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The Third Letter

June 11, 2020 pm30 11:27 pm

This one is different from the other two. There’s a letter from DoE central staff. There’s a similar letter by a bunch of teachers (mostly) and principals.

And then, this. Jose Vilson, The Jose Vilson, is the first signature. Not surprisingly, the letter aims for systemic change, and spells out steps in some detail. This comes closer to my own views than the other two letters:

NYC Schools For Transformative Change

To Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chancellor Richard Carranza, Regent Betty A. Rosa, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro,

We are a coalition of teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other student-facing staff who seek to address and redress our school system. Many of us recognize the difficult work of educating the nation’s largest public school system, and, under the current pandemic, we’ve responded with grace, flexibility, and agility. We are proud to serve the students, parents, and communities of New York City, but we also recognize that now is the time for reconciliation with our school system’s past and a transformation – not reform – for our city’s future.

We think back to the life of Kalief Browder and how our schools were complicit in the dehumanizing experience he had that led to his tragic suicide. We think of the thousands of students who pass through metal detectors just to get our rendition of formal education while White wealthy students rarely have to experience such disgrace. We shake our heads at the lack of movement toward integration efforts across the city, such as the dismantling of specialized high school exams and middle school entrance exams. We can’t fathom the rationale for having more police officers than counselors in our schools. In one of the wealthiest cities in the world, we can’t make sense of cutting education budgets without taxing the half-empty high rises across the city.

Black lives matter, not just every four years or when it’s convenient, but all the time. Black families shouldn’t have to decide whether to send their child to school during a pandemic or keep them home without child care. Black parents shouldn’t have to worry whether the curriculum their child is learning in school devalues them as human beings. Black teachers shouldn’t have to work in schools that don’t treat them as professionals due to the color of their skin or their attention to anti-racism. Black people should know that the nation’s largest public school system believes in their children without question. Black lives matter before, during, and after school, and our schools should model that systemically, not just symbolically.

To that end, we, the undersigned, demand that the following seventeen changes be enacted and supported in the capacities of the offices in which each of you occupies:

1. Engage students in cultivating student agency and understanding their rights within schools. Give students voting power on elected community education councils, the Panel for Education Policy, and any other education decision-making bodies.

2. Move into sample testing in step with the NAEP (3rd, 7th, and 11th) with the elimination of other standardized exams from 4th through 6th grades, 8th through 10th grades, and 12th grade, including Regents exams.

3. Create School Peace Officers that report to the NYC Department of Education that serve to transform the idea of school safety for communities, especially in Black communities.

4. Assure that NYPD cannot use school facilities during school hours.

5. Couple the end of zero-tolerance policies with ongoing professional development for every adult in our school buildings centered on de-escalation, anti-racist conflict resolution, and socio-emotional health/development.

6. Fully invest in the NYC Department of Education’s own definition of Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education with an expansion of the Office of Equity and Access.

7. Require ongoing professional development for all DOE staff to eliminate racist pedagogies and practices from schools.

8. Provide funding to enable immigrant community-based organizations to develop and launch language services worker-owned cooperatives—including, but not limited to, one for African Languages of Limited Diffusion (LLDs) and one for indigenous Latin American LLDs.

9. Hire more teachers of color and create conditions for their retention in our highest-need schools coupled with the elimination of teacher accreditation exams. This also includes the expansion of the NYCMenTeach model.

10. Support the Black Lives Matter at School movement by integrating ethnic studies and anti-racist curricula and pedagogy year-round.

11. Triple the number of school counselors and/or social workers in schools to downsize their caseloads throughout the city to a maximum of 75:1 ratio.

12. Commission a panel for the longitudinal, quantitative, and qualitative study of the decimation of Black teachers and other educators of color in New York City public schools in the last two decades, report its findings, and share with the general public.

13. Decrease class ratios to 18:1 in elementary schools, 22:1 in middle and high schools with no more than 66 students per teacher.

14. Mandate a form of homeroom/advisory program in every school with a culturally-responsive, locally determined curriculum based on population and need.

15. Eliminate screening, including gifted and talented programs and specialized high schools.

16. Invest in our transfer high schools, vocational schools, and other non-traditional DOE facilities.

17. Fully fund schools according to the Foundation Aid Formula developed in 2007 by enacting a 2% wealth tax on every New Yorker making more than $50 million to fund any budget shortage and enact a “pied-a-terre” luxury real estate tax for absentee tenants of high-rise luxury buildings that often highlight the wealth disparity in our city.

With these demands, we can actually see a way forward for our Black students and communities who deserve a more robust, anti-racist, human-centered school system. We have to dismantle our complicity in the school-to-confinement pipeline. We can no longer settle for simple reforms that do not heal the root of our school system’s racial disparities.


Jose Luis Vilson, Teacher, NYC Public Schools
Matt Gonzales, Director of Integration and Innovation Initiative (i3), NYU Metro Center
Megan Hester, Director, EJ-ROC, NYU Metro Center
Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Professor, Teachers College
Jodi Friedman, Assistant Principal, STAR Academy-PS 63
Wendy Menard, Teacher (retired), Midwood High School
Lynn Shon, Teacher, MS 88
zakiyah ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Sendy Keenan, Teacher, Frederick Douglass Academy High School

and almost 600 others! A complete list of co-signatures will be provided in the link below:

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