Jill Bloomberg has been a vocal critic of racist education policies in New York and has repeatedly spoken out in defense of her students at Park Slope Collegiate School in Brooklyn. Since she was notified of the probe in March of this year without being given the reasons for this investigation, Bloomberg has learned that the Office of Special Investigations (DSI) has charged her with “actively recruiting students to participate in a political party.”
The party is the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a Marxist-Leninist organization based in New York. Bloomberg is not a member of the PLP and denies these allegations against her. In response to the investigation, she has filed a lawsuit on April 31 against the DoE under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her request for an injunction to stop the investigation, however, was denied by the court.
According to Jill Bloomberg, the DoE is engaged in a retaliation campaign meant to punish her for advocating for her students. For several years now, Bloomberg has been a strong opponent of segregation, discrimination, and underfunding in public education, particularly at her school. In fact, just two weeks before she was informed that she was under investigation, Bloomberg had complained to the DoE about unequal athletic funding on the John Jay Educational Campus. This complaint was only the last in a series of criticisms voiced by the Park Slope Collegiate community in protest against the Department’s decision in 2011 to open a new “selective” high school, Brooklyn Millennium, on the John Jay campus despite massive resistance from students, parents, and teachers.
Since the conflict erupted in 2010, Bloomberg has consistently brought attention to the community’s concerns about the poor conditions at Park Slope Collegiate (leaking roof, crumbling walls, broken plumbing, lack of electrical outlets, outdated heating system and no AC units, etc.), the outrageously insufficient academic support (including for special needs students and English language learners), and the dehumanizing security screenings the students are forced to endure. In this context, it was obvious that Brooklyn Millennium, where incoming students are selected on the basis of test scores and behavior, was designed to serve as an alternative for the majority white middle-class neighborhood of Park Slope, enabling their children to avoid attending Park Slope Collegiate, which is 85% black and Latino. As Bloomberg and many others have pointed out, this development is more than a little reminiscent of Jim Crow policies, contributing further to education inequality and systemic racism.
When Brooklyn Millennium received more resources for its sports teams than the other schools, Ms. Bloomberg dared to speak out against the injustice of the situation on the John Jay campus. She now has to fear for her job. Even The New York Times has noted that this incident conjures the history of McCarthyism in this country. It is unclear who exactly is behind these proceedings or where they were set in motion and what will become of the investigation. However, it appears that at least two other teachers at the school are included in the charges against Bloomberg and that teachers are experiencing an increased sense of fear as a result of this incident and the divisions it has caused. That said, it is encouraging that there has been an outpouring of support from students, parents, and other teachers for Principal Bloomberg, many of whom have openly expressed their solidarity.
Solidarity is crucial in these times when workers and poor people are being attacked on every front, and the public sector is hit with more and more cuts. If educators and school administrators are not free to fight for their students the way Jill Bloomberg has been fighting for her students, we will all be much worse off. The American education system continues to be marked by high levels of segregation and inequality, and the victims of this dire situation are disproportionately poor children of color. If the teachers and principals have to do their work in fear of persecution, educators everywhere will be under threat, especially those who care about social justice. To stand up for Jill Bloomberg is to stand up against intimidation and oppression and to fight for a society that values equality and integration in education.