Nearly twenty-five years ago as of this date (March 27, 2016), the New York City Board of Education split J.H.S. 47 into two schools without any input from the teachers, staff, parents, alumni, or the Deaf community.
“The Split” as it came to be known, created an elementary school (P.S. 35) and junior high school (J.H.S. 47). Each school had its own principal. The elementary children and the junior high school children were separated, but remained in the same building.
After having several meetings with the Board of Education, we learned that its long-term goal was to phase out both schools and mainstream all deaf students into New York’s public schools.
“47” Alumni protested against the split of the school and sponsored two rallies in January and March 1992. A third rally in May was planned to continue the protest. Fortunately, in April of Board of Education Chancellor Joseph Fernandez reversed the decision and returned the two schools to one school, one principal.
The May rally at City Hall Park on a bright and sunny day turned into a celebration. More than 200 supporters attended each of three rallies, where they chanted and signed in unity, “One school, One Principal Now!” It was a magnificent sight to witness such a successful gathering with so many speakers, entertainers, and supporters.
“47” Alumni’s victory has safeguard Deaf children’s education in a language-rich environment with one school and one principal.
Our J.H.S. 47 School for the Deaf.”
“47” Speaks II – March 26, 1992
By Linda Annala
Scene 1: A crowd of concerned Deaf children, their parents gathered at the foot of the City Hall Park undeterred by inclement weather…It was 1906 and the purpose was to plead with the Mayor of New York City to form a public school for Deaf children. Successful in their efforts, P.S. 47 was born in 1908 at 225 East 23rd Street, Manhattan where it stands to this day.
Scene 2: On March 26, 1992 this park again saw a similar group gather for the second time to impress on the Mayor of New York City the need to allow J.H.S. 47 to stay on as “One School, One Principal.” Waldemar Rojas, the Director of Education, had proposed to split J.H.S. 47 into two schools; P.S. 35 and J.H.S. 47, with the anticipation that these two schools would eventually phase out their existence by encouraging the concept of mainstreaming all of its Deaf children into the public school system throughout the city.
Present during the afternoon gathering from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. were prominent Deaf leaders of local, state and national Deaf organizations. Ellen Roth, for Deaf Specialist of Mayor Office of People with Disabilities, acted as Mistress of Ceremonies. The weather forecast for the afternoon was rain with chilly temperatures. In spite of this discouraging weather report, 200 people showed up with banners, umbrellas and spirit aglow to chant, sign and express their unified opinion, “One School, One Principal Now.”
Dr. LeRoy Subit, class of 1929 led the signing of “The Star Spangled Banner” in the oral/signing tradition of this heyday; Joel Goldfarb, President of “47” Alumni welcomed and thanked 200 rally supporters for showing up even in the steady drizzling of cold rain. Charles Estes (stand-in for Roz Rosen, President of NAD), Executive Director of National Association of the Deaf mentioned that the trend of closing schools for the Deaf throughout the country is because many parents wish to keep their Deaf children close by to their respective hometown. Rallies, however at state capitols have convinced governors and legislators to keep the residential and day schools for the Deaf open.
Peggy Hlibok, President of the Empire State Association of the Deaf gave a brief “Save Our School” rallying cry for support. Dorothy Cohler, Executive Board Member of “47” Alumni Association and Dorothy Pakula, Board Member, touched by the responses of the supporters in spite of the rain, thanked all for their strong support. Ken Mortensen, Vice President of the “47” Alumni Association gave his synchronized presentation with signs and sounds of the beating a drum rhythmically.
Michelle Banks, Director of Onyx Theatre with Hansen Touchard, Jr., and Paul Mitchell performed an enlightening skit depicting the tension involved in the decision to split the school. The skill of these performers, assuming the roles of the two respective schools, P.S. 35 and J.H.S. 47, pointed to the need and benefits of maintaining Deaf culture, and perpetuating positive role models and identities for Deaf children.
Al Hlibok, Deaf Community Advocate, encouraged the rally supports to continue the efforts as he did. Judy Cohen, International Ladies Garment Workers Union Representative gave her encouragement and support and pledged to work closely with the Deaf Community. Caprice Avery, representing Student Organization of Deaf Awareness at LaGuardia Community College testified that she is proud of the education she received from J.H.S. 47.
Ellen Roth, whose parents had attended P.S. 47, ably coordinated the efforts of all of the distinguished presenters who eloquently conveyed the overwhelming sentiment of the crowd for “One School, One Principal Now.”
Also attending the rally were Emmanuel Azodeh, Judy Bravin, Issac Pakula, Linda Mosca, Larry Taub and other faculty members and alumni of the New York School for the Deaf, White Plains, also known as Fanwood. Emmanuel expressed his concerned for the situation, citing that if this school closes, other schools in New York State could close thus mainstreaming Deaf children into the wider educational system, thus sending these children into the “Dark Ages” of illiteracy, making it difficult to socialize with the hearing, and even more importantly losing their contact with the Deaf Community at large.
Administrators, teachers, students, parents, and friends attended the rally. After two hours of speeches and presentations, the rally supporters marched to the front steps of City Hall where they were forced to remain behind the gate by security. Issac Pakula bravely ventured up the City Hall steps alone and talked with security and an official from the Mayor’s office.
According to Dorothy Cohler who witnessed the event…”Issac went up the steps telling the policeman “I’m alone and it’s a free country to walk anywhere.” He continued up to meet the Newsday reporter. Ken Mortensen made a ruckus with his drum. The people inside City Hall heard it so they came out to investigate.”
Page last updated: March 31, 2016