Do Parents Really Want Integrated Schools?

18 Oct

I am re-posting this New York Times article that I saw on my friend Kym’s Facebook status update.    Her comment attached to the article read, ‘I was reading between the lines…then they just openly said it!’

We say we want integrated schools but then move into neighborhoods with people that look just like us, make the same amount of money as us, and where we think the best schools are.  If we’re white, we pat ourselves on the back for sending our kids to schools that have diversity in their student bodies.

But what happens when school district lines get redrawn and all of sudden more children of color from a little farther away have the same opportunity to go to what is considered the “good public school” where the majority of the students are white, and whose families are able to afford the neighborhood real estate that gets them into that school in the first place?

The Times article reminds me of what happened when I first moved to Providence, my home just three blocks from the public school I figured my daughters would attend.  For the past decade, the school, a recently designated high-performing Title 1 school, had been made up of 80% out-of-neighborhood kids.  Most of the parents who lived on the East side of Providence had sent their kids to private school.  With news of the school’s success though, all of a sudden parents decided the school was a good option for them, and the number of “in-neighborhood” kids became the 80%. (My daughters were actually initially told they would be going to schools across town since we moved into the neighborhood in August, and there was a waiting list.  We were fortunate though, and just days before school began, they did get in.)

Needless to say, there was a big outrage from parents–those from out-of-neighborhood who were used to having a much greater opportunity to attend the school, and from parents in the district, who all of a sudden wanted in.  Another kindergarten class was added that year to help ease the tension.  Each year the school seems a little whiter, the  reduced lunch piece-of-pie percentage dips a little lower.

So, we say we want diversity, that we want to support public schools and good education for all, but what happens when we feel our own opportunities are threatened?  Do we all of a sudden become selfish, guarded, out for own self-interest?

I’m lucky that my daughters are in good public schools.   Like in any city, it’s easy to know or imagine which schools are the ones with less resources–they are the schools in lower socio-economic neighborhoods.  They are the ones when you hear parents talk, say they didn’t want to move to that area, because “such and such” school isn’t a good school.  I think about this sometimes, the inequity, but I can’t pat myself on the back for advocating for all schools across districts in Providence, because I don’t do it.  I’m proud to have a friend, Lee Keizler, who sits on the Parents Action Committee, and who does just that–works to make all schools in the city a better place, not just the ones his own kids go to.

I’m not a political person, and don’t know a lot about how systems work, especially the school system.  I remember though, last year, when the Mayor of Providence sent out pink slips to all the school teachers at the end of the school year.  It was said that most of the teachers would be reinstated, but for matters dealing with finances and teacher bumping, they had to take this action for the time being.

As you can imagine, teachers, parents, and entire communities were outraged.  Community meetings were held all over town, and I went to one of them.  The words I remember most were spoken by a man who I believe was a professor from Brown University, who happened to be black.  He spoke to the fact that we shouldn’t be divisive, that we could and should come together and think about this in terms of helping all of the city’s schools.  Not one over the other, but advocate for all of them.  I’m afraid I’m not capturing his sentiments as well as he put it, but the gist of it seemed to speak to the idea of us all being in this together, and if all of us are good, then, well, we’re all good.  No one would have to worry that they weren’t at the good, safe school.  The playing field would be equal.  All of our kids would have it all.

I’m not sure what will be the outcome of these New York schools where re-zoning could change the name of the game for many parents and their children, but I hope that all of us can be honest with ourselves, and do our best to do the right thing, and to work to have equity and opportunity across the board in our public schools, in any way that we can.  Then it wouldn’t matter who lived where, right?

Proposals to Redraw School Lines Raise Alarm

Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Henry Haines, 9, left, and Collin Haines, 6, center, leaving P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a school that may draw from a reduced neighborhood next year.


Few issues have the potential to make parents and real estate brokers sweat like the system called zoning, which determines where children attend school and can inflate property values on certain blocks. So proposals in Washington Heights and Park Slope to shuffle or eliminate zone lines altogether next year are causing no small amount of perspiration.

In Park Slope, the board that controls zoning, the Community Education Council for District 15, is in a standoff with the city Education Department over an affirmative action program for Public School 133 in northern Park Slope. The Education Department opposes the plan.

In the balance are the zones for P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, two popular but crowded schools in the heart of Park Slope, causing consternation for parents who fear their children will be shut out — and for real estate brokers who tout the neighborhood’s schools. The council says it will not approve the rezoning unless the city listens to the affirmative action proposal.

“If somebody invests a million dollars and they want their kids to be in 107, and they’re not, I don’t know if ‘devastating’ would be a little too much, but it would be a big deal,” said Bernadette Twente, an agent at Betancourt & Associates Realty.

The Education Department has not revealed which blocks would be rezoned, but in general, the proposal involves transferring the western end of P.S. 321’s zone, where Park Slope turns into Gowanus, to a new school to be opened on Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue. Some of P.S. 107’s southernmost blocks would be shifted to P.S. 10. The siblings of students already at the affected schools would probably be allowed to register at the same schools. The proposals were reported Monday by the news Web site

Kiersten Feil, who bought a condominium on Fourth Avenue last year, said she was worried her daughter, Siri, now 3, would not be able to attend P.S. 321.

“We were looking for 321 — and it’s priced into the real estate around here,” she said. Her first reaction to the proposal was concern, she added, “for my property value and for where my daughter will go to school. But property value is the biggest risk.”

Class sizes at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107 have increased substantially in recent years. P.S. 321, whose parent-teacher association raises nearly $1 million annually, has about 1,450 students, and the school expects that number to grow if kindergarten admission rates remain steady, its principal, Liz Phillips, said in a letter sent to parents last week.

“In the interest of maintaining the high-quality education we are committed to providing our students,” she wrote, “we are going to need to do something to keep our school from becoming so large that we are forced to have very high class size.”

P.S. 107 has resorted to adding a kindergarten class and creating a kindergarten waiting list.

“I don’t know how else you’re going to meet the needs of those children, unless we put saltpeter in the drinking water to prevent conceptions,” said Jim Devor, president of the Community Education Council. “Real estate brokers are going to go ballistic, but the alternatives we’re considering placing these children in are not exactly chopped liver.”

Mr. Devor said he would be willing to back the rezoning plan if the Education Department agreed to a proposal for P.S. 133 that would give preference to English language learners and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, who would mainly come from the district’s Hispanic, black and Asian populations. He said he hoped the plan would relieve overcrowding in Sunset Park schools. The Education Department did not respond to questions about the proposals Monday, but Mr. Devor said that the department had told him that similar programs had been ruled unconstitutional.

In District 6, which encompasses Washington Heights, Inwood and northwest Harlem, the Community Education Council is considering three proposals that would eliminate some or all zoning, allowing parents from different parts of the district to apply to a greater range of schools. The proposed changes have attracted the ire of parents in the zone for the well-regarded P.S. 187, who say they moved to the area in part to send their children to the school.

Bryan Davis, the chairman of the council’s rezoning committee, said the opposition had been limited to a small group of affluent white parents who wanted to keep the racial composition of their schools from changing.

“Our goal is to provide equitable access to every student in the district to go to any school in the district,” he said.

P.S. 187 is such a touchstone in Washington Heights that one of the largest real estate firms in the neighborhood, Simone Song Properties, held a fund-raiser for the school to celebrate the firm’s 25th anniversary.

“It’s generally known which buildings are in which school district,” said Simone Song, the firm’s founder. “People with children want to know.”

Juliet Linderman contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 16, 2012, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Proposals to Redraw School Lines Raise Alarm.

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