New Yorkers are reacting with anger (and generosity) to the story of the 100 elementary-school children in Queens who were forced to sit in a darkened auditorium because their parents didn't pay the $10 admission fee for a carnival on school grounds on May 21 where hundreds of their classmates were whooping it up.
About a half-dozen people who read the New York Post's story about the excluded children, some of whom were crying, have offered to reach into their wallets to throw them a party of their own.
Here's what happened, according to the Post:
Close to 900 kids went to the Queens schoolyard affair, with pre-K to fifth-grade classes taking turns, each spending 45 minutes outside. The kids enjoyed inflatable slides, a bouncing room and a twirly teacup ride. They devoured popcorn and flavored ices. DJs blasted party tunes.
But more than 100 disappointed kids were herded into the darkened auditorium to just sit or watch an old Disney movie while aides supervised — the music, shouts and laughter outside still audible.
The must-pay rule excluded some of the poorest kids at the elementary, where most parents are Chinese immigrant families crammed into apartments and “struggling to keep their heads above water,” staffers said.
The teacher hugged a 7-year-old girl who was “crying hysterically.”
“She was the only one from her class who couldn’t go, so she was very upset,” the teacher said.
The girl told others, “My mom doesn’t care about me.” But the teacher said parents possibly did not see or understand the flier that went home or didn’t have $10 to spare.
“Are we being punished?” one child asked an aide in the auditorium as kids sat there with no movie playing, a staffer said.
I'm outraged, too–but not just at the cruelty of the "no party for the poor" at P.S. 120, as the Post described it.
My objection is: Why did the school administrators stage the carnival on a school day? Shouldn't public schools be using school hours paid for by taxpayers to actually teach kids something?
The answer to that question looks pretty obvious: The purpose of the carnival, organized by a parents' association, was to raise funds for the school–and there's no audience so captive as a bunch of children who are obliged by law to be at the school anyway most weekdays. The carnival, which cost $6,200 to operate, including hiring the services of a professional carnival company, netted a $2,000 to $3,000 profit for the school.
The practice of using school days for anything but school is widespread in the public-education system. Here In D.C. schools are regularly closed for full days and half-days for such non-instructional events as "parent-teacher conferences" and "professional development." I always wonder: If teachers are supposed to be the professionals they claim they are (which is why they're constantly claiming they're underpaid), shouldn't they be developing themselves professionally on their own time, the way other professionals do?
And how many parents, most of whom undoubtedly work or have other responsibilities, take time off during the day to travel to a school to talk to a teacher unless their kid is in serious trouble? Parent-teacher conference days for teachers sound like "office hours" for college professors: Time for catching up on your paperwork in an otherwise empty room.
The P.S. 120 story looks as though it will have a happy ending, as New Yorkers prove once again that the city that never sleeps has a heart:
“I’m a big believer in giving back,” promised Daren Hornig, 47, a partner of Great Neck-based real estate investment firm Hornig Capital Partners. “I’ll bring my girls and we’ll all go to an amusement park together and have a good time.”
New Yorkers of all stripes were galled.
“Next time they have a carnival, any kids that can’t pay the price, please send me the bill for each and all that were less fortunate,” building super Carlos Medina offered.
Other offers included a trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s for only the kids who were left out, and a second carnival for all the students.
Now, if P.S. 120 had held its fund-raising carnival on a weekend instead of during school hours, few would have complained. But the school couldn't resist the double whammy of maximizing attendance via near-coercion and giving the teachers time off from actually teaching. Sounds like business as usual at public school.