Category Archives: News Brew

New Coalition Urges Congress to Listen to Parents and Strengthen Student Privacy Protections

Photo: Chris Sessums/flikr/cc

A new coalition called the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released a letter today to the leaders of the committees of the House and Senate Education Committees, urging Congress to strengthen FERPA and involve parents in the decision-making process to ensure that their children’s privacy is protected.

Many of the groups and individuals in the Coalition were involved in the battle over inBloom, which closed its doors last spring. They were shocked to learn during this struggle how federal privacy protections and parental rights to protect their children’s safety through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) had eroded over the last decade.

The letter is posted here(pdf), and calls for Congress to hold hearings and enact new privacy protections that would minimize the sharing of highly sensitive student data with vendors and among state agencies and would maximize the right of parents to notification and consent. The letter also asks for strict security requirements, that the law be enforceable through fines, and that parents have the right to sue if their children’s privacy is violated.

Rachael Stickland, a leader in the fight for student privacy in Colorado and co-chair of the Coalition to Protect Student Privacy points out, “inBloom’s egregious attempt to siphon off massive amounts of sensitive student information and to share it with for-profit vendors took parents by surprise. Once we learned that recent changes to FERPA allowed non-consensual disclosure of highly personal data, parents became fierce advocates for their children’s privacy. We’re now prepared to organize nationally to promote strong, ethical privacy protections at the state and federal levels.”

Diane Ravitch, President of the Network for Public Education said: “Since the passage of FERPA in 1974, parents expected that Congress was protecting the confidentiality of information about their children. However, in recent years, the US Department of Education has rewritten the regulations governing FERPA, eviscerating its purpose and allowing outside parties to gain access to data about children that should not be divulged to vendors and other third parties. The Network for Public Education calls on Congress to strengthen FERPA and restore the protection of families’ right to privacy.”

“The uprising against inBloom demonstrated the extent to which parents will not tolerate the misuse of their children’s sensitive personal information,” said Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Associate Director Josh Golin. “But parents cannot be expected to mobilize against each and every threat to their children’s privacy, particularly if they’re not even aware of which vendors have access to student data. It is critical that Congress take real steps to protect schoolchildren from those who see student data as a commodity to be exploited for profit.”

Parents Across America, a national network of public school parents, emphatically supports this call for hearings as a first step toward reversing federal actions that have eroded parental authority over student data, and including even stronger privacy protections for our children,” said Julie Woestehoff, a Chicago parent activist and PAA secretary. She added: “PAA recommends restoring parental authority over student data that was removed from FERPA by the US Department of Education, enacting state laws that include parental opt out provisions in any statewide data sharing program, strictly regulating in-school use of electronic hardware and software that collect student information, and including significant parent representation on any advisory committees overseeing student data collection.”

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Massachusetts public education advocacy group, said, “Citizens for Public Schools members, including many parents, are deeply concerned about threats to the privacy of student information. We support hearings and strong legislation to protect the privacy of this data. Parents are increasingly left out of important education policy discussions. In this, as in all crucial school policy discussions, they must have a voice.”

“Parents will accept nothing less than parental consent, when it comes to their child’s personally identifiable sensitive information. As a parent of a child with special needs, I understand the devastation that confidential information used without my consent could have on my child’s future. As a long-time advocate for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, I implore the U.S. House and Senate to put the necessary language back into FERPA to protect students and uphold the right of their families to control their personally identifiable data,” said Lisa Rudley, Director of Education Policy, Autism Action Network and Co-Founder of NYS Allies for Public Education.

Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project said, “Regardless of intention, the collection of an individual’s personal information is a source of discomfort and intimidation. Government’s broad collection of such information threatens to undermine America’s founding structure: if government intimidates the people, government cannot be by and for the people.”

