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

Joke On Subject Of Overcrowding Turns Into Controversy

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.”

  • Question of the Day

    If you had to hand over Mayor Bloomberg or Cathie Black to the Nazis which one would you choose??

  • Sophies Regret

    Having neither the requisite three years of teaching experience, a master’s degree nor a professional degree in educational management, Black required a waiver from the New York State Education Department under Education Commissioner David M. Steiner.”


    • sendkenzie

      I think Bloomberg’s choice should be to sacrifice her….to remove her from her position.

  • Tom

    No class. No style. No knowledge. No kidding

  • Tom

    No style. No taste. No class. No knowledge.

  • Elizabeth Carson

    There was absolutely nothing wrong with either of Cathie Black’s comments, if taken in context. She made a light humorous comment in regard to the topic of school overcrowding at the top of a meeting in mentioning birth control.It was certainly not forwarded as a real solution. Lighten up New York!! Her reference to Sofie’s Choice actually demonstrate a heartfelt care and astute recognition that budget decisions are zero sum: funding to remedy one district’s overcrowding, can mean at the cost of remedy to another, and so require hard, painful choices, sometimes helping one set of children is at the expense of others. Yet privileged downtown Manhattan parents complaining about overcrowding in THEIR schools would choose to have us conclude Black’s comments prove she lacks sensitivity! The high drama and vitriol Bloomberg’s critics have stored up to spew at our new Chancellor at any moment is the real embarrassment in this story

    • Tricia Joyce

      Elizabeth I wanted to respond to you as I was at this meeting; you were able to see that her remarks were taken out of context which they were in some cases by the media. But what was worrisome about your post was your reference “privileged downtown parents”. It would be important for you to know, and to anyone else that has this opinion, that our situation downtown is not like any other in the city. This is not just a gripe session about the usual DoE shortcomings; seat shortages, class sizes, old schools, poor facilities, program shortages. These are also our gripes along with the rest of the city’s.

      What is different about downtown is that the city, in 2002, gave enormous tax breaks (yours and our money) for developers to develop downtown post 9/11 to try and revitilize it after we were decimated. The building was targeted at families, promising them a “new community” with schools, parks and other infrastructure. They granted permits for almost 14,000 new apartments and built them. But without planning ONE school. That is the size of dozens of suburban neighborhoods, its unconscionable. We aren’t short 50 or 150 seats short as we are seeing elsewhere in the city. We are short over 1000. 37% of our neighborhood will have to leave if the DoE cannot provided the schools and other infrastructure that is needed. The families down here are no more privileged than anywhere else in Manhattan. They came in good faith just like you and all of the families of New York; except in an intentional mass, driven by the city.

      So you see this is no small thing. Its a precedent for ALL of New York in terms of how we go forward as a city. The mayor has to decide whether or not it’s tenable to continue residential development if they cannot provide the school seats for the people who fill them. The birth control remark is offensive because the city is the one who drew the people here, and the people had children at no different s rate than anywhere else. Its just that 14,000 families will eventually have some kids.

  • Ron

    The fact that she would even think this is funny or that she would say it proves how far removed she is from the reality of those whose schools she would run. Send her back to whatever corporate hole she came from.

    • Marilyn

      Ron, I totally agree there isn’t anything “light or humorous” about her comment. As Elizabeth says. Less is the comment by Bloomberg to insinuate that comments like this are merely blunders excusable by getting acclimated from the private sector to the public sector. Think before you talk. Offensive remarks are unacceptable in any professional setting. I grew up in the city through very difficult and challenging times, and still over came many barriers to get the best public education I could. the education system still has long strides ahead, birth control Chancellor Black, and Bloomberg what right do you have. Control your mouth not our bodies.

  • Sophie

    Let abort Cathie Black and get a new school chancellor

  • Theresa Clarke

    Cathie Black is right — with a 39% abortion rate in NYC (figure just out), birth control is needed more so now than ever before. Does every comment this woman make need to be a starting point for scandal? I can’t even imagine how hard it much be for her in this job with nothing but adversaries.

    • Kate

      You do realize that a 39% abortion rate means a much lower birth rate is already here?? If Ms. Black was qualified for this position, she too would realize her remark was inappropriate. By the way, Tribeca is one of the wealthiest areas in Manhattan.

    • Adolph

      With a 39% abortion rate in NYC not sure why the schools would be over crowded….have those kids should be dead

    • Marilyn

      Then she shouldn’t have taken the job……she obviously believes she going to run our schools in laughter.

  • Lois

    Not only is Black’s comment tasteless, but it’s quite racist — unconsciously so — which makes it even more problematic.

  • tom

    In her position any lighthearted comment will be examined with the most serious of scrutiny and then exploited by many. She may be a terrible in her new job or great (Bloomberg didn’t make his billons by not knowing a thing or two about administration) but so far – so far – I would give her a pass on this one.

