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More Districts Scrap School Zones to Give Families More Options

By Julie Shapiro | February 13, 2013 6:35am

NEW YORK — More kindergarten options are on the way for families in two of the city's school districts.

The South Bronx's District 7 and Ocean Hill and Brownsville's District 23 both recently scrapped their elementary school zone lines, allowing families to apply to kindergarten at any school anywhere in the districts, rather than being assigned a seat in their local zoned school, the Department of Education said.

"The communities in Districts 7 and 23 expressed an interest in having school choice across their district," a DOE spokeswoman said.


Districts 7 and 23 are joining the Lower East Side's District 1, which abolished school zone lines more than 20 years ago and is the only other district in the city that does not have zoned elementary schools.

"The reason we went away from [elementary school] zones is because zones way too often reflect housing segregation patterns," said Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council. "The advantage of choice is that it tries to create a basis for equity of access."

Donlan added, though, that it's important for the city to inform parents of their options in the newly un-zoned districts, so that low-income families and those that do not speak English are aware of the changes.

In District 1, Donlan and other advocates have pointed out that many elementary schools are still split along racial lines, even after the de-zoning, because families are effectively segregating themselves through their school choices.

In the South Bronx, the Department of Education has divided District 7 into two large geographic priority areas, one with eight elementary schools mostly north of East 149th Street and one with nine elementary schools mostly south of East 149th Street.

Families can apply to any of the 17 elementary schools in the district, but they will have priority for kindergarten admission at schools in either the north or south area, depending on where they live, the DOE said.

“The bottom line is that everybody can still apply to the zoned school across the street,” said Neyda Franco, president of the Community Education Council in District 7. “But now, they can also apply to schools with programs that are doing better than others.”

Brooklyn's District 23 is much smaller and is not divided into geographic priority areas. That means families living anywhere in the district will have an equal shot at attending any of the district's 15 elementary schools, the DOE said.

Donlan advised families to visit the elementary schools in their neighborhood to see which would be the best fit, whether in terms of the location's convenience or how welcoming the principal and staff are to parents.

"It's important to think about what kind of school environment makes sense for your family," Donlan said. "Do [you] feel comfortable in this environment? Is this a place [you] can see [your] child comfortable and thriving in?"

Parents in Districts 1, 7 and 23 can fill out a single kindergarten application ranking the schools they would like their children to attend. The applications are available at all elementary schools in the three choice districts. This year, for the first time, families in those districts can apply over the phone or online, as well.

All New York City children who will turn 5 in 2013 are eligible to apply for kindergarten this fall. Applications are due March 1.

For more information, including elementary school directories for each district, visit the Department of Education's kindergarten admissions websites for District 1, District 7 and District 23.

With reporting by Patrick Wall