No Love for Paul Ryan in Harlem School

Protesters greeted the House speaker when he arrived in Harlem to visit a charter school.

Shannon Stapleton

Paul Ryan might be the most hated man in Harlem.

Fresh off a victory for his embattled health care bill, the house speaker visited Harlem, New York on Tuesday for a meet-and-greet with charter school boss Eva Moskowitz. But the friendly photo-op turned into a faceplant when hundreds of New Yorkers gathered to boo Ryan out of the neighborhood.

Charter schools—privately-run, publicly-funded institutions—have found champions in conservatives like Ryan. Moskowitz and her Success Academy brand have been particular favorites of the Trump administration. Moskowitz was reportedly eyed for education secretary, and in November, Ivanka Trump toured the same Success Academy that Ryan visited Tuesday.

Two signs hang above two doors on the northern side of the Harlem school building. “Public School 162” reads one worn, green sign over a set of double-doors. A second, newer sign hangs over a different door by Malcolm X Boulevard. “Success Academy,” its chipper, orange logo reads. This school, Success Academy Harlem 1, is one in Moskowitz’s fleet of charter schools, many of which have been allotted space in New York City’s existing public schools over the past decade. Success Academy Harlem 1, Moskowitz’s first of six Harlem schools, shares space with two New York City public schools—to the chagrin of many public school parents who say the building is already squeezed for space and resources.

The school’s two entrances—one with a battered public school sign, the other bearing the bright logo of a privately-run charter school—is an easy illustration of these parents’ grievances. And when planning his visit to Harlem, Ryan picked the charter school over the public institution it’s accused of cannibalizing.

Several hundred protesters began gathering outside the school around 11 a.m., waving signs signs decrying Ryan’s American Health Care Act and Moskowitz’s charter schools.

“This building is falling apart. It’s falling apart for the public school children and parents who go here,” Harlem resident Cordell Cleare told crowds while awaiting Ryan’s arrival. Cleare was attending the protest with her son, who attended the public school until his 2006 graduation, she told The Daily Beast. “[Moskowitz] choses to invite him to the charter side of this building. It’s disrespectful. Paul Ryan does not care about those children. Their parents are immigrants in this community. Their families are being broken up and separated.”

Just two months earlier, more than one hundred Senegalese natives were deported from the neighborhood, with boasts a large West African community, Cleare said. Ryan “should not be here talking to these children,” Cleare said.

Randi Klein, a Harlem resident and former teacher, said Ryan’s AHCA would be ruinous to the school, where, as with a number of Upper Manhattan and Bronx schools, many students have asthma.

“How are their parents or their caretakers going to afford to get their inhalers?” Klein asked. “Inhalers are what they’re supposed to have in case of emergency. A lot of these kids are on nebulizers, a lot of these kids need need medication. I think it’s absolutely disgusting that he can show his face up here in this community, where so many people are in such desperate need of healthcare that they finally got through Obamacare. He’s gonna come up here and talk to these kids about school and education?”

Across the street from the school is the Malcolm Pharmacy. “We accept Medicaid, Medicare, and all insurance plans,” the store’s awning advertises. But Jackie Sheeler, a longtime Harlem resident who distributed stickers outside the shop said Ryan’s AHCA could mean her losing all access to affordable health care.

“I’m one of the people who’s going to lose my health care if they ram this shit through,” Sheeler told The Daily Beast. “I’ve been unemployed for several years now. I’m sixty years old and on the Medicaid version of Affordable Care. I had nothing before that, and I’m going to have nothing if they push this through.”

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While early media reports suggested Ryan would visit the school in the morning, the protests dragged into the afternoon with no sign of the speaker. At 1:24 p.m., Moskowitz arrived in a black SUV at the school’s southern entrance. Unlike the northern entrance, where hundreds of protesters and reporters were gathered, only five protesters and three reporters watched as Moskowitz, flanked by two staffers, scurried from the SUV into the school. “Coward,” one protester shouted after her.

But it would be another 40 minutes before a motorcade would deliver Ryan to the school’s northern entrance, to the deafening boos of the approximately 100 remaining protesters.

“Shame!” the crowd chanted as Ryan ducked into the school from one of three black Chevrolet Suburbans. “Paul! I’ve got your balls!” one protester shouted, waving a Mason jar with two white marbles inside.

“How do you sleep at night? Health care is a human right,” other protesters chanted. An accordionist played “Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye”. On the public side of the school, two teachers on the ground floor opened their windows.

One public school teacher said Ryan visited a non-charter classroom. Mindy Rosier, a science teacher in a public special education school in the building said Ryan made a brief visit to a class of autistic students, whose teacher was Muslim. Ryan’s AHCA would make significant cuts to school-based Medicaid programs for special education students.

“I think he did his due diligence to endure a public school classroom with black and brown children in Harlem with a Muslim teacher,” Rosier said, adding that Ryan was in the classroom for a couple minutes. She speculated that, without the public protest, Ryan might not have even visited the public school.

“He wouldn’t have cared about our school,” she said. The previous day, police had warned all teachers that Ryan would be visiting “the Success Academy. Not the building, not the public schools, the Success Academy.”

Ryan left the school after approximately an hour inside, waving briefly to the protesters before stepping back into his SUV.

In a statement he described the visit as “extraordinary”.

“Today was special—touring Success Academy, listening to these great kids and their committed teachers, hearing their stories,” Ryan said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “The quality of teacher training and preparedness was extraordinary. They have a lot to be proud of, and these remarkable kids are getting a great education. That’s what matters—giving every kid a fair shot at the American Dream.”

As protesters waited for Ryan to exit the school, a young mother weaved her way through the demonstrators, carrying a baby. If Ryan’s health care bill passes, the child’s earliest medical expenses—common colds, playground injuries, the asthma that is so common in Harlem children—could become prohibitively expensive for his family.

“You’re in Harlem now,” she called to the door where Ryan had disappeared. “Bring your punk ass out.”