STATEN ISLAND — Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s vision for how to improve public school diversity — which includes a pen pal program — saying it was a response "to the reality of our city."
DNAinfo New York reported Thursday that instead of focusing on integrating segregated schools, Fariña has touted a “sister schools” model where affluent schools team up with low-income ones to share PTA resources, encourage students to become pen pals and let students visit one another.
De Blasio supported that vision as something more “achievable” at this time than a larger structural shift in a school system where Black and Hispanic students make up 90 percent or more of the student population at more than half of the city's 1,600 public schools.
"I think she is responding to the reality of our city,” he said at an unrelated press conference. “That we’re a city that over decades grew a certain way and we want people to live together, we want people to experience their lives together, their education together, in every way we can, but we also know that there’s some things that are achievable in the near term and some things that aren’t.”
The mayor touted his signature education initiatives as ways to foster diversity.
“I think it’s clear [that] things like our pre-K programs, our after school programs, bring together kids from a lot of different communities,” he said, also mentioning the “choice system” of middle school and high school.
“I think the kinds of steps that she’s talking about add to that as well,” he said of Farina’s “sister schools” idea.
A growing number of parents, students and education leaders have been calling on the city to take bolder steps at integrating schools.
Several principals concerned about shifting demographics in their schools asked the Department of Education last year to allow them to create new diversity-based enrollment policies.
They have received no response.
“These are sort of non-solutions that they are proposing as solutions,” said David Tipson, director of New York Appleseed, a social justice nonprofit that advocates for equity in city schools. “I’m not aware of evidence that you can achieve the benefits of integration through any of these half-measures.”
It’s not just about having opportunities to “learn about other cultures,” Tipson added. "It’s about equalizing resources and overcoming centuries of intentional governmental policies leading to the current situation in New York City."
Tipson believes there are “real, near-term solutions,” like the DOE working with local school districts, like the Lower East Side’s Community Education Council for District 1, that are proposing student-assignment policies with diversity goals.
He also suggested that the DOE could adopt a policy statement in support of school diversity, which the City Council has called for.
The DOE could also allow schools to use “pro-diversity admissions plans” like Park Slope’s P.S. 133 as early as next year, he advised. That school sets aside 35 percent of the kindergarten seats each year for kids who receive free lunch and those who are learning English, a plan created under the Bloomberg administration.
“It is disappointing that the mayor who inspired us with his tale of two cities is now saying that a pen pal relationship between the students of these two cities represents the reality of what we can accomplish,” Tipson said. “It is also very concerning that the mayor doesn’t understand that our city’s laissez-faire school choice regimes are principal drivers of school segregation — not solutions.”