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Schools Chancellor In Hot Water Over ‘Sophie’s Choice’ Comments

Joke On Subject Of Overcrowding Turns Into Controversy
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Cathie Black

New NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black opened up a can of worms on Thursday after joking about her solution for overcrowding in schools.

“Couldn’t we just have some birth control for a while?” Black mused. “It could really help us out a lot.”

There were chuckles from those attending the meeting, but some said her attempt at a joke was not funny.

WCBS 880 Reporter Marla Diamond finds parents who are not happy with Cathie Black’s controversial comments.

1010 WINS Reporter Terry Sheridan gets reaction from parents to the “birth control” joke.

Now the chancellor is under fire, facing criticism from parents, reports CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman.

At a meeting Thursday night in Tribeca, Black compared the tough decisions on schools to a classic book set after the holocaust that was later made into a film starring Meryl Streep.

“So it is, and I don’t mean this in a flip way, it is many Sophie’s choices,’” Black said.

“As we know, in ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ one child dies, so I … you know … I was offended by it. I’m sure the people were,” parent Tricia Joyce said.

Tricia Joyce was at that meeting, called by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to discuss overcrowding in the schools. There were about 40 people in the room. Joyce has children who attend P.S. 234 in Tribeca. Those at the meeting also heard the new schools chancellor make the joke — after a parent who is also an NYU professor detailed the growing number of schoolchildren over the next few years.

“There are jokes that make sense, and jokes that insult and this joke is an insult to us,” parent Nubayaro Fulani told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

“I was surprised and a little disappointed,” added parent Eric Greenleaf, who was sitting across from Black. “I don’t really think she meant that the solution is birth control.”

But Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron said the comment was aimed at minorities.

“It’s ignorant, outrageous, and it’s racist. It has racist connotations to it – 80 percent of the children in the school are back and Latino,” Barron said.

The Department of Education released the following statement: “Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously. She regrets if she left a different impression by making an off-handed joke in the course of that conversation.”

“It’s actually … out of context. You know if she was nervous it’s not an unusual thing to have said, given the news she had just been delivering. Was it in good taste? In my opinion, no,” Joyce said.

The people that Guzman talked to want to give Chancellor Black a chance. They said they’re hoping this was just a misstep, and not typical of what they could expect in the years to come.

The statement released by Department of Education came only after persistent requests from the media. At first, all the DOE said was: “no comment.”

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