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Race and Class Issues Surface at Brooklyn School Rezoning Town Hall

By Nikhita Venugopal | September 17, 2015 10:14am
 The proposed new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
The proposed new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
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VINEGAR HILL — Parents and community leaders said Wednesday more time is needed to consider the city's proposed rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 — a plan that does not adequately address issues of race and class that exist within the communities.

The Department of Education is seeking approval to redraw the two schools' zones, which would affect future District 13 students living in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, many locals pushed back against the city's plan because they said it neglected the needs of P.S. 307, a school with a high minority population, including children who live in Farragut Houses.

Based on 2014 records, P.S. 307 is 93 percent minority whereas P.S. 8 is predominantly white, according to the DOE's presentation, which also suggested that rezoning would integrate the schools.

"This plan is based on the needs of one community — P.S. 8," said the Rev. Mark V.C. Taylor, pastor at The Church of the Open Door, who received widespread applause as he spoke at the meeting. 

"You've got a plan that only considers half of this community — and once again the half that's not considered is the black half," he said. "There's issues of race and class that need to be figured out."

P.S. 307 advocates fear overcrowding, loss of seats for low-income students and problems that could arise by merging the populations as a result of new zones.

"It will change the culture of the school," said Ed Brown, a District 13 Community Education Council's first vice-president. 

"These schools have been able to put in programming that actually directly impacts the kids from these low-income communities," he said. "I think that the parents in this school community are afraid that if the well-to-do parents come, that programming will be gone."

The draft rezoning plan, first presented by the DOE's Office of District Planning on Sept. 1, splits the neighborhoods more equally between P.S. 8, which currently has one of the largest zones in the city, and P.S. 307, a magnet school that occupies a much smaller one. 

But several parents complained that the process was being rushed and offered little time for real local feedback on the proposal.

DUMBO dad John Shook said it was "ludicrous" for the city to try and implement the plan by next year after informing the community only a few weeks ago.

The new zones would alleviate P.S. 8's severe overcrowding, according to DOE officials, and grow P.S. 307's capacity. In the 2014-15 school year, P.S. 8 had 162 kindergarten students living in its zone as compared to only 17 in P.S. 307.

"I don't have a problem with people coming in," said Saiba Coles, a P.S. 307 mom with two daughters at the school. "I just don't want them to forget about the kids that were already here."

The DOE is expected to present its final draft plan to CEC13 on Sept. 30. The CEC will have 45 days from the date when District Superintendent Barbara Freeman officially hands them the document.

During the weeks before the Sept. 30 meeting, the DOE can still modify its draft proposal based on community feedback from public sessions and comments that can be submitted online.   

Wednesday's meeting was held at P.S. 307. A second town hall meeting is scheduled for Sept. 21 at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights.