“You say cut back, we say fight back!” “Remove snow, not teachers!”
These were some of the signs and chants that rallied the Francis Lewis High School students, parents and teachers along with local politicians who gathered in front of the school to protest potential layoffs and overcrowding.
Francis Lewis teachers showing a united front each wore a navy blue polo with the United Federation of Teacher seal emblazoned on the right breast below Francis Lewis while brandishing signs calling for no teachers to be fired.
The crowd that gathered to join in the protest grew as students were dismissed from school.
Khaair Morrison, who received some of the loudest cheers during the protest, said he sees the effects of overcrowding with his own eyes every day. Cutting teachers will deny the students their basic rights, human rights, the senior and student-activist said.
“Francis Lewis High School is the face of New York City,” said Morrison, adding a message to the Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If the mayor stands by idly “we want your resignation signed, sealed and delivered,” Morrison said to cheers.
“The mayor can’t punish our kids for mistakes he and Wall Street made,” James Vasquez, the UFT district representative for Queens.
“[The mayor] has made layoffs a political game,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “When he says I have to do layoffs, I said let’s be clear you will choose to do layoffs.”
The common theme running through all the speeches made was the overcrowded school building that is at 200 percent capacity.
“This is the city of Francis Lewis High School,” said Councilmember Mark Weprin of the school that was built for 2,100 students but now holds 4,200. “We don’t need [our schools] to be more crowded than some cities in this country.”
“When I was here in 1967, the school capacity was 2,418 and even then we thought it was pretty high,” said Jeff Gottlieb, former Francis Lewis teacher and current aide for Senator Joe Addabbo.
The over 4,000 students cause many classes to reach the maximum of 34 students allowed by the state. More than half of the classes and up to 70 percent are currently at this maximum; with many more classes just one below, said Arthur Goldstein, the school’s UFT chapter leader.
“We’ve had great problems with oversized classes,” said Goldstein. There have been many class size violations over the years and the UFT even took the issue to court last year to fight the overcrowding.
“We have the highest class sizes in the state,” he said. “Imagine with fewer teachers what would happen.”
“Teachers see 170 students a day,” said history teacher Brian Kellar, adding that even with the overcrowding he doesn’t want to see kids turned away. “We’re a successful school; kids want to go here.”
“We see first hand the burden the overcrowding places on the students,” said Mark Waltzer history teacher and parent of a 10th grader at the school. “Kids go home at 7, 8, 9 p.m. as a result of the overcrowding.”
There are 14 periods in the day starting at 7:30 a.m. and stretching to 6:55 p.m.