A city education panel unanimously adopted guidelines meant to diversify school curriculum Wednesday night in a melee of a meeting with protesters hurling accusations of racism at schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
The protesters, mostly Asian parents, showed up at M.S. 131 in Chinatown with shirts labeled “Fire Carranza” to slam what they called divisive leadership that disadvantages Asian and white families, bursting into chants of “fire the racist,” and “Anti-Asian.”
On the other side of the auditorium of about 150 attendees, the mostly Black and Latino audience members in support of the new guidelines held signs like “our students deserve to be seen,” occasionally matching the cries of the protesters with chants of “Si se puede.”
“The tone and the viciousness and the energy was something I’ve never seen before,” said Megan Hester, a researcher at NYU’s Metro Center who helped draft the proposal under consideration and has attended panel meetings under four chancellors.
Some protesters blamed the enmity on Carranza, who they say has inflamed racial tensions with proposals like abolishing the Specialized High School Admissions Test — an idea they say will harm Asian students, who are over-represented in the elite schools.
But Carranza’s supporters say racial divisions have long plagued one of the country’s most segregated school systems. They say the chancellor’s critics are simply threatened by his efforts to address inequities.
The meeting reached fever pitch when, just minutes in, officials announced Chinese language translators weren’t on hand, prompting jeers from the crowd. Panel members paused proceedings for more than an hour until interpreters arrived.
The main item on the agenda was a vote on a new definition for “culturally responsive education,” an approach advocates say brings students’ backgrounds into classrooms and starts to repair damage done by a school system that has historically left Black and Latino students behind.
Other attendees objected to the idea that schools and curriculum were systemically biased, and said the new guidelines were intrusive and unnecessary.
One parent, Allie Ryan, said her daughter was already “saturated” with books on Black and Native American history and craved new topics.
Lucas Liu, a member of the Community Education Council in District 3, said the guidelines feed into a “hostile learning environment” for white and Asian students.
Most speakers supported the new guidelines.
Kadija Kone, a high school student, said kids should be able to “use black and brown crayons without hesitation, and play with black and brown dolls — something I was never able to do.”
Early in the meeting, Carranza admonished protesters to behave themselves, but mostly stayed quiet. Before the vote, he cautioned the guidelines weren’t “about him, it’s about the hundreds of thousands of students who don’t see themselves in the curriculum.”