Success Academy to parents: Upcoming rally ‘not political’
Employees of Success Academy, New York City's largest charter school network, have been instructed to tell parents an upcoming rally organized by a well-funded charter advocacy group is "not political," according to a document obtained by POLITICO New York.
The five-page document was sent by Success' "advocacy team" and is billed as "messaging assistance" intended to help staff convince families of Success students to attend the Sept. 30 pro-charter rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge organized by Families for Excellent Schools.
Success administrators are also strongly encouraging parents to attend the rally and march even if it presents hardships for them in terms of arranging for child care or taking time off from their jobs.
"This is not a political event," employees are being asked to tell parents who may be hesitant about participating in a rally with political implications. "This is an event in support of your scholar, our school, and the right for families to have access to equal schools."
But when parents ask the purpose of the rally, staffers should respond, "we are rallying to call on Mayor de Blasio and the rest of our city's leaders to end this system of inequality," according to the document.
The flyer begins with a plea to staffers, in bright red font: "Please do not pass this FAQ out to parents."
Parents are asked to attend the rally with their children, as they have been for previous rallies organized by FES and attended mostly by Success students, parents and teachers.
Success has drawn criticism, mainly from teachers union leaders and their allies, for shutting schools for what critics call purely political rallies.
Daniel Dromm, chairman of the City Council's education committee and a teachers union ally, has accused Success of using its students as "pawns" to advance the network's political agenda and the stature of its controversial leader, Eva Moskowitz.
Moskowitz, who recently said she is considering challenging de Blasio in a mayoral bid in 2017, has said her students get an important lesson in civics by attending the rallies.
The 34 Success schools across the city will be closed the morning of the rally, and parents who do not want their children to attend will have to arrange child care or stay home with their child. Children cannot attend the rally without a parent or guardian accompanying them.
The document obtained by POLITICO New York lists a series of responses to potential problems from families, including difficulty arranging child care.
"We encourage you to do everything you can to line up child care," employees should tell parents, according to the document. "We know it can be tough, but that is what families did to make sure you would have access to your school."
The majority of Success Academy students — 77 percent — are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, meaning their families live at or below the poverty level.
For parents who feel they cannot take time off from work, employees are asked to respond, "parents took off work to stand up and make sure that you have this great school option for your family. What if they hadn't shown up and taken the day off work?"
The document directly links rally participation with the continued existence of the Success network, and with charter schools in general.
"Families need to keep showing up and standing up — even when it's inconvenient — to ensure our schools can continue to exist and grow, and that other families get access to great public schools for their kids," the document reads.
Staffers are also encouraged to suggest that parents with children in Success' elementary school may not have middle or high school options if they do not help further the cause of school equality by attending the rally.
In a message specifically intended for "those that still need middle school or high school space," the document reads, "You don't want to be in a situation where we can't get middle school or high school space for your scholar's school, and you are wondering if you could have done more."
The de Blasio administration is required by state law to provide space for all charter schools, either in co-located public space or in private space, at the city's expense.
Ann Powell, a spokeswoman for Success, said the document "reflects our commitment to improve education for all children."
The Sept. 30 rally will take the form of a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, culminating at City Hall.
In terms of both optics and intent, the rally will be nearly identical to a march Moskowitz convened in 2013, shortly before de Blasio was elected mayor.
De Blasio, who made no secret of his disdain for many charter schools in general, and Moskowitz in particular, was perceived as a threat to the city's charter sector and the rally was intended to show the size and strength of the movement.
Several subsequent large rallies — both in New York City and in Albany — have had the same goal, with varying degrees of political urgency.
A rally at the State Capitol in March 2014 was billed as a direct response to de Blasio's ill-fated decision to block the co-locations of several Success schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an appearance and vowed to "save" the city's charter schools.
Other rallies have had less immediate objectives.
Last year, FES held a rally in Albany to call for end to New York's "failing schools crisis." The upcoming rally will focus on the issue of restoring "school equity."
The rallies are large, and get bigger as Success' network balloons in size; this year, Success' total enrollment tops 9,000.
All Success teachers also attend the rallies, as do some representatives from other charter networks, though Success is the only network that closes its schools for the protests.
FES is known to inflate the size of its protests. Organizers said 21,000 people attended a New York City event last October, while police estimated the crowd was about 8,000 to 10,000.
The group has accelerated its attacks on de Blasio this week, ahead of the rally.
On Monday, FES sent an "open letter" from the leaders of the city's large charter networks, criticizing de Blasio for "denying space" to charters.
The letter accuses the de Blasio administration of not fulfilling maintenance requests for an Achievement First school, denying an expansion request for a Boys Prep school, and not granting Success timely approvals for new schools.
“We have a clear process in place and have been and continue to comply with the State law to provide space or rental assistance for eligible charter schools," Devora Kaye, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Later Monday, F.E.S. released a memo critiquing de Blasio's recently announced K-12 education agenda.