Six New York City education officials are skipping school this week by going on an “educational leadership” trip to China, sparking concerns about possible involvement by the Chinese Communist Party.
The 7,300-mile trip, partly funded by taxpayers, from New York to Shanghai and Beijing comes amid alarming reports of China’s global espionage and as New York schools face budget cuts.
The trip stems from a partnership between the city’s Department of Education and the China Institute, a New York nonprofit that is home to the city’s first Confucius Institute, a program that the U.S. State Department designated as a “foreign mission” of the People’s Republic of China. China and a propaganda tool of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP.
The New York group visited East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, one of several colleges that support China’s goals in developing advanced military technologies and cyber espionage, according to the Foundation in Defense of Democracies, a DC think tank and lobbying group founded after 9/11.
Brooklyn’s District 15 – which includes progressive Park Slope and Carroll Gardens – published on X a photo of the group in China.
In the foreground is a smiling Gu Hongliang, vice president of ECNU and deputy secretary of its “party committee,” who, according to the school charter, is elected by the CCP university congress.
Ian Oxnevad, a senior fellow in foreign affairs and security studies at the National Association of Scholars, likened Hongliang’s role to that of a “policymaker” in the former Soviet Union.
“This guarantees loyalty to the party, the state and ideological orthodoxy,” Oxnevad told the Post.
He questioned China’s “harmless program” welcoming New York educators.
“If they want to learn Chinese, they could go to Taiwan and do it without totalitarianism.”
The China trip was planned for 2019 but delayed by the pandemic, DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said.
“New Yorkers of Chinese descent are one of the fastest growing groups in our city, and their children attend our public schools. School principals engage with Chinese educational leaders to create opportunities to develop and expand Chinese language and exchange programs in our schools,” Styer said.
He did not mention the host’s ties to the communist regime.
The DOE paid for the flights for the six staff members, who are taking paid professional development days while schools are in session to attend.
The China Institute covered hotels, meals and travel within the country, Styer said.
He would not disclose the cost.
The group visits schools and universities and speaks at conferences as part of the “China Educational Leadership Study Tour & Exchange”, Heather Page, director of the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria and one of the participants, sent an email to the families.
She said she would be away from October 20 to November 1 and that the school would be “in good hands” with two assistant principals.
Also on the trip: Cristina Gonzalez, director of PS 94 in Sunset Park; Ruth Rodriguez-Rivera, manager of PS 896 in Sunset Park; Nidhi Jaipershad, assistant principal of science at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows; David Newman, principal of Brooklyn Tech HS; Katrina Billy-Wilkinson, director of Brooklyn Latin School; and Tzong-Jin Lee, lead instructor for Brooklyn School District 15.
Hoa Tu, superintendent of Queens North Secondary Schools, delivered a virtual speech at the conference.
An ECNU press release boasted of the visit, named each of the American educators and included photos of them. One of the topics of the seminar was “Digital education in primary and secondary schools”.
ECNU has sister programs with the China Institute and the Chicago Public School District, both of which have active Confucius Institutes and partnerships with universities supporting Beijing’s military-industrial complex, according to FDD.
“I would be concerned if they (New York principals) were carrying cell phones or laptops with identifiable information about students and teachers,” said education watchdog Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the National Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.
DOE would not address concerns about digital security.
The China Institute declined to answer any questions about the trip.
Shenzhan Liao, who directs the institute’s School of Chinese Studies, joined New York school leaders on the trip.
She did not respond to messages.