New York Chapters of 9 Major Jewish Organizations Endorse Decentralization Concept

The New York chapters of nine major American Jewish organizations have endorsed the concept of school decentralization, the controversial issue at the heart of last fall’s strikes by New York City teachers. The organizations expressed their approval of decentralization in a joint statement issued through the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

It called for “increased community participation in the operation of our public schools…predicated on meeting New York State standards of education and on the assurance of equity and justice to the parties directly concerned.” It also declared that “to the extent that anti-Semitic and anti-Negro sentiment have been injected into the issue of decentralization, we condemn it as a disservice to the racial and religious harmony indispensable to the viability of our multi-ethnic city.” The statement warned that “anti-Semitism and any other type of bigotry will be resisted to the fullest extent of our capabilities.” The issue of anti-Semitism arose in the school strikes from the confrontation between the Jewish-led, predominantly Jewish United Federation of Teachers and the largely Negro Ocean Hill-Brownsville experimental school district.

In a related action today, the New York Metropolitan Council of the United Synagogue of America, one of the nine organizations endorsing school decentralization, urged Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and the New York State Legislature to include in any decentralization plan protection and guarantees “in every manner and form, in personnel and subject matter, against elements which are anti-Semitic or racial, either directly or indirectly.” The stipulation was contained in letters to the Governor and legislators from New York City and suburban communities from David Zucker, president of the United Synagogue’s New York region. Mr. Zucker declared that “we feel that anti-Semitic and racial instruction or materials have no place in the New York City school system.” He urged that all school personnel be selected on the basis of merit, not such criteria as race, creed, color or national origin.

The endorsement of school decentralization represented a reversal of position by at least one organization that joined in it. The Metropolitan Council of the American Jewish Congress had urged the State Legislature last month to defer action on decentralization for at least a year. But in a separate statement yesterday, the AJCongress group called for a decentralized city school system of 20 to 30 local school districts. It said the boundaries should be drawn to achieve “maximum integration” and added, “Nothing we sponsor derogates from the protection guaranteed to teachers and supervisors, by law and contract, against arbitrary or discriminatory selection assignment, transfer or dismissal.”

In addition to the United Synagogue and the AJCongress, the groups endorsing decentralization were: New York chapter, American Jewish Committee; New York Jewish Labor Committee; New York Federation of Reform Rabbis; Labor Zionist Movement; National Council of Jewish Women; New York region, Union of American Hebrew Congregations; and the New York region of the Workmen’s Circle.

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