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the Coalition, concluded, “Since inBloom’s demise, many of the post-mortems have centered around the failure of elected officials and organizations who support more data sharing to include parents in the conversation around student privacy. We are no longer waiting to be invited to this debate. It is up to parents to see that we are heard , not only in statehouses but also in the nation’s capital when it comes to the critical need to safeguard our children’s most sensitive data – which if breached or misused could harm their prospects for life. We are urging Congress to listen to our concerns, and act now.”

New York State of Fracking: A ProPublica Explainer

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New York State of Fracking: A ProPublica Explainer

by Naveena Sadasivam ProPublica, July 22, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

New York is one of a handful of states around the country that currently has at least temporarily halted fracking. Since 2008, when the state was first confronted with interest in gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing by energy companies, towns have banned the practice, the state has undertaken environmental and health studies, courts have issued rulings on fracking and concerns have been raised about the state's pristine water supply.

Here's a rundown of what you need to know about the current status of fracking in New York, the protections available to the state's major watershed and the implications of the most recent court ruling for local municipalities.

So, does NY have a moratorium on fracking?

Yes, New York currently has a moratorium in place. But the current moratorium, as opposed to a legislative moratorium, is not codified into law and does not have an expiration date. In 2010, former Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill intended to rein in natural gas drilling and instead issued an executive order instituting a six-month moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known. That moratorium, contingent on the completion of a review of the environmental impacts of fracking by the state environmental agency, is still in place.

In the last six years, two drafts of environmental impact reviews and two sets of draft regulations have been prepared. After the Department of Environmental Conservation released its 2012 report, it asked the Department of Health to review information related to the public health effects from natural gas drilling. That review is currently underway.

Environmental groups have been pushing for a moratorium with a time frame locked in or a moratorium enacted through the legislature, which they say would legally guarantee the moratorium will stay in place and provide time for the additional health studies currently being conducted by researchers around the country to be completed. In the last four years, at least three bills have been proposed to codify the moratorium into law but they have all failed to pass the Senate and reach the Governor's desk.

When will Gov. Cuomo decide to permit or ban fracking?

Nobody knows.

Recently, Joeseph Martens, the state's environmental conservation commissioner, indicated that he won't issue fracking permits before April 2015, delaying the decision until after Cuomo faces re-election. Earlier this year, health commissioner Nirav Shah said that he was "in no hurry" to finish the review as he did not want to "play with any potential risks with the health and safety of New Yorkers." Cuomo has said that he did not want to put "undue pressure" on Shah. "My timeline is whatever commissioner Shah needs to do it right and feel comfortable," said Cuomo.

Shah has since resigned and the charge has been handed over to an acting commissioner, which will probably only further delay a decision.

I vaguely remember reading something about a recent court ruling in New York. It made a lot of the anti-fracking activists very happy. What was it about?

Two small towns in upstate New York, Dryden and Middlefield, had banned fracking within their boundaries. Soon after, an energy company in Dryden and a dairy farm that had leased land for drilling in Middlefield sued the municipalities, arguing that the towns did not have the authority to limit drilling activity. The lower courts initially dismissed the lawsuits. On appeal, intermediate level courts upheld the ruling and most recently the state Court of Appeals also upheld the decision.

"The towns both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately-cultivated, small-town character of their communities," wrote Judge Victoria Graffeo in the majority ruling.

And why is this court ruling so important?

It gives towns the authority to decide whether they're willing to allow fracking within their town boundaries. Several towns already have bans in place against fracking. This ruling ensures that if those towns were to be met with similar lawsuits, they'd still be able to enforce the ban. Also, if Cuomo lifted the state-wide moratorium, towns can individually take action through local ordinances.

Wait, doesn't fracking cause your water to light on fire? Should New Yorkers worry about their water supply?

ProPublica's reporting over the years has shown that fracking can be done safely, and very often is. That said, natural gas drilling and fracking done improperly or recklessly can be a threat to water safety. - Residents of New York City, though, probably don't have much to worry about. New York City and several upstate communities receive water from the Delaware, Catskill and Croton watersheds, where there is currently no fracking taking place because of the moratorium. If the health review process came to an end and Cuomo made a decision on fracking, there are several scenarios that could play out.

