We're Fighting For the Same Thing: Better Schools

Sept. 21, 2012, 10:46 a.m.

By Josmar Trujillo

I found myself unusually cheerful as I monitored reports coming out of the Chicago teachers’ strike. A powerful show of force in the streets, I mused, was long overdue on the issue of the American education system.

A friend of mine, however, pointed out that I recently had fought tooth and nail to keep open a charter school, my son’s former school, while the Chicago strikers see the charter movement as an attack on public education.

Faced with this contradiction, I wondered about the battle lines drawn in so many fights about education today. For example, when charter schools offer choices to families but also are seen as a threat to district schools or when union leaders choose to shut down a school system to fight for its members’ rights. In these fights I now see more common ground than people may like to admit, or at least more than I realized.

I felt a connection with the striking Chicago teachers as they fought with City Hall and pointed to two issues that were important to me: class size and an over-emphasis on standardized testing. It reminded me of my battle for education in the Rockaways, where I live, which was not about ideology alone but involved more practical demands.

The bottom line is all of us were fighting for the same thing: high-quality public schools in our neighborhoods.

Earlier this year I wrote to SchoolBook about the fight that I and other
parents of students at Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School had waged to stop its closure. Despite protests, petitions and even a meeting with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the Department of Education would not heed the voices of the parents. The closure was proceeding until Advocates for Justice, a social justice law firm, and school lawyers were able to secure a restraining order to keep the school open, at least for the short term.

During those hectic months last school year, parents scrambled to make contingency plans, the school administration
balanced a legal fight with all the business of running a school, and our children took grueling year-end tests. Some of the consequences of being left in legal limbo (our charter was not renewed but technically we were still open) were that many students and teachers left the uncertainty of PPA. We also lost our lease on a wonderful facility we had secured two years prior.

Also, as we mobilized we felt the stigma that comes with the label of “charter.” No union-leaning groups or elected officials felt comfortable helping us even as the absurdity of closing one of the Rockaways’ strongest-performing schools was apparent. A casual observer might make the mistake of assuming PPA parents were loyal charter advocates. Some may have been, some not. We
were, more accurately, advocates of Peninsula Prep and its amazing principal, Ericka Wala.

I imagined that the Chicago teachers also felt the political stigma that comes with taking sides in a public demonstration.

Peninsula Prep is now open and currently teaching the Rockaways’ youngest citizens important values that supersede the general
curriculum. One of these is determination, which we will continue to need. The possibility that the school will be closed mid-year still exists.

My son Jadyn is now enrolled in third grade at a district school because PPA’s new location doesn’t allow me time to get him there and deliver my other son to his pre-kindergarten. But my experience at PPA allowed me a chance to experience education in a unique way and lent me some new perspectives on charters, to which I had previously been hostile. A close partnership with the principal and solidarity with parents, forced in a battle for the school, convinced me to continue to advocate for the school.

At a time when some parents needed a restraining order to have their children taught at their school of choice, I believe we have to set the best example possible for our children and continue to fight for education.

Just like the teachers did in Chicago.

Josmar Trujillo is the former co-president of the Peninsula Preparatory Charter School in Rockaway, Queens.


Source: http://www.schoolbook.org/2012/09/21/were-fighting-for-the-same-thing-better-schools/

Judge Details a Rule Requiring Pro Bono Work by Aspiring Lawyers

The state’s chief judge on Wednesday announced the details of a new rule — the first of its kind in the nation — requiring law students to perform 50 hours of unpaid work as a condition of practicing in New York.

Marcus Yam for The New York Times
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s goal is to provide legal services for those who cannot afford it.
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The rule requires law students to do pro bono work for the poor, nonprofit or civil rights groups or any of the three branches of government, between the first year of law school and the time they apply for a license. The work can be performed anywhere in the world but students must be under the supervision of a practicing lawyer, a judge or a member of a law school faculty. The law goes into effect for new students in law schools on Jan. 1.

When the judge, Jonathan Lippman, proposed the rule in May, some in the legal community said it might be burdensome for new lawyers in a tough economy. Others voiced concerns about using those new to the profession to fill what Judge Lippman calls the justice gap: the growing number of people who cannot afford legal services.

But an advisory committee that formulated the final version of the rule answered some of those criticisms: students have a full three years to complete the work and they must be under the counsel of more experienced lawyers.

“I see absolutely no reason why aspiring lawyers can’t do this without greatly burdening themselves,” Judge Lippman said in an interview. He added, “This idea that you have to be a lawyer with 25 years experience to provide a service doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The financial crisis and a slow economy have increased the demand for civil legal services. A task force convened by the judge in 2010 to evaluate the need in the state found that only 20 percent of the legal needs of New York residents were being met. Among those who rarely have the help of a lawyer are people involved in eviction, child support and consumer credit cases.

The Legal Aid Society, the largest provider of those services in the state, turns away eight of every nine people seeking help, said Steven Banks, the chief lawyer of the organization. Mr. Banks said the pro bono requirement would give his lawyers some much needed assistance.

“This is literally a shot in the arm to help address a very serious gap in access to justice,” Mr. Banks said.
The chief judge also obtained $40 million in this year’s state budget to help finance civil legal services. With the rule change, the judge said, the state will set a new standard for the provision of civil legal services.

“We’re going to write the script nationally,” Judge Lippman said. “I think what we’re doing will be replicated around the country.”


Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/nyregion/pro-bono-work-becomes-a-requirement-to-practice-law-in-new-york.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion

New hope for 9/11 victims: Feds add cancer coverage to Zadroga Act

By ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Though the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum didn’t open on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, as hoped for, local residents and other 9/11 survivors had some good news to celebrate that week.

