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City Must Show 'Why They Care About Diversity' in School Rezoning, Pol Says

By Emily Frost | September 29, 2016 3:32pm
 In the third scenario, the zone lines for P.S. 199 would shut out buildings from Lincoln Towers, which has angered residents and elected officials. 
DOE Releases More Details Regarding Third UWS Rezoning Scenario
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education needs to prove why school diversity is "worth" it if education officials want to move ahead with a controversial school rezoning plan that would move some students from a high-achieving school into one that was recently deemed dangerous, a politician said. 

DOE officials unveiled on Wednesday more details of a third plan that would shift the zoning lines determining which elementary schools neighborhood children attend, earning criticism from residents and elected officials over the motivations behind it. 

As in previous iterations, the latest proposal would relocate two buildings in the Lincoln Towers complex on West End Avenue from the P.S. 199 zone and into the P.S. 191 zone, marking a move for students from a nationally recognized school to one that was labeled "persistently dangerous" by the state last year. P.S. 191 was removed from the list this summer. 

But the plan — which Lincoln Towers residents have ripped at every turn — would serve to promote diversity in the P.S. 199 zone and will remain as is, despite locals' protestations, said Sarah Turchin, director of planning for Manhattan at the DOE. 

However, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said diversity has been something the DOE is paying "lip service" to without convincing parents.

"[DOE officials] need to make the case that diversity is something worth getting… and everyone should understand why from an educational point of view," she said, noting that she understood diversity has been proven to raise classroom achievement across socioeconomic levels.

"The DOE has not put up a PowerPoint about why they care about diversity," Rosenthal added. "I want to know why it matters and why the goal is 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, 2 percent, 50 percent diversity. Why do we want to have those goals?"

Members of the P.S. 191 community attended the meeting and tried to persuade potentially rezoned P.S. 199 parents not to worry. P.S. 191 does not have the same reputation of academic excellence as P.S. 199, but is working to change that, they said. 

"I encourage you to actually see our school… there are a lot of misconceptions," said Principal Lauren Keville at the meeting.

"We provide everything that your kids will need. I think it’s very important that you come and see the great work that’s happening there."

Politicians and parents both demanded that the DOE provide more information about the methodology behind the rezoning proposal.

"Where are the numbers?" parents shouted in unison at the meeting, after DOE officials said they were protecting the data because of student privacy laws. A DOE official later said the the department would find a way to scrub the data of private information and share it. 

"I am not confident that in any of these scenarios we won’t see overcrowding again in a couple of years," noted Rosenthal, who said she wouldn't support any of the scenarios the DOE has presented. 

State Sen. Brad Hoylman compared the new zoning map the DOE presented to Google Earth in its lack of specificity and demanded more granular information, as the map passed out at the meeting mistakenly lacked street addresses, the DOE said. 

"If you’re going to put our community through this anxiety, through this angst… you better have the proof to back it up, and I don’t see it yet," Hoylman said.

Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal have both rallied behind residents of Lincoln Towers in fighting the DOE's plans.

The Basics of Scenario C

In addition to changing the zone lines for P.S. 199 and P.S. 191, the third plan— referred to as "Scenario C" — would keep P.S. 452 in its current building on West 77th Street, said Turchin explained.

The P.S. 452 zone would shrink from its current size, and students from outside the zone would be encouraged to attend it to boost the school's diversity, she noted. However, the specifics of this "diversity priority" for out-of-zone students who live farther from the school has not been worked out yet, she said. 

After hearing feedback from the P.S. 75 community, the DOE has kept its zone size the same so the school can continue to offer special programming for students on the autism spectrum, Turchin added. 

The DOE also heard from P.S. 9 community members who said previous rezoning plans made their zone too small.

"We made sure that in the third scenario that we did not reduce the P.S. 9 zone size by as much," Turchin said. 

Under the third proposal, the zoning lines for P.S. 87 and P.S. 199, were overcrowding has been an issue, were made smaller.

CEC Frustration 

While the third scenario does change the zoning lines for schools in the northern part of the district — including P.S. 165 and P.S. 145 — it ignores District 3 schools to the east of Morningside Park, Community Education Council 3 leader said. 

DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul said that "engagement meetings" about rezoning the Harlem schools that are part of District 3 were just beginning and that the DOE would like to include them in the rezoning process that will go to a vote this fall. 

But CEC members argued that wasn't nearly enough time. 

"Most of the southern half of the community has been engaged in that process for the past 18 months," said CEC 3 member Kristen Berger. 

The DOE said it expects the CEC to vote on a final plan in early November, though a specific date has not been set.