  • Fracking could be banned altogether in the state
  • Fracking could be allowed in the state and additional regulations specifically banning fracking on land overlying the New York City watersheds and their buffer areas could be passed
  • Fracking could be allowed almost anywhere in the state, including over the New York City watersheds

Though considered highly unlikely, if the third scenario were to play out, environmental groups will almost definitely sue the state and try to block drilling over the watersheds. The watersheds are a statewide resource, providing unfiltered drinking water to over 9 million people, and New York City alone has spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring land and protecting it. About 37 percent of the land overlying two of the watersheds is protected through land trusts and direct ownership, and the City has an agreement with the state and watershed towns, which gives it some negotiation power with the state.

Finally, the recent court ruling also means that the towns which contain the watersheds could also band together and ban fracking. While it is highly unlikely that it will come to that, the option is now available to towns if needed.

Is there a video I can watch that explains the issues with fracking?

Why, yes. Yes, there is.

For more, read our investigations on how fracking affects public health, causes ground water contamination and the difficulties in disposing the large amounts of waste generated from the process.

Who Advised Cuomo on Mortgage Industry Investigation? A Mortgage Lobbyist

(Photo: Flickr/CC/Jason Wilson

A version of this story was co-published with the Albany Times-Union.

In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.

The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.

Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo's gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.

Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo's investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.

Cuomo's office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser's clients a year into his term as attorney general.

In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as "wide-ranging" came to little, even as he held one of the country's most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.

Glaser's role in the attorney general's investigations was disclosed to ProPublica in response to a public records request. The extent of his work is unclear, as is how long it lasted. Glaser told ProPublica the scope of the work was limited. While it was a formal arrangement, it was unpaid.

Cuomo's office referred questions to Steven Cohen, who was chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general. "There is no doubt Glaser provided advice to the governor when he was attorney general," said Cohen. "The role he served was as a general consultant on the industry overall. He did not provide advice on specific investigations."

Glaser also said that, despite the investment bank conference call, he never advised clients on Cuomo investigations.

One person who worked in the mortgage industry during that time said Glaser had a reputation as having Cuomo's ear.

"If you needed to get to Cuomo, Glaser was the guy to go to," the person said.

Before becoming a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, Glaser worked in the late 1990s under Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was known as Cuomo's "right-hand man" and "hammer."

Glaser declined to release a list of his clients from the period he worked for the attorney general.

A 2008 bio said his clients included "mortgage insurance companies, real estate and housing trade associations, mortgage bankers, and investment research companies."

Glaser's dual role when Cuomo was attorney general "poses a serious conflict of interest," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen.

At least two of Cuomo's early investigations involved firms that Glaser acknowledged to ProPublica were his clients. The client that was granted immunity in return for cooperation was the mortgage due diligence firm Clayton Holdings.

Clayton ended up being at the center of the mortgage fiasco. The Connecticut firm worked for banks such as JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch, examining whether the mortgage loans the banks were buying from lending institutions (such as Countrywide) met the lenders' standards for credit worthiness. The banks would package those loans into securities that were then sold to investors.

Cuomo subpoenaed Clayton in mid-2007 before coming to a deal in January 2008 in which he granted the firm immunity from civil and criminal prosecution in exchange for information about its dealings with the banks.

It's not clear whether Cuomo used the information he got from Clayton, though it did come up in a case brought by Cuomo's successor. Clayton data showing how the banks bought, packaged and sold off bad loans was considered key to understanding the complex deals that led to the crisis.

Clayton has never been charged with any wrongdoing. But some reporting has shed light on the firm's relationship with the big banks.

Clayton workers interviewed by two veteran business reporters for the book Chain of Blame reportedly said they were under pressure "to pass as many loans as possible."

In the book, Clayton workers recall quotas of one loan per hour, higher-ups changing negative determinations, and "that they were told by their supervisors at Clayton never to use a certain word 2014 'fraud.'"