On the eve of the anniversary, the federal government announced that it will be adding dozens of cancers to the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act — a landmark moment in the history of health care for the thousands of survivors that fell ill since that fateful fall.

Per the April recommendation of the Scientific Technical Advisory Committee (S.T.A.C.), Dr. John Howard, the Zadroga Act’s health administrator, decided to add more than 50 types of cancers to the law — thereby authorizing treatment and financial reimbursement to area residents and business owners, first responders and others who contracted the disease from their exposure to ground zero. Howard’s decision mirrors the proposal of the S.T.A.C., which convened several times earlier this year to determine which cancers are medically linked to exposure to ground zero toxins.

The soon-to-be added cancers include cancer of the nose, the larynx, the esophagus, the stomach, the colon, the liver, the breast, the ovary and the thyroid. Howard’s decision will become effective on Fri., Oct. 12, 30 days after its publication in the federal register, which occurred the day after this year’s 9/11 anniversary.

When patients of the World Trade Center Centers of Excellence — at Bellevue Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital and the Fire Department of New York — will begin to receive cancer treatment, however, is unclear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients can start the process of applying for treatment once the cancer ruling becomes effective.
In his written decision, Howard stressed that the addition of these cancers to the law does not guarantee that a particular individual’s condition will be certified for treatment. All cancer-stricken 9/11 survivors and responders must be assessed for their symptoms, exposure levels and personal medical history before being determined eligible for chemotherapy and other forms of care at the Centers of Excellence. Those who do not qualify for care are allowed to appeal Howard’s decision.

Though the feds came short of quantifying the benefits associated with the federally subsidized health programs, higher survival rates for cancer patients are expected, since enrollees will receive a higher quality of care than they would otherwise. Says the ruling, “Barriers may exist to access and delivery of quality health care services for cancer patients in the absence of the services provided by the WTC Health Program.”

S.T.A.C. member Catherine McVay Hughes, who chairs Community Board 1, was particularly pleased to hear that thyroid and certain other cancers that the S.T.A.C. nearly vetoed for addition were ultimately included in the list.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said of the announcement. “This is a huge milestone.”

As for the start of cancer treatment at the W.T.C. Centers of Excellence, Hughes said, “It’s something we’ll have to ramp up quickly to address the increasing need.”

Politicians representing Lower Manhattan immediately wrote to the press following the news. U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King issued a joint statement that called Howard’s decision “great news for the responders, survivors and their families, who have long known — and have lived with — the reality that 9/11 dust and toxins cause cancer.”
The politicians added, “We look forward to continuing to work closely with Dr. Howard as he and his team finalize the cancer coverage certification process to accomplish this goal.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that the decision to include cancer to the Zadroga Act will “literally save lives.”
“We have a moral obligation to those who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow New Yorkers, and this will further our goal of meeting that obligation,” said the Speaker. “The eleventh anniversary of 9/11 serves to remind us of the tragedy of those we lost, as well as of the sacrifices made by those who have toiled to rebuild our community.”

According to City Council Member Margaret Chin, the announcement is the fulfillment of a promise to provide medical care for hundreds of first responders and area residents. “This decision will help ease the financial burden of co-pays for repeated doctors’ visits and provide access to life-saving treatments,” she said. “Most importantly, it confirms that, years after the clean-up and recovery efforts, the toxic dust first responders were exposed to has caused rare and serious health problems, including cancer.”
The addition of cancer, however, will place financial strain on the compensation portion of the law, which is valued at a fixed amount of $2.775 billion. To solve the problem, legislators hope to reauthorize the existing law so that money can be added to it.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had no update concerning a new bill she is planning to introduce to Congress that would extend the deadline by which people would have to apply for financial compensation under the law.

Another financial hurdle for Zadroga surfaces
The feds’ announcement to add cancer to the Zadroga Act was shadowed by a disappointing development regarding federal funding. Following Dr. Howard’s cancer decision, President Obama’s budget office released a report detailing budget cuts under last year’s bipartisan sequestration bill that, if enacted, would cut $38 million from the Zadroga Act in 2013 and close to $300 million overall.

The awarding of claims toward the law’s Victim Compensation Fund was supposed to begin once the cancers are officially added next month, according to V.C.F. Special Master Sheila Birnbaum. But in a Sept. 18 phone interview, Birnbaum conceded that she didn’t know how the forthcoming cut will impact the V.C.F.’s timeline and budget.

“I just don’t know how it’s going to play out,” she said. “It’s another complication. We’re just going to have to work through it, like all the other issues we’ve been working through.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the law’s administrator, declined to comment.

Sept. 11 first responder John Feal, who heads the FealGood Foundation (F.G.F.), a 9/11 advocacy group, called the budget shortfall “completely unacceptable.”

“As F.G.F. members, union leaders and first responder advocates walked the halls of Congress only two years ago urging members of Congress to enact the Zadroga Act,” he said, “legislative members demanded that we ensure funding for the Zadroga program in cohesion with Congress’s requirement that all new legislation not add to the federal deficit.

Feal continued, “For Congressional leaders to now potentially raid that funding flies in the face of reason.”

In a statement, Gillibrand said she thought sequestration was an “ill-conceived” concept from the start, which is one of the reasons she voted against the bill. “Nothing exemplifies this unbalanced and draconian approach to deficit reduction more than asking our heroes who have already sacrificed so much to sacrifice yet again so that Republican leadership could appease their special interests,” she said. “Our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty should be treated with the same dignity as our veterans.”

Members of the W.T.C. Health Program should contact their Center of Excellence to begin the certification process. For more information, current and prospective patients should call 1-888-982-4748 or visit http://www.cdc.gov/wtc.

Source: http://www.downtownexpress.com/new-hope-for-911-victims-feds-add-cancer-coverage-to-zadroga-act/