Yesterday, protesters at City Hall were garnering more attention than they often do. The difference? They were high schoolers.
Sophia Grassotti, a student at Professional Performing Arts School in Hell’s Kitchen, was in the eighth grade at the onset of the pandemic. Now an eleventh grader, she and her peers spent years at home in New York for seven hours a day alone, in front of a computer. Schools received additional funding to cope at the time, but in her first year back to full-time in-person classes, the City’s education budget was slashed by around $469 million by Mayor Eric Adams.
Grassotti walked out of class yesterday afternoon in protest of the status of her school’s funding. “The reason that funds are being cut is because now that we’re phasing out of the pandemic, they believe that we do not need that money anymore,” Grassotti said to The Indypendent. “And that is simply not true, because we are still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic. Student’s grades are lower than ever, we’re not used to being in a school environment anymore and we’re not used to having these resources again.” Additionally, many students now require extra help for mental health issues that have soared since the pandemic began.
Passersby stopped to hear chants of “restore the cuts!” from Grassotti and the other students who had walked out of class in the rain, headed for City Hall. Brought together by a post from the Bard High School Early College Advocacy Group’s Instagram page, a small group of around 15 students from multiple schools across New York City were in attendance.
Tina Zeng, a student at Millennium Brooklyn High School, wielded a sign that read “Stop Schools & Library Slash For More Police Cash.” Zeng gave a speech on how libraries in the city were also impacted by the cuts despite being a welcome learning space for her parents. “These libraries provide an escape from home for those who need it. For my immigrant family, these libraries provided English classes when we needed it.”
Zeng told The Indy she felt disappointed that she had to skip class to get the attention of the mayor. “A lot of us aren’t familiar with how the school funding systems works, but we’ve heard about the cuts,” she said. “And now we’ve shown up to just demand restoring the budget cuts.”
The students were joined by Council Members Charles Barron and Tiffany Cabán. The two saluted the teenagers for their civic advocacy and risk taking. They also told the students that they would not support a budget that does not provide better quality education. “You should not cut education and have the police department have $11 billion budget.” Barron said. He went on to advocate for better funding towards the classroom as well as student’s mental health.
“When it comes to our classrooms, we need to be listening to students first and foremost,” added Cabán
At the 2024 preliminary budget meeting, also held on Thursday, Mayor Adams was asked about the student’s demands, to which he stated discontent that they left class and that he preferred they advocate on Saturday and Sunday instead. He knows he’s done “some great things around education,” said the mayor.
Leonie Haimson is Executive Director of Class Size Matters, a student-rights group that favors smaller classes so teachers can pay more attention to students to meet their needs. Haimson is also a longtime supporter of the Class Size Bill. “We ran the numbers this morning on budget cuts to schools; they total $923 million compared to last year,” she said at the protest. “This caused class sizes to go up, schools to lose their counselors and their art and music programs.”