News & Politics

Manhattan parent board’s anti-trans vote complicates debate over mayoral control of public schools

Progressives want to give greater control of public schools to parents – just not these parents.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks hope to maintain mayoral control of the city’s public school system.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks hope to maintain mayoral control of the city’s public school system. Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

A Manhattan parent advisory board’s decision to pass a non-binding resolution calling for an investigation into the presence of transgender girls on girls’ sports team has sparked intense criticism – and handed a potent political talking point to Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks as they fight to maintain control over the city’s public school system.

On Wednesday night, Community Education Council 2 – an elected parent-led advisory group for public elementary and middle schools in lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side – passed the controversial resolution by a vote of 8-3.

The community education council’s resolution, which passed by a vote of 8-3, takes aim at the city public schools’ policy that allows students to participate on athletic teams that correspond with their gender identity and requests that the Department of Education convene a committee to review gender guidelines for sports participation and propose amendments. 

David Bloomfield, an education policy professor at Brooklyn College, called the resolution "a legally meaningless, hateful, and discriminatory action that subjects gender nonconforming students and adults to increased risks of bullying, violence, and suicide." 

Since community education councils are mostly advisory bodies, their resolutions have no direct policy implications. The elected bodies, largely composed of parents of students, can only vote on one issue: school district zoning changes. Otherwise, they’re limited to advising the Department of Education.

But while the resolution may be legally meaningless, it could be politically significant, especially since it comes at the same time that the state Legislature is reconsidering its school governance structure called mayoral control.

 The resolution was quickly condemned by local elected officials. In a post on Threads, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine warned that “the MAGA movement has come to Manhattan” and said he was “outraged” by the resolution.

“The CEC has abdicated its duty to address the actual challenges faced by our schools,” Levine wrote. “Instead they’re waging a culture war on our most vulnerable kids, in an effort to win attention in right wing media. Truly disgusting.”

In a joint statement released Wednesday night, New York City Council Member Erik Bottcher, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Tony Simone said that any attempt to bar transgender girls from sports teams was “flatly illegal.”

“As dictated by our human rights laws, transgender individuals, including transgender girls, have the same rights and opportunities as every other New Yorker,” the statement reads. “It is utterly shocking that such a regressive and harmful resolution is being proposed in a school district that covers much of Manhattan, including the neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.”

The Manhattan community education council resolution comes on the heels of a Nassau County ban on transgender girls and women participating on girls and women’s sports teams at county-owned facilities, which prompted a cease-and-desist order from the state attorney Letitia James.

An argument for mayoral control?

The outcry over Community Education Council 2’s anti-trans resolution could be a boon to supporters of mayoral control, which gives City Hall – rather than parent-led boards – effective control over the city’s public school system.

The mayoral control law allows the New York City mayor to appoint both the chancellor of the city’s public schools and a majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, which functions as New York City’s school board. 

The law, first passed by the state Legislature in 2002, was originally scheduled to expire in 2009 but has since been repeatedly extended. Most recently, the Legislature granted a two-year extension in 2022. Mayoral control is now set to expire on June 30, and Albany is once again faced with a decision about the future of school governance in New York City

Banks, the schools chancellor, has already cited the right-wing takeover of school boards across the country as a talking point in favor of maintaining mayoral control. 

“Across this nation you’re watching community councils, school boards, removing books, banning books, preventing Black history from being taught,” he said during a press conference last week.

Banks warned that if the law granting mayoral control of public schools is not extended by June, then community education councils will regain power over school policy. On a daily basis, he said, he deals with “CECs who are engaging in negative behavior.”

But Bloomfield said that Banks’ description is inaccurate. If no action is taken by June, power over school policy would revert to the old school board, which would require new elections. Far from being empowered, the currently-constituted community education councils would be disbanded.

Community control

Education policy experts told City & State that the controversy over Community Education Council 2 is likely to impact the current debate over whether to approve another extension of mayoral control.

“(It) feeds into concerns that community control can be used as a trojan horse for dangerous policy agendas … this controversy is a perfect example,” said Jonathan Collins, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

He said that under certain forms of community control, where the community education council would function like a traditional school board, “they would have power over policies, personnel, and budgeting decisions” and have a larger say over the schools in their districts. 

Collins said that the Legislature should strive for an “equilibrium” between community and centralized control. “We do want community voice to shape school policies and practices, but we also want some level of central authority that can provide key protections for minority groups,” he said. “Central authority can also maintain some level of balance and continuity between the different community districts. In other words, you empowered communities, but we need a centralized balance check to maintain equity.”

Bloomfield, the education policy professor at Brooklyn College, noted that community education councils are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked by right-wing groups.

“It demonstrates the dangers of low turnout elections being at the mercy of a motivated minority, especially since, with broader powers, community education elections would be open to all registered voters, not just parents but the general public with less vested interest in schools and more interest in pushing other political agendas,” he said. “It’s a risk legislators – and even mayoral control opponents – might not be willing to take.”

Conservative takeover

One of the lead sponsors of the resolution is Maud Maron, a member of Community Education Council 2 and a co-founder of conservative parents’ group “Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education.” Maron, a former congressional candidate who recently spoke at a Moms for Liberty Event in Manhattan, has previously been criticized for her anti-trans views. In 2022, she reportedly wrote in a private group chat that “there is no such thing as trans kids.”

Maron’s group swept last year’s low-turnout community education council elections. It endorsed in 147 community education council and citywide education council races and won 115 of them, according to Chalkbeat. Maron and her allies now control a majority of Community Education Council 2.

On Thursday, Maron responded directly to criticism of the resolution, writing in a post on X that the elected officials opposed to the resolution “cannot tolerate the mere request that female athletes have a seat at the table to discuss the impact of radical gender concepts on their lives, privacy & sports opportunities.”

“The injuries are real. The LEAST you can do is acknowledge that female athletes should be allowed to discuss their concerns,” she wrote. 

But a member of Community Education Council 2 who voted against the resolution told City & State that Maron’s concerns about trans girls were not shared by other parents in the district.

“The community does not want this,” said Sara Schacter-Erenbur, who was appointed to Community Education Council 2 by Levine.

Schacter-Erenbur said that she had reached out to the Public School Athletics League and other vendors who promote athletics in city public schools and learned that there had not been any complaints made about the presence of trans girls on sports teams.

“Upcon discussion with (the Public School Athletics League) and other providers who also go by the gender inclusion policies, no parent has ever complained,” she said. “There have been no complaints. So saying this is something that people are worried about is not true.”

Hoylman-Sigal agreed that the community education council vote didn’t reflect how much parents feel. “I’m of the opinion that last night’s vote in no way reflects the vast majority of parents in CEC2,” he said.

The debate in Albany

State Sen. John Liu, the chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, told City & State that the controversy over the anti-trans resolution would not impact his decision on whether to support an extension of mayoral control.

"While this effort to undermine standing NYC Public School policy to allow all students the chance to play sports is discriminatory and irresponsible, the ability of Community Education Councils to vote on all manner of non-binding, advisory resolutions will have little impact on the conversations around mayoral control of public schools,” he said. 

Instead, he plans to base his decision largely on the results of a study being conducted by the state Education Department on the effects of mayoral control.

Hoylman-Sigal said that he has “been a supporter of mayoral control in the past,” but “the jury is still out” on whether he will support an extension. Unlike Liu, Hoylman-Sigal indicated that he would take the community education council’s anti-trans resolution into account when making his decision.

“It does raise the question whether devolution of power to local boards would be a good thing,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “It certainly raises the question.”