  • Bad Choice

    Bad choice of words in the wrong place and at the wrong moment….. She obviously made a stupid joke, without thinking of the consequences. But in the very, very back of her mind she must have been thinking about it, seriously.

  • bush

    she is one foxy mama!

  • whiteandproud

    there was nothing wrong with what she said, perhaps if people did in fact use birth control there wouldnt be so much overcrowding………………AND STOP PLAYING THE RACE CARD!!! it doesnt apply here!!!

    • Big Poppa

      I agree whiteandproud if your daddy had used a condom there wouldnt be so many stupid comments on this board

    • Gregg

      Agree Agree Agree ! So tired of hearing the Race Card being pulled !

    • TborSen

      As much as your post is offensive to me, as you clearly don’t understand the situation downtown to make such an absurd remark, there actually is no race card to play here. Charles Barron was incorrect. Our school is not 80 percent black and Latino. Overcrowding does not discriminate. In fact, at the moment, overcrowding is more prominent in non black and hispanic schools, fyi…

  • Larry Schwarz

    A poor choice of words,but I really dont think she meant any harm.She should apologize,call it a misunderstanding,and lets move on.

  • Hot Blooded

    Nothing wrong with trying to “Break The Ice” with a little joke at a tense meeting, but because she is “under the microscope” so to speak, she should have kept it serious.

  • Uncle Kermit

    She looks so much like Michael Bloomberg. I think that’s why he likes her so much.

    • Spider Man

      She does!!….they look like they were both born from the same reptilian egg!!

  • DanTe

    I love how the libturd media here censors anything that would lessen their voting base of imbeciles.

    Abortion is good. Especially when it aborts my highly extortionate taxes.

    • nathan

      Abortion would have been even better had it been your mother’s choice Dan.

    • TborSen

      I hate to break this to you but without the families of Manhattan you would not enjoy half of the things you have here.. oh and about the taxes? You agreed to finance the building of all of these homes nobody needed where all of these families came to live by voting for Bloomberg. The taxes of a million single people have no weight against the taxes of families, so you’d best not wish them away or you will be in 1972 again. if you are too young to remember, google Hugh Carey.

      • TborSen

        Stone sober Raz

      • Raz

        Have another you senseless drunk.

  • Su Ellen Silverman

    Really, can this woman ever open her mouth, without inserting her foot?

  • pogo the clown

    Proof positive that money cannot buy class or intelligence.

  • David11238

    Afterward, she told a news reporter she could see Syosset from her house.

  • The Truth

    Just bad taste on her part. I’m sure a lot of people think that too. Brothers and Sisters move out to Hew HYde Park, Merrick, Floral Park to shut those UNION bigots up.

    • Kate

      Very silly statement. She was in a TRIBECA meeting, with parents who are not only NYU professors, as noted, but brokers, lawyers, and doctors. This is Wall St. and Battery Park City, where people not only use birth control but have designer children. RACE IS NOT AN ISSUE in Tribeca. It does say that even when facing a wealthy, well-educated audiece of parents, Ms. Black is off-handedly contemptuous. What will she say to working-poor parents of all spectrums?? By the way, when is the school going to open in the Frank Gehry building on Spruce St.? It was supposed to open in 2009.

    • TiredTeacher

      What does the union have to do with the dumb comments out of this woman’s mouth? The union didn’t support a publisher with a bachelor’s degree being appointed to the position of chancellor when teachers must have at least a bachelor’s + 30 credits or a master’s degree.

      • voiceofreason

        Define a brother or a sister for me please. Last time i checked we are all part of the same family of humans. Sounds like you are the bigot.

  • jane doe

    That is a bigoted statement. Ask her why her priveliged children are not in public school when shes to represent the department of education.

  • Steve C.

    And so it begins. It’s just the start folks. We’ve got a real prize running our educational ship.

  • DanTe

    WHITE TR#### was one of the words they censored when put together with another color word.

  • Spoiled yapping dog

    If the last few days showed us how quick ms Black is on her feet in term of warming up the crowd, we are in for a world of hurt. Cathie Black is in this for squeezing $$$ out of the Board of Ed by any means necessary. Acting on the rationale that whose “worthy enough” of quality education have already left the public sphere. Those that remain are either too poor or too undisciplined to leave. She intends to make those remaining fight tooth and nail with each other for what few quality slots in the good schools that remain. The that don’t make the cut will either have make do with substandard service or will drop out all together, which in some circles will be deemed a good thing.
    Bottom line: a decent education will no longer be a right, but a privledge. And a pricy one at that.

  • Dude Here

    This woman had no educational experience before this job it is a outrage why she was chosen,jus caue bloomjerk liked her. There was far more qualified people than her who have many years of education background.

  • bob

    this lady is an idiot

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