Noting that Cuomo had the power to subpoena Clayton for documents without granting immunity, Erik Gerding, a law professor and author of Law, Bubbles, and Financial Regulation, raised questions about the deal.

"The first question is, why do they need immunity? The second question is, what did the prosecutors get that they otherwise wouldn't have gotten without immunity?" Gerding asked.

Clayton declined to comment.

When the New York Times broke the news of Cuomo's immunity deal with Clayton, Glaser was quoted in the story 2014 though the piece did not mention Glaser's work for either Clayton or Cuomo.

Glaser said Clayton had separate counsel in its dealings with the attorney general's office. Further, Glaser said the attorney general's office "never talked about those specific cases with me."

He added that he was brought in to the attorney general's office at the beginning of Cuomo's tenure because he had warned of problems in the industry.

Glaser provided a copy of a March 2007 email to top Cuomo aides in which he outlined ideas for the attorney general's office "to obtain relief and a good public policy outcome on several fronts."

The attorney general's office denied our request for other Glaser emails, citing an exemption in the state's freedom of information law.

A second Cuomo case involving Glaser clients was the attorney general's attempts to reform appraisal standards via deals with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(Politico reported in 2008 that Glaser was appearing on TV commenting favorably on the government's efforts to prop up Fannie and Freddie without revealing his work for the faltering companies.)

Glaser said Fannie and Freddie had separate representation with the attorney general's office in that investigation.

Another curiosity about Glaser's role is that he was a frequent commentator on Cuomo's investigations, both to the press and to industry players. He was usually identified as simply a mortgage industry consultant or occasionally as a lobbyist.

While Glaser denies having advised clients about Cuomo's investigations, he did just that with industry players. In a November 2007 conference call hosted by the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Glaser held forth about Cuomo's investigation of inflated appraisals of homes, according to an account in American Banker.

American Banker reported that Glaser "said it is doubtful the attorney general is seeking 'record-breaking fines' or to subject lenders to the pain of loan repurchases 'unless the industry does not respond to his desire to implement prospective change.'"

Glaser said he was not compensated for "a few" analyst calls he did for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

His firm, the Glaser Group, described itself as "the unparalleled leader in Washington for government affairs strategies and analysis specializing in the financial services and mortgage finance arena."

In early March 2007, during the period he was working for Cuomo's office, Glaser registered as a lobbyist for a client, a large cooperative of mortgage banks called Lenders One. In an unusual filing more than two years later, he said the lobbying had ended the same day it started.

Glaser said he never "did anything material" for Lenders One as a registered lobbyist.

Glaser also said he never worked for the ratings agencies, who were key players in the run-up to the financial crisis and got immunity in a deal with Cuomo that critics later questioned.

It's not uncommon for outside consultants to be brought into complex investigations, according to James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School.

"The key is full transparency," he said, both from the consultant to the prosecutors and from the prosecutors to the public.

"Who are your other clients? And how much are you getting paid by them?" are among the questions prosecutors should ask any consultant, said Tierney, who was previously the attorney general of Maine.

Gerding, the law professor who wrote a book on financial crises, recently studied the crisis-era record of state attorneys general and came away surprised by how few cases Cuomo brought.

"It is pretty striking if you look at all the press releases how few of them really deal with the financial products that were at the heart of the crisis," Gerding said.

Cuomo nevertheless won his bid for the governor's office partly by claiming a tough record of going after Wall Street and corporate greed.

After his stint advising the attorney general's office, Glaser went on to help on Cuomo's gubernatorial campaign, with a focus on defending Cuomo's HUD record on mortgage issues.

Glaser then joined the Cuomo administration in the powerful role of director of state operations. He left that post last month to become an executive at OTG Management, an airport development company that lobbies New York officials.

If you have information related to this article, email Justin@propublica.org.

In emailed statements and a series of tweets as we were reporting this story, Glaser criticized ProPublica and it founding chairman and largest funder, Herbert Sandler.

