Kenya Dilday’s Choice: Her Black Child Matters at Central Park East 1

Another S.O.S. from Harlem’s Central Park East 1 elementary school floated amid the deluge of my inbox yesterday. “Save CPE1” was the subject line.

This April, before the annual round of high-stakes testing, a petition began circulating in support of this home of progressive, child-centered practice. Here,  the opt-out rate in 2015 was 81 percent. CPE 1 was founded in 1974 by Deborah Meier, writer, teacher, principal, and education activist—one of several created in East Harlem under the guidance of Anthony Alvarado, a forward-thinking superintendent of District 4, in the nation’s largest school system.

The petition, which has garnered more than 2,100 signatures, highlights the distress of teachers and parents at the blatant disregard of CPE1’s “longstanding democratic policies and practices” by principal, Monika Garg.  The letter was dispatched to the district’s superintendent, Alexandra Estrella; Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers; Mayor Bill de Blasio; and New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña.

Earlier this week, parents and teachers, defied the NYC Department of Education’s “gag order” on democratic discussion of policies detrimental to children’s development. They delivered the petition to Fariña’s  door at a meeting of the monthly meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, doing justice to the acronym, PEP. A press conference followed, outside the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Intermediate School, in Chinatown, where they aired their grievances.

Among the parents who spoke was Kenya Dilday, mother of a second-grader. (See the video for her full statement, as well as that of Anika Tam, a CPE1 parent, of a five-year-old, and alumna, who treasures the school’s attention to the whole child and social-emotional development.)

Dilday’s daughter, Elizabeth, who is known as Etta, is a student in second grade.  While she supported Garg initially, and spoke publicly on her behalf, she has done a 180-degree turn  as she observed a steady erosion of truthful and productive exchange between the principal and her faculty and parents.

“She does not tell the truth,” Dilday said.  “She tells one person one thing, one person another,” customizing her response based on race.  In the case of concerns expressed about the level of education and practice of a new teacher, Garg tells white parents that their child is advanced; to a black parent, she would say: “You know why it’s like that in the class? Because the white parents have tutors and want their children to play all day.”

Dilday is deeply disturbed by these divisive tactics. “This is the kind of stuff she does to divide our community,” she said. But Dilday’s greatest outrage is reserved for Garg’s outreach, and her patronizing attitude toward children of color and those living in poverty.  The principal had been sending out articles suggesting that black and poor children could not thrive in a school with CPE1’s progressive, child-centered practice:

… I’m a person that made a choice for my daughter, and to have her [Monika Garg] telling the entire community that my daughter needs a different kind of education because she’s a black child. To judge her because of race is something I never expected would come from a DOE employee in 2016. I was humiliated. I was humiliated for my daughter.

A new hashtag, #DemocracySpring, has blossomed in the chaotic fields of our nation’s contentious—and passionate—conversation on Twitter.   The parents and teachers at CPE1 deserve a thoughtful response from New York City’s Department of Education.

They ask that you sign on, right here.


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