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NNY teachers protest charter schools at Adirondack camp

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LAKE PLACID — North country teachers joined more than 400 of their peers from across the state at Camp Philos on Sunday to protest privatizing education through charter schools supported by investors in for-profit education.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a charter school supporter, was billed as the event’s honorary chairman. He did not attend. But his anticipated presence drew many public school proponents to the protest.

“It was excitement,” Copenhagen High School history teacher John H. Cain III said. “We didn’t care about the weather or that Cuomo wouldn’t be there. We were teachers willing to stand up and say corporate-sponsored education isn’t right for our kids.”

The Camp Philos event was limited to those able to pay $1,000 to $2,300 for a ticket at the Whiteface Lodge. Fourteen teachers and supporters from Indian River, Copenhagen, Watertown and Thousand Islands school districts made the trip to the “Picket the Pines” event outside the retreat. The protest was organized by the American Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers and the labor-backed advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education.

Billy Easton, the alliance’s executive director, said public-school teachers who attended the protest came from all around the state. Teachers made signs, stood in the rain and discussed how they could help state officials reform education in a positive way.

Mr. Easton said Mr. Cuomo’s endorsement of the event was just one example of the governor’s support for privatizing education and placing charter schools over public schools. “There was a deep-seated anger with the way the governor handled the campaign donations given to him by hedge fund managers on Wall Street and how he’s letting their donations dictate education agenda,” Mr. Easton said.

The exclusive Camp Philos event was advertised as a retreat to reflect on education reform. One session was titled “Rocketships, Klingons and Tribbles: Charters’ Course to Where No Schools Have Gone Before.”

Deborah D. Reddick, literacy coach at Indian River Central School, Philadelphia, said when news spread among the protesters that the governor would not attend, people said, “When the going gets tough, he doesn’t show up.”

“People were frustrated,” Mrs. Reddick said. “As a governor, he needs to listen to the people in the trenches.” Via Twitter, she and others in the group learned that the governor appeared through a video.

“It seemed so sneaky,” Mrs. Reddick said. “We got up and made the three-hour trip Sunday morning, and right after the protest we got right back into our bus and came back to teach first thing in the morning.” Mrs. Reddick said many groups had traveled from as far away as New York City and Buffalo to participate and send a message to Mr. Cuomo.

Dani Lever, first deputy press secretary for Mr. Cuomo’s office, wrote in an email that Mr. Cuomo could not attend the event and sent a video instead. She would not say why he didn’t attend or what the video message included.

Mrs. Reddick said teachers don’t have much time to talk about politics or policies, and attending the event with other like-minded teachers was refreshing.

“As teachers we sometimes feel isolated, Mrs. Reddick said. “We keep our nose to the ground. It’s nice to share these ideas.”

Mrs. Reddick said she decided to join the event because public school teachers, few of whom could spend $1,000 for a ticket, should have been invited to discuss education reform. “We as teachers want reform,” she said. “We just want reform done by educators versus a democratic process.”

The ideas expressed by the teachers at Lake Placid reflect the growing frustration with the gap elimination adjustment, cuts in state aid to public schools and the use of public funds and classroom space to accommodate charter schools.

“I don’t think charter schools are evil, but when you take money from the public schools and give it to charter schools while not holding the schools to the same standards — that is a problem,” Copenhagen’s Mr. Cain said.

Several phone calls to the number listed on the Camp Philos website and Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director Joe Williams were not returned.

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