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One Buffalo parent-teacher group boycotting pro-charter school speaker at forum

Buffalo’s parent groups can’t seem to get along, with one now boycotting a pro-charter school speaker brought to town by the other to address a parents symposium.

Acclaimed educator Steve Perry is to open the district’s two-day 2016 Parent Assembly and Summit with a speech Friday evening at McKinley High School.

The MSNBC and CNN contributor who founded Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., was invited by the District Parent Coordinating Council, the officially recognized parent group that often challenges district policies.

But the newer Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization – a teacher-union supported group that focuses on publicizing what public schools are doing right – is boycotting the Friday evening session because it was not included in the planning and because it objects to Perry, who the BPTO says has denigrated public schools and public school teachers.

Perry, who was in Buffalo in December 2014 to address an education conference sponsored by the Community Action Organization (CAO) of Erie County, is no friend of public schools, the BPTO claims.

“To bring this individual in who is very divisive is very concerning to many in BPTO. He’s known for very inflammatory attacks on public schools, including one in Hartford. He is well-known for inflammatory attacks on public school teachers. He has a lot of strong rhetoric that divides people rather than bringing people together,” said BPTO President Larry Scott.

It’s not the first time the two parent groups have clashed. Tension between them reached the point that, at a recent School Board meeting, Superintendent Kriner Cash told them he was tired of the fighting. The parent assembly Friday evening and Saturday is co-sponsored by the district’s Office of Parent and Family Engagement, Say Yes Buffalo and the DPCC.

On his website, Perry says his school has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. Along with hip-hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, he is opening Capital Prep Harlem charter school in August.

But Perry referred to Hartford’s public schools as “failing raggedy-ass schools,” Scott said in a BPTO letter last month to Cash outlining the organization’s concerns about the speaker. In the same letter, Scott said that during Perry’s 2014 speech at Waterfront Elementary School, the educator “hurled many inflammatory remarks about public schools, particularly about the teachers.”

Cash said he, too, was not pleased with Perry as the keynote speaker.

The DPCC, which brought Perry to Buffalo, defends the choice.

“I’m not going to stand down while they disparage this leader in the African-American community,” said Samuel L. Radford III, DPCC president.

“Instead of you seeing that he helps kids be successful, you’re seeing he’s trying to make a profit,” he said of critics, though Perry has indicated on social media that it is not true that he runs a for-profit charter.

As for Perry’s allegedly inflammatory remarks at Waterfront, Radford said Perry talked about how he would pick up kids from their homes and bring them to Capital Preparatory Magnet School. When a local teacher asked Perry why he would do that, “He said, ‘Because I love the children. If people don’t love your children they won’t be successful,’ ” Radford said. “A teacher took that as ‘teachers don’t love children.’ ”

Perry, who could not be reached for comment, responded via Twitter to an email he said BPTO sent to parents objecting to his visit here: “Buffalo parents, you have to ask yourself, why on earth would the Buffalo teachers’ union be so worried about you hearing about your schools?”

The parent conference will be held at McKinley from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free and child care and meals will be available at both sessions.