Last month, Glaser said in an email:

Ironically, Herb Sandler, the founder of ProPublica, was a pioneer in the exotic lending business, although the controls he put in place as a portfolio lender were discarded by other players as these products morphed their way into the secondary/investor market; nonetheless ProPublica is built on the fruits of the exotic mortgage market through the fortune Herb made at Golden West and World Savings

This month, he emailed:

In 2006, when propublica's billionaire subprime founder was denying any problems in the mortgage industry, and continuing to flood the mortgage market with abusive loans, I was warning of the devastating impacts of these toxic loan products and calling for stricter regulation. As Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo held financial institutions accountable, returned billions to investors, and forced lenders to adopt sweeping reforms. Propublica was built on the backs of subprime mortgage victims - while the Attorney General and I worked on ending the kind of abusive lending that Propublica continues to benefit from today. I'm happy to compare that record anytime.

Asked to respond to Glaser's comments, Sandler noted that he has no information on the story: "It's an absolute policy at ProPublica that directors and funders do not have any information about any story on which journalists are working."

Glaser's statements are "a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the story on him. I have no relevancy to it," Sandler said. "If anybody is interested in any of the background on this, there is a website goldenwestworld.com that speaks to some of the things he's talking about."

NYC to Gaza: A Friday Funeral Procession in Midtown

photo by Lincolnian/cc/flickr

WHAT: A funeral procession from Bryant Park to the Israeli Consulate

WHEN: Friday July 18, 2014 @10am

WHERE: Meet at the fountain in Bryant Park @42nd street and 6th avenue

WHY: From the event's Facebook page:

Since Israel began its most recent attack on Gaza, nearly 200 have been killed and 1,100 have been injured. The majority have been civilians, an obscene number have been children. All of this being set against decades of displacement, occupation, siege, and repeated large-scale military assaults.

 

 

This is an affront to dignity, regardless of where one lives. As New Yorkers, faced with a police force actively sharing strategies with Israel and replicating its tactics (dawn raids, militarized neighborhoods, wholesale surveillance of Arabs and Muslims), this is more than a matter of solidarity. Our fates are inextricably bound.

 

 

Join us Friday in Bryant Park for the first act in a new narrative: A funeral procession to the Israeli Consulate. This is a non-violent, somber, family-friendly event and we encourage you to bring everyone you care about.

 

Israel has launched a ground invasion of Gaza

Today’s Headlines from New York City

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Details about the recently approved city budget at NYC.gov.

Mixed City Council reaction to poverty formula for grants. (Capital NY)

New York City budget funds Rockaways ferry service only through October (7online)

AP IMPACT: NYC Jails Neglected Suicide Precautions . (AP/ABC)

New York City Approves Municipal ID Cards for Undocumented Immigrants (Democracy Now!)

More Than Half of NYC Holocaust Survivors Living in Poverty Despite German Reparations. (Forward)

A Guide to New York’s New Medical Marijuana Law.(NYmag)

Brooklyn DA Discusses Efforts to Turn Tide in His Office (NY1)

Steven Wishnia examines New York's retirement crisis in a two part series for LaborPress.

1. Fear of a Cat-Food Diet: Facing New York’s Retirement Crisis

2. Avoiding a Cat-Food Diet: Ideas to Fix the Retirement Crisis

NYC is looking to hire an Assistant Deputy Commissioner, SNAP (HRA). (CityLimits)

Queens Museum announced the Jerome Foundation Fellowship for emerging NYC artists- three $20,000 grants + artist’s project at Queens Museum  

The New York Summer Food Service Program Starts Today! (BQ Brew)

Want to Reduce Crime? Try Paying People - (WNYC: The Takeaway)

 

The Summer Food Service Program Has Begun!

photo by Ava M Capote

On June 19, N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a proclamation(pdf) declaring July, 2014 to be Summer Meals Month. The goals of this proclamation are to inform parents and/or caregivers of the Summer Food Service Program(SFSP), and to ensure that students who normally depend on free or reduced price lunches during the school year are not left with empty stomachs over the summer.

