WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The Department of Education tried to school uptown parents at a pair of meetings Monday and Tuesday, which aimed to address issues surrounding the possible unzoning of District 6.
Speaking before packed houses of parents Monday night at the District 6 Community Education Council headquarters and Tuesday morning at P.S. 8 Luis Belliard, an education department spokesperson laid out what would happen if children in Washington Heights and Inwood were no longer zoned to neighborhood schools.
Yael Kalban, a spokeswoman for the office of portfolio planning and management, insisted that there was no firm proposal for dezoning the district on the table. She said she was asked by the CEC to attend the meetings merely to explain what unzoning is.
"We're here just to talk about what an unzoing could look like," Kalban said. "We're just here to have a discussion, there's no proposal on the table."
Only a handful of neighborhoods in the city do not have school zones. While most New York City children are zoned to a specific elementary school based on where they live, parents in District 1 in the East Village and Lower East Side, District 7, in the South Bronx, and District 23, in Brownsville and East New York ,can apply to any school in their district.
Kalban used both District 7 and District 23, which only offered unzoned schools for the first time this year, as examples of the paths District 6 could take.
While District 23 did away with zones entirely, District 7 established two priority areas in the north and southern portions of the district. In the latter example, families can apply to all schools in the district, but students are given priority the schools in their half of the district. In both systems, priority is given to students with siblings in a current school and to students currently attending pre-k in the school, Kalban said.
The DOE argues that non-zoned school districts level the playing field when it comes to race and socio-economics. Kalban said that in District 7 and 23, up to 90 percent of children received an offer from the school of their top choice, with 98 percent getting a offer from one of their top three.
Smaller class sizes could also result, as schools would no longer have to guarantee a seat to students based on their zone, Kalban said. In addition, families would have only have to fill out one application, as opposed to the current system where families must file multiple.
CEC member Victoria Frye took the DOE to task, arguing that a child in District 6 can receive up to nine school seat offers — eight choice schools plus their zoned school — under the current system. Under a dezoned system the number of offers would be reduced to just one. Frye then noted that the DOE was willing to do so much work to create a system, in which students receive a single match and asked why they couldn't create a unified application while keeping zones schools as a safety net.
The meetings drew supporters on both sides of the issue. Monday night's meeting drew several spectators who wore signs that read "I support school choice. Give District 6 a proposal."
Parent Sherene Betances, wore on one of the pro-school choice stickers. Betances, who lives on Bennett and 190th Street and have four children, said that she came to support dezoning after her children were denied entrance to P.S. 187.
"They don't allow my kids because of the zone," said Betances. "But I've got a friend who lives very far away, her last name is Smith and she got in. What do you think? Where's the zone over there?"
"Zoning for me means the haves and the have nots," said Evelyn Roman-Lanzen, the PTA president at the Mott Hall Middle School in Harlem. "In our community if you can see in the room, the people that were pro-keeping their zone are the people that have it cushiony and comfy."
On Tuesday, several opponents came out with signs that read "D6 Parents need more time."
"I'm not comfortable with what I've heard," said Selina Greene, whose one-and-a-half-year-old son is zoned for P.S. 98. "The answers from the DOE put me more ill at ease than I was before."
"I heard a lot of baloney," said Shanny Moreno, whose children attend Muscota New School and JHS 52. "They're trying to make it a racial issue, that white people don't want blacks and latinos coming to schools. But the fact is they're breaking up communities."
"You have a zone, you move to that zone because you want to be in that school, you become part of that community. The minute you start to open it up to 30-60 blocks, you don't have a community."