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Critics Slam Uptown School Zoning Plan

By DNAinfo Staff on October 19, 2012 12:46pm

By Julie Shaprio and Jordan Davidson
DNAinfo.com New York  Staff

UPPER MANHATTAN — The push to scrap elementary school zones in upper Manhattan is coming under fire from critics who say the process has been secretive and one-sided.

At a packed meeting Thursday night, dozens of angry parents slammed the District 6 Community Education Council's zoning committee as "reckless" and "foolish" for pushing a plan many in the neighborhood oppose.

And the most outspoken criticism came from other members of the Community Education Council, who said they were left out of early discussions on the plan and then were personally attacked when they tried to voice opposition.

“The process has been horrifying," said Tory Frye, a member of the CEC. "We have no voice. There’s no consensus.... It's not presented objectively. It's obviously not an unbiased approach."

The plan was developed by the CEC's zoning committee and then presented to the Department of Education, which proposed implementing the de-zoning for the 2013 school year. But the DOE recently backed off the plan, which was not voted on by the full CEC.

Tony Kelso, another CEC member, added that the proposals "seem to be the work of one guy," referring to Bryan Davis, chairman of the CEC's zoning committee and the chief proponent of the plan.

"[The proposals] get represented as if they come from the whole council, but we never agreed to this," Kelso said. "I haven’t been informed of anything.”

Davis did not respond to the criticisms at the meeting and did not immediately respond to a request for comment afterward.

He has argued that getting rid of school zones in Washington Heights, Inwood and northwest Harlem's District 6 would give parents more choice by allowing them to apply to any school anywhere in the district, rather than being guaranteed a seat in their local zoned school.

Davis has been working on the idea for months and produced a video outlining his arguments in favor of elementary school choice, but many neighborhood parents, including some members of the CEC, only learned of the proposal in the past few weeks.

Opponents of the plan worry that children will wind up going to school far from home and that too many kids will apply to the most popular schools, meaning that many children will have to go through a lottery and won't get their first choice.

Dozens of parents who crowded into P.S. 48 on Broadway and 186th Street for Thursday night's meeting wore stickers with bright red letters that said, "A Lottery is a Gamble. Not a Choice!"

"We’re being asked to give up our right to a zoned school. And for what? For a lottery," said Danielle Lazarin, an Inwood parent who distributed the stickers.

"De-zoning does nothing to improve the quality of schooling in this district," Lazarin continued. "De-zoning does nothing to address overcrowding or decaying facilities."

Many parents said they wanted more information about how the choice proposal would affect their child's education, including everything from class sizes to the budget for buses.

Amid the controversy over the proposal, elected officials who represent upper Manhattan are urging the Community Education Council and the Department of Education not to make any hasty decisions.

"The process should be slowed down so that all parents and stakeholders can work together to come up with the best possible plan for our district's children," City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday.

City Councilman Robert Jackson told the standing-room-only crowd at Thursday's meeting that he has many questions about the choice proposal and how to improve the neighborhood's schools, and he urged parents to work together to find answers rather than battling each other.

"Those that look to divide: Shame on you," Jackson said. "This is not about pitting one parent against the other. This CEC has to make a decision: Do we continue with this or do we drop it?"

"Drop it!" the audience replied, and then burst into applause.

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.

The public can also submit comments and ask questions by emailing choicecec6@gmail.com and CCEC6@nycbboe.net or calling 347-735-6486 and 917-521-3793.