As the election period for the New York City’s school boards is coming to an end Tuesday, one could have expected a low-key campaign similar to the one two years ago. At stake for this election are seats on 32 District Community Education Councils and the 4 Citywide Councils (collectively CCECs). Because of Mayoral Control, NYC Councils effectively have limited power – yet this election cycle has taken an unexpectedly vicious turn.
This year, multiple education-focused organizations issued lists endorsing candidates, starting with PLACE NYC, a group formed in 2019 by parents fighting former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admission Test. PLACE NYC issued its list on April 21, hours before the voting opened and recommended candidates for every single council.
Several other organizations subsequently published their own candidate lists. Election rules preclude soliciting or accepting endorsements from elected officials or from current CCEC members. None of this was problematic. But as other organizations released their endorsements, a narrative has emerged on social media and through inflammatory Op-ed and articles – many written by candidates – denouncing PLACE NYC’s endorsed candidates as being “racists”, “anti-LGBTQ”, “transphobes” and “school privatizers”, and inventing connections between endorsed candidates and vocal national groups such as Moms4Liberty.
We are two of the candidates who received an endorsement from PLACE NYC as we run for reelection to the Citywide Council on High Schools in the Bronx and to the CEC for District 20 in Brooklyn. And we categorically reject the churlish, vulgar character assassination being undertaken against us and other candidates.
In an Op-ed we co-authored earlier this year, we explained why we ran in 2021 and again this year. Our motivation and our desire to serve families have not changed. Yet we cannot help but wonder about these sudden attacks, and why organizations we have never heard of would put us and many others on a “do not vote list”. We are volunteers, and our campaign platform can be summarized as pursuing the highest quality education for all students and asking that parent voices are heard in the formation of education policy, a platform we refer to as Pro-Ed.
So what did we do to become so scary and dangerous? Like many candidates, we are regular parents with no political connections and a job unrelated to education. Many of us have volunteered in various positions ever since our children started school.
With the pandemic, regular parents gained some degree of workplace flexibility and as school-related meetings shifted to virtual environments attendance was significantly boosted, including among parents with an otherwise full schedule. Many of us thus “graduated” from occasional volunteering to becoming regular and active participants in these meetings.
As our availability increased, we also started paying more attention. The pandemic caused disruptions which disproportionately impacted public schools in NYC including prolonged and erratic school closures, dismal online learning results, and also the suspension of tests and grades. As we saw our own children slipping and losing interest in school, regular parents like us started looking at what was being done, if anything, to remediate the learning loss. We demanded that learners be met where they were – with challenging classes for learners at or beyond grade level and with extra-help and tutoring for learners in need of extra support.
None of this seems controversial… But then we asked for a seat at table – and we, regular parents, somehow crossed the line.
Before 2020, the only parents sitting on these CCECs had been slotted in those positions through their connections, as eligible parents were selected from among and by schools’ PTA members. The CCECs were filled out by borough presidents’ appointees. Under this old framework, CCECs tended to be dominated by parents who had the free time to spend in schools during the workday and thereby develop strong political connections with other active parents, school administration and the powerful teachers’ union.
In 2021 this all changed when, for the first time, all parents and guardians of NYC public school students became eligible to run and vote in the CEC elections. Regular parents saw an opportunity to step up. Many of us ran based on the same common sense, Pro-Ed platform, demanding an excellent education for all NYC public students, proficiency as evidenced by grades and test results, and safe schools. We demanded accountability from the DOE, assessing how much money is spent and how NYC students’ academic performance changes year-over-year or compared to their peers. Many of us bring skills developed throughout our careers including as business owners, entrepreneurs, lawyers, financiers, and consultants. And are interested in bringing these skills to the table as active participants in education policy.
We know many other regular, equally boring parents in all 5 boroughs who are running for these CEC elections. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and hoping to make a difference. While we are willing and able to volunteer in traditional ways such as fund raising or event planning, we are playing a much more active and outspoken role in the details of education policy than was perhaps done under the former, cozier school-parent relationship.
With this epiphany and as we expressed our desire to have a voice, we emerged as an enormous and immediate threat to the groups of parents who historically served, largely uncontested, in these positions. What makes our role particularly threatening to the establishment is the resonance our arguments have with New York City’s large immigrant communities who share many of our education values and perhaps can finally see someone with the ability to serve as their voice in the system.
While many of us newcomers have endured our share of attacks over the past 2 years, the intensity has naturally ramped up with the elections underway. We often find ourselves voicing our views on education policy only to be met not with thoughtful discourse but with exaggerated slander typically casting us as members of some politically unfavored group. We get it – this is politics.
But that is not how we campaign. We will stick to our accomplishments, our qualifications, and our optimistic, can-do attitude for the betterment of NYC Public Schools. We will continue to work hard and collaboratively and stay true to our Pro-Ed agenda.
Debbie Kross – CCHS – Bronx Representative
Steve Stowe – CEC D20 President