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School Rezoning OK'd in Brooklyn Amid Diversity Debate

By Alexandra Leon | January 6, 2016 5:43am | Updated on January 6, 2016 10:18am
 The new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
The new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
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DUMBO — Some incoming kindergarten students who live in DUMBO will be going to school in Vinegar Hill next year after a controversial rezoning plan was greenlighted by local education leaders, despite continued pushback from parents in both school zones.

District 13’s Community Education Council voted Tuesday night to accept the Department of Education’s plan to redraw the zoning lines for P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights and P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill. 

The proposal passed 6-3, the narrowest required margin.

Starting next fall, blocks within DUMBO — the most expensive neighborhood in the borough — will be moved out of P.S. 8’s zone and into the zone for P.S. 307, where most students are black and Hispanic and live in the nearby Farragut Houses.

The plan will take care of overcrowding at P.S. 8 by moving students to P.S. 307, which is under-enrolled. But since it was introduced Sept. 1, the rezoning plan has turned into a contentious debate over integration and diversity.

At P.S. 307, the DOE will give admissions priority to low-income students to help preserve the existing school community. Students who are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program will be given priority for 50 percent of the seats of incoming classes — but only for the seats remaining after children who live in the zone are already given offers.

Those in the P.S. 307 zone fear minority students will be pushed out of the S.T.E.M. magnet school as new students from the more affluent neighborhood move in.

“My concern is that the people who are living right across the street should not be kept out of [the school],” Deborah Stewart, a resident of the Farragut Houses, said at the meeting. “The school was segregated by the system. The people that have been here deserve the right to have the same access to what has been made available.”

The other part of the problem, according to parents and dissenting CEC members, is that moving students into P.S. 307's zone won't diversify P.S. 8.

“I don’t think this proposal has been set up to make history,” said CEC member Ben Greene, a PTA co-president at P.S. 307, who voted no on the DOE's proposal.

“I will not stand by and watch 307 become an experiment for the nation to be looking at and poking on with this diversity integration," Greene said. "I think both schools need to be integrated.”

The admissions quota won’t go into effect until the 2017-2018 school year.

Elected officials who spoke at the meeting collectively supported the plan, which most called imperfect.

“We all know that our school system in New York City is in a lot of ways very segregated,” Councilman Stephen Levin said. “[This] is an opportunity to say we want to leave school segregation in the past and that we want to move forward. We owe that to our children.”

Some officials, including Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and a representative for Assemblyman Walter Mosley, called for the DOE to raise the admissions quota for minority students to 65 percent.

"We recognize that when school children go to school in more diverse settings, they're more successful," said Cumbo, who also advocated for adding more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to P.S. 8. 

P.S. 8 currently has one of the largest zones in the city. This year it had a waitlist of 50 families and is currently at 143 percent of its building capacity.

Under the rezoning plan, younger brothers and sisters of current P.S. 8 students will be grandfathered into the school. DOE officials have said the clause would slow down the effectiveness of the plan to end overcrowding.

Meanwhile, P.S. 307 has a much smaller zone and is under-enrolled. There are currently 386 students at the school, but it’s projected to hold between 670 and 770 over the next several years under the new plan, according to the DOE.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the zoning change would affect current students. In fact, it will only affect incoming students next fall.