|“We just want a fair chance,” said Alejandra Figueroa, a senior at the Secondary School for Journalism, where the loss of a Spanish teacher has jeopardized chances for students to achieve Advanced Regents diplomas|
Annette Renaud was riding the C train last weekend when a man approached and asked to take her picture. It was Brandon Stanton, of the popular website Humans of New York, and as usual, he asked what was on her mind. That’s when Ms. Renaud, a parent who is on the School Leadership Team at the Secondary School for Journalism, a high school housed in the John Jay educational campus in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, let loose.
She was upset, she said, because students at the school who were trying to qualify for their Advanced Regents diplomas were being undermined by the school’s administration. The advanced diploma requires three years of language study, and the principal at the school had gotten rid of the Spanish teacher at the end of last year and had not replaced her, leaving seniors at the school in the lurch.
“We’ve got a new mayor and a new chancellor,” Ms. Renaud continued. “So we aren’t blaming them. But they need to know how impossible they’ve made it to help our kids. Trying to get something fixed in these schools is like praying to some false God. You call and email hoping that God is listening, and nothing happens.”
Someone was listening. The post immediately went viral, with 150,000 likes on the Humans of New York Facebook page, it was shared more than 16,000 times, and it had strangers from across the city and the country pledging to call the school in protest on behalf of the students. Someone in Michigan started a change.org petition calling on the school to hire a foreign language instructor; another Connecticut petition asked the Department of Education to help the students — it has more than 1,000 supporters. People posted the school’s email address and phone number and some later reported that their emails were bouncing back because of the volume of correspondence.
The school’s former Spanish teacher, Briana Harris, said she was released from her position because of a lack of resources. “I was excessed, not fired,” Ms. Harris explained. Excessing a teacher is a funding issue that places limits on when a new teacher can be hired.
In interviews on Monday and Tuesday, the seniors Alejandra Figueroa, Sammy Familia and Alan Rivera said they set their sights on the distinguished diploma in their sophomore year. It requires six credits of foreign language, which typically translates to three years of instruction, and a passing score on the Regents exam. All three said they took the language test at the end of their junior year and scored in the 90s, well above the required grade. But without another year of instruction, about a dozen students cannot meet the credit requirement.
Many scholarships and colleges also require three years of language.
Officials at the Education Department said that there have been language courses offered through an online program since the start of the year. Students said that they did not receive the online instruction until January, despite their prodding of the school’s principal, Jodi Radwell, since September. The three students say they were offered a class with students of varying Spanish fluency doing the same worksheets and the option of doing a special project. But Ms. Figueroa’s most recent transcript does not show credit for taking any language courses this year.
Another senior, Kenneth Brown, said he did not take the Regents language test in his junior year because he did not feel ready. “I was under the impression I’ll have Spanish 5 and 6 and I’ll be 10 times more prepared as a senior,” he said. But without a teacher this year, he says he is unlikely to pass the exam.
Ms. Radwell did not respond to requests for comment. The school’s secretary said that she was in meetings, and a voice mail message was not returned.
Before Ms. Renaud’s encounter on the train, the students and their supporters held protests in front of the school about the Spanish classes and other issues. Some students are also protesting class availability and scheduling problems, which they worry may jeopardize graduation.
“We continue to work closely with the school community to ensure students have access to the courses they need,” said Marcus Liem, deputy press secretary of the New York City Education Department. Mr. Liem said that officials from the department were planning to meet with the school’s administration about this and other issues even before the posting, but that those meetings have now been moved up.
Meanwhile, the students still aim to protest and hope.
“We just want a fair chance,” Ms. Figueroa said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
The Secondary School for Journalism, a high school housed in the John Jay educational campus in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, has gained national attention after a Facebook post by a protesting parent went viral.