By Sheryl Estrada
Photo of Public School 8. Credit: Insideschools.org
New York’s school system is considered the most racially segregated in the United States, and rezoning plans to deal with over-capacity at a Brooklyn Heights neighborhood school will further that racial and class segregation.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is planning to re-zone the borders of a magnet school, Public School 8 Elementary (P.S. 8), whose student population is 60 percent white. This will result instudents being sent to a predominately Black and Latinoschool a little over a mile away, P.S. 307, in a neighborhood called Vinegar Hill.
During the 2014-2015 school year, P.S. 8 was approximately 135 percent overcapacity, and the DOE intends to present its final proposal to reduce the zone size on Wednesday.
Parents Against Rezoning
The proposed rezoning by the DOE has placed a focus on the disparities in education that exist for children who do not live in wealthy neighborhoods, such as predominantly whiteBrooklyn Heights, where the median household income is $166,346.
P.S. 8 also serves children in the prosperous and predominantly white neighborhood of Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). In Dumbo, once an underutilized industrial waterfront area, condominiums are routinely sold at more than $1,000 per square foot.
With the proposed rezoning, P.S. 8 would actually become more segregated if the amount of non-white residents in Brooklyn Heights does not increase.
The Brooklyn Paperreports, “95 percent of the kids currently attending P.S. 307 are minorities, which would likely drop to 55 percent to 65 percent under the new zones, according to the city’s projections. But P.S. 8 could get even whiter, according to the forecast 34 percent of current students are minorities, and the new boundaries could push that portion as low as 25 percent, officials said.”
In 2012, thepass ratefor third grade students at P.S. 307 was 16 percent, and 37 percent of students were “below standards.” At P.S. 8 students had apass rateof 86 percent on state tests, with 1 percent performing below standards.
In 2014, P.S. 307 was awarded a federal Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) grant to transform the school into a STEM school and is on the road for greater improvement. But parents who are Dumbo residents voiced opposition to the rezoning, which would place their children in classes with kids coming from low-income families some living in the Farragut Houses, a public housing complex.
A father of a 1-year-old called P.S. 307 “severely underperforming.” “I don’t want to be the bad guy in the room, but no one else wants to talk about it,”he said at a meeting on Sept. 21 in the auditorium at P.S. 8.”How does sending all Dumbo and Vinegar Hill children to the school solve P.S. 307’s problems”
“We know some white people don’t want to go to P.S. 307 because it’s predominantly Black,” said a spokeswoman from The Church of the Open Door located in Vinegar Hill. “And some of the Black people don’t want this influx of white people coming in.”
A meeting led by officials from the DOE, Council 13 and the parent teacher association of P.S. 307 took place on Sept. 16 in the auditorium of P.S. 307. Parents and community representatives also voiced opposition to the rezoning.
“You don’t have a lot of institutions in America where a majority white people want to function under Black leadership,” Reverend Dr. Mark Taylor of the Church of the Open Doorsaid. “All of our white brothers and sisters aren’t going to come down to the Farragut Houses and sing kumbaya.”
Luxury housing construction in lieu of improving or building local schools also angered P.S. 307 parents.
“You have space in those high rises put students in ’em,” a P.S. 307parent said.
“We’re the most segregated school system in the country,”David Goldsmith, president of Council 13,saidat the Sept. 21 meeting. “These are communities that aren’t used to working together.”
Gentrification in Brooklyn
The Center for New York City Affairs at The New Schooldescribesthe conflicts in class within the School District 13, which ultimately affects the 58 schools:
District 13 encompasses the upscale townhouses of Brooklyn Heights, new high-rises along Flatbush Avenue Extension, sprawling public housing complexes and homeless shelters on the north side of Fort Greene Park, and the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant.
Segregated schools in New York City have a lot to do with zoning, real estate and the rate and paths of gentrification.
Over the years, Brooklyn has experienced gentrification with an overwhelming influx of young, white affluent residents into once predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.
An analysis of a decades’ worth of data by Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that Brooklyn is hometo four of the 25 fastest gentrifying zip codesin the country.
According to theCenter for Urban Research,in Brooklyn between 2000 and 2010, the white population grew by 38,774 and Blacks lost almost 50,000 people.
A 2014report releasedby the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles revealed that schools in New York City and New York State are the most racially segregated. The report states “over 90 percent of Black students in the New York metro attended majority-minority schools those with 50 percent or greater minority students.”
In May, The New York City Council passed the “School Diversity Accountability Act,” which requires the DOE to provide detailed demographic data and steps it is taking to advance diversity in NYC schools.
Children at P.S. 8 and P.S. 307, which are relatively a short distance away from each other, have significant differences in racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.Time will tell if New York City and the DOE will effectively meet these challenges.