PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday September 9th, 2016, 4:31pm

Chicago Activists To Rally For Education Policy Changes At First Presidential Debate

Education activists from Chicago and other U.S. cities will rally outside the first 2016 presidential debate later this month in Hempstead, New York in hopes that the candidates will embrace their seven-point public education policy agenda.

Education justice activists from across the country, including Chicago, plan to rally outside the first 2016 presidential debate later this month as they seek to draw the candidates' attention to public education issues.

The first presidential debate of 2016 will take place September 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

The Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J), a national network of grassroots groups dedicated to community-driven school improvement, is organizing the daylong demonstration. 

J4J members, who are active in Chicago and 23 other U.S. cities, hope to draw as many as 1,000 people to the event, which will shine a spotlight on the impact of the "austerity agenda on black and Latino students, parents and educators," according to an announcement.

"The goal of our day, which is themed 'Public Education Nation,' is to make public education a presidential issue," said J4J's national director Jitu Brown, an education activist from Chicago who organized and participated in a 34-day hunger strike last year to save Dyett High School from closing.

J4J will formally release its seven-point education platform the day of the debate.

The document calls for a moratorium on school privatization, federal funding for 10,000 "sustainable community schools," a "national equity assessment" of public schools and the elimination of "punitive, high stakes standardized tests." The group also is demanding a stop to the "attack on black teachers" and an end to zero tolerance school discipline policies as well as state takeovers, appointed school boards and mayoral control.

J4J members want the major and third-party presidential candidates to respond to their platform and meet with them for a public education "listening session."

"We want the presidential candidates to sit down with the mothers and fathers from communities that have been besieged by school privatization and understand the damage that's been done to the lives of Americans," Brown said. "We want an end to public schools for profit ... We want an emphasis on creating strong, sustainable community schools."

J4J's demonstration will kick off with a morning press conference at Hempstead High School, followed by an afternoon forum on the campus of State University of New York College at Old Westbury. After that, the group will rally at Eisenhower Park before marching to the public protest areas outside Hofstra University. 

Chicago parents from local community groups including Action Now, Blocks Together, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Northside Action for Justice will be at the event.

The action's central theme is school equity, which will be the focus of the speak out at Hempstead High School.

"While some students in Long Island go to world-class neighborhood schools, you have cities like Hempstead, where the student population is over 90 percent black and Latino, (and students) languish in under-resourced test factories, in schools that are starved of the opportunity to provide hope for our children," Brown explained.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump will square off at the first presidential debate of the 2016 general election. Third-party candidates, including Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein from the Green Party, must garner 15 percent in some polls in order to make the debate stage. 

Johnson currently has 9 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average, followed by Stein at 3.3 percent. 

"Our message to all of (the candidates) is the same: It's time for this issue to get some traction," Brown said. 

"We are willing to engage the presidential candidates on their positions," he added. "So whether it's the Green Party candidate in another forum, that's fine. But I think that when we talk about violence in our communities, when we talk about the sense of desperation in many cities ... we have to talk about our failure as our society to educate black ... [and] Latino children as if they were our own."  

The September 26 presidential debate at Hofstra University will take place from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT. See the full 2016 presidential debate schedule here.


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