Students Walkout to Protest Budget Cuts
May 15th, 2002
Hundreds of Stuyvesant students joined other high schools and the City University of New York (CUNY) in a walkout on April 30 to protest proposed budget cuts. The walkout, which began with a surge of students leaving via the Tribeca bridge entrance at 11:15, first met in Madison Square Park, continued onward to Union Square, and ended at City Hall.
Principal Stanley Teitel, who estimated that 1,200 students participated in the walkout, felt that while "the cause is worthy, the timing is poor."
"I understand students want to protest; my problem is that they're doing it during the instructional day. If it were 4:00, I would probably be there with them," said Teitel.
CUNY City Coalition for All-a student action organization-member Charley Huffman was impressed by the large student turnout, explaining that while she told schools of the planned walkout, students had mainly organized themselves.
"We're looking at very good numbers of students from Stuy, Martin Luther King, Long Island City, LaGuardia-all across the board," said Huffman, who felt that so many high school students were participating because of what many schools can lose in the event of a budget cut. According to the administration, in Stuy, the current ten period day could be replaced with an eight period day, leaving no time for many to take electives.
Freshman Juliena Levina agrees that the proposed budget cut would be a problem for her. She said, "I don't think I should have to suffer through mandatory classes without the privilege of choosing classes I actually like."
Despite the cause, according to many students the spirit of the walkout had died down by midafternoon. Some, like freshman Dana Haitkin and junior Yih-Kang Lee, felt that a lack of organization made them want to go home early.
"We felt like the first ones at a party when we showed up at Madison Square like a half hour early, and there was no real sense of organization," Haitkin said. "The problem was, they wanted permits for everything, and could only move downtown when the city allowed them to, so there was a lot of waiting time."
Others, like Lee, felt that students sitting down during a lull in activity caused the walkout to lose its momentum.
However, according to junior Ted Fertik, a Student Social Action Coalition member, the walkout was "a great success. There was a huge number of excited, energetic people and the city hasn't heard the last from us."
Fertik is also helping to plan another protest for 4:30 May 22, in which students will walk from Brooklyn Borough Hall to City Hall and he hopes to get a turnout similar to that of the April 30 walkout.
Also, though many more than expected walked out, some went home, or got together with their friends, instead of going to the protest.
"A group of my friends went to Central Park to play frisbee, and I think it's disgusting to use the walkout as a day just to cut class," freshman Talia Carr said.
Despite such problems, according to sophomore Ethan Frisch, the message of the walkout was "heard loud and clear in school."
"School that day could be summed up in one word," said Frisch. "Empty."
SU President Jukay Hsu said that the walkout was "too drastic an action...Though the SU supports the purpose of what the protest aims to accomplish, I personally do not feel walking out of school is the right way to protest budget cuts in education because it's contradicting."
Hsu also said that students should understand that budget cuts might not even occur.
The teacher response to the walkout has been varied, from those who chose not to penalize, to those who felt passionately about the walkout, to those who did penalize, according to some students.
Junior Benjy Sarlin said he thought punishing students for participating was "absolutely insane because this would affect the teachers greatly too." Sarlin, who for over a half hour of the budget cut protest was entangled in a heated discussion over the Israel and Palestine situation, agreed that the protest had lost its focus.
Sarlin said, "It went from an adamant 'No more budget cuts' to 'Don't leave out the immigrants! Send money to the Middle East! Oh, and try not to forget about those budget cuts!"