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If Carranza’s inner turmoil had been festering for some time, the December 2020 PEP meeting seemed to mark a public breaking point. At the meeting’s start, he appeared onscreen in front of a seasonal backdrop: a red poinsettia sitting beneath a wall-mounted guitar. But the mood was far from jolly. With COVID rates spiking in November, Carranza had been forced by the terms of the deal the city had made with the teachers union to go back to full-remote learning. Although schools had begun reopening, members of the panel and parents pummeled the administration’s response to the pandemic, the uneven distribution of resources, and racism in public education writ large.
By hour three, Carranza had had about enough. “You have no rules!” he all but shouted at the PEP members. Five hours in, he was visibly irate. He spoke first in Spanish, then switched to English to translate his remarks, saying he had been talking to Spanish-speaking New Yorkers. “With all due respect, don’t lecture us about what we need,” he said. “I’ve lost eight family members and close friends to this COVID disease. Nobody needs to tell me what this means. I’m feeling it.” The PEP, he said, had no ultimate responsibility; the moral weight fell elsewhere.
“If somebody dies because of the decision that I made or the mayor made, I have to own that,” Carranza said. “You don’t have to live with the decision — I have to live with the decision, and that keeps me up every night.” Here his voice snagged a little, something between a breath and a dry sob. His face contorted. “That makes it so I can’t sleep every night.”
The normally unflappable PEP chair, Vanessa Leung, looked stricken as she took back control of the meeting, which adjourned soon after. “I can tell you that many in the DOE were very concerned about him,” said Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, a mother and activist. She reached out to Carranza’s allies after the meeting. “I was like, ‘Look, I’m not a fan of whatever it is that he’s trying to do right now, but I am really worried.’ And I have a great relationship with DOE employees, and we were all like, ‘He is losing his mind. Like, he is having a mental breakdown.’ ”