UPPER MANHATTAN — Despite crowds of parents packing meetings to discuss a controversial plan to eliminate school zones in upper Manhattan, many families still have no idea its been proposed.
Word of the plan has been slow to reach some corners of Washington Heights, Inwood and northwest Harlem's District 6, especially among those who do not speak English, parents said.
India Cintron, a parent at the Amistad Dual Language School who just learned of the proposal on Saturday, said she worried that the Spanish-speaking community was not getting a chance to weigh in on it.
"They don't give us enough information," Cintron said in Spanish. "I feel like they're going to make a decision for us."
Cintron is urging neighborhood parents to attend meetings and speak up — but she said many feel that the language barrier is an obstacle.
"Our community, we don't like to talk and show up," she said. "We're afraid. Most of the people don't like to speak English. They don't want to raise their hands and speak in Spanish. They feel like they don't count."
The idea of eliminating elementary school zones in District 6 — allowing families to apply to any school anywhere in the district, rather than being guaranteed a seat in their local zoned school — is still in its early phases, and outreach is just beginning, said Judith Amaro, president of the District 6 Community Education Council.
"We've done some and we're planning to do a whole bunch," she said.
The CEC is visiting PTA meetings to talk to parents in every part of the district and always translates meeting flyers and other communications into Spanish, Amaro said. The CEC also has translators at meetings so that all parents can be heard, Amaro said.
So far the community has been divided on the de-zoning proposal, with some saying it would improve schools and give parents more options, while others say it would break up communities and could send kids far from home.
The Department of Education initially wanted to implement the proposed "choice" system in the fall of 2013 but has since backed off and is waiting to hear more from the community.
Many parents who had not heard of the proposal told DNAinfo.com New York they wanted to learn more about it, though some expressed concern about losing access to their current zoned school.
"It's better to send them closer to home," Carlos Rueda, 28, a father of three, said in Spanish.
"It's not good if it's not convenient for parents," agreed Yelinda Martinez, 34, who also spoke in Spanish.
Maria Ceballo, 42, said that while she thinks it's better for kids to go to school in their community, it's also important for them to get a good education.
"If the community school is good, yes, they should go close to home," Ceballo, who is from the Dominican Republic, said in Spanish. "But if not, no."
Juan Hernandez, 49, who considers himself an in-the-know parent, said he was unaware of the recent discussion of the proposal at the CEC.
"I never heard anything," Hernandez, who is from Mexico and whose 8-year-old daughter attends the popular P.S. 187, said in Spanish.
Hernandez worried the plan could be dangerous for kids.
"It's better for them to go closer to home, especially in winter," he said. "Otherwise, they'd have to spend a lot of time outside, in the cold."
An Amistad parent, who declined to be named because she works for the Department of Education, said she would try to rally other Spanish-speaking parents and pack the house at upcoming meetings.
"They don't know. The news isn't getting to them," she said. "We need to go, to organize."
The District 6 Community Education Council's zoning committee will hold public hearings on the proposal Oct. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at P.S. 115, 586 W. 177th St., and Nov. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at P.S. 98, 512 W. 212th St.