The SFSP began as a 3 year pilot program in 1968. In 1975 the National School Lunch Act was amended, establishing the SFSP as its own separate program. The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers federal funds to the states who then distribute those funds to sponsored sites.

According to the Food Research and Action Center(pdf),

Because school lunch participation by eligible low-income children in the regular school year is quite high, the number of low-income children who are receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the regular school year is one excellent measure of the need for the Summer Nutrition Programs. FRAC uses it as a benchmark against which to measure summer participation nation-ally and in each state. In July 2012, only 14.3 children received Summer Nutrition for every 100 low-income students who received lunch in the 2011-2012 school year. Only one in seven children who needed summer food, according to this measure, was getting it.

By this measure, the ratio of children served summer meals in NYS was 27.6 out of 100. Though that number is higher than the national average, it still suggests that over 72% of children from low-income households in NY may not be getting the food they need during the summer months.

The SFSP runs from June 27 to August 29. Breakfast is served from 8am to 9:15am. Lunch is from 11am to 1:15pm. Meals are available to ALL children 18 years old and younger. Children do not have to apply for meals, show identification, or provide any documentation at all to get a meal.

To find a site in NYC you can call 311, text "NYCMeals" to 877-877, or visit this website to find a location near you. To find sites in other areas of NY State, you can visit this site.

Today’s New York City Headlines

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Cuomo Signs Off on Speed Camera Expansion

NY casino location board may expand

Brooklyn, NY, Celebrates Do the Right Thing Day in Honor of Director Spike Lee

City Council Expands Funding Of Veterans Services 

TLC's Unintended Taxicab Confession

Deal Could Bring Limited Free Wi-Fi to Port Authority Airports

Bronx CUNY funds restored 

A Fighter for NY’s Mexican Community 

Stabbing victim walks into Jamaica McDonald’s with knife in back 

Every Master Plan in New York City History, Collected in a Single Place

"Reality TV" Writers Outraged by Working Conditions:

NYC City Council Committee Holds Hearing On Working Conditions For Reality TV Production (CBS)

And here's the Labor tke: NYC Reality TV "Sweatshop" Hearing Decries Wage Theft, Long Hours & "Beleaguered And Exhausted Workforce" - Deadline.com http://bit.ly/1nHJDAM

Public Hearings To Be Held On Class Size Reduction in NYC Schools

photo by DonkeyHotey/cc/flickr

The NYC Department of Education will be holding public hearings in all five boroughs to get feedback from parents, teachers, and community members on how to use $500 million in state funds. There is a requirement that officials create a plan to reduce class sizes.

The Contracts for Excellence law was passed in 2007. Part of the law required the DOE to create a plan to reduce class sizes. The DOE submitted a 5 year plan that promised to lower class sizes to acceptable numbers(pdf) by 2011. However, according to the DOE's numbers(pdf) class sizes rose in that time, and have continued to rise.

The public hearings will be held in the following locations:

Manhattan:
Tuesday, June 17th
7 - 8 pm
Stuyvesant High School

Brooklyn:
Wednesday, June 18th
6:30 - 7:30 pm
Edward R. Murrow High School

Bronx:
Thursday, June 19th
6:30 - 7:30 pm
Middle School 322

Staten Island:
Monday, June 23rd
6:30 - 7:30 pm
Petridis Complex

Queens:
Wednesday, June 25th
6:30 - 7:30 pm
Long Island City High School

More information can be found here.

 

NYCoRE to Deliver Open Letter Outlining Vision for Future of Public Schools

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The New York Collective of Radical Educators(NYCoRE) is inviting its members, families, educators, and allies to join them in delivering its open letter to NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday June 16 at Tweed Courthouse. The letter lays out NYCoRE's vision for NYC public schools and students.

You can join NYCoRE on the steps of Tweed Courthouse @ 52 Chambers Street at 4pm. You can read the letter here.

You can find out more about NYCoRE here.

 

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