But a seething faction of Asian parents, already furious over proposed admissions changes that would cull their numbers at top city schools, loudly objected to the absence of a Chinese translator and jeered Carranza silent.
“Fire the racist!” several shouted, while others sarcastically yelled that the interpreter absence was “not culturally responsive!”
The DOE regularly provides interpreters at public meetings but only had a Spanish translator on hand Wednesday.
“We want our PEP meetings to be accessible to families in the language they speak,” said DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson. “We’re looking into what happened at tonight’s meeting and will ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Asian group stood and held signs calling Carranza anti-Asian, as they clamored for his firing.
Their outburst was eventually met with an equally noisy counter-chorus from Carranza’a backers in the audience.
The two factions – split largely on racial lines – shouted at each for at least 15 minutes straight before a voice from the panel finally interjected.
The speaker informed the crowd that a Chinese translator was en route and that they would have to take a recess. As Carranza rose from his seat to exit the stage, protesters cheered.
Still stewing in the tension, the frustrated crowd then endured a roughly two-hour intermission before a Chinese translator finally arrived.
Hoping to quell the acrimony, officials pumped out loud music during the extended break, including songs from Paul Simon and Phil Collins, along with Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long.”
Carranza pointedly warned that those jeering should comport themselves respectfully in a school building setting.
While the means of its implementation and specific goals remain vague, the CR-SE initiative’s thrust is to further broaden classroom materials beyond Eurocentrism.
That adjustment would entice heightened engagement and improved performance from city students – 70 percent of whom are black and Hispanic, supporters contend.
During a public comment portion of the meeting, several speakers spoke in support of CR-SE, arguing that kids perform better when they feel represented in curricula; and that black and Hispanic children have been routinely marginalized.
“Our kids need to feel included,” said one speaker. “This is for everybody”
CR-SE would ensure that “multiple forms of diversity” are “recognized, understood and regarded as indispensable sources of knowledge for teaching and learning,” according to DOE language.
Black and Hispanic curricular disaffection negatively impacts academic performance, several speakers argued.
Others voiced concerns over the the new approach, arguing that its benign veneer obscures a latent hostility towards Asians and whites.
Another speaker said he had no specific quarrel with the initiative’ spirit – but didn’t trust Carranza with its implementation.
CR-SE notes that schools will be required “identify and interrupt policies and practices that center historically advantaged social/cultural groups and lead to predictable outcomes of success or failure for historically marginalized students.”
CR-SE further states that classroom activities should “foster critical consciousness about historical and contemporary forms of bias oppression” and that schools should “promote student agency to end societal inequities.”
Carranza, who has had to parry cronyism charges in recent weeks after quietly hiring several former associates, spoke in favor of CR-SE Wednesday night, arguing that objectors are “misinformed” as to its spirit and that it embraces all cultures and identities.
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