UPPER WEST SIDE — Local leaders defended a school rezoning plan they submitted to the Department of Education at a contentious meeting Wednesday, arguing that their "bold" ideas will start to rectify decades of school segregation.
After holding dozens of community meetings and hearing three different rezoning scenarios presented by the DOE, the council took a stand this week, submitting its requirements in the form of an 11-page letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
"We need to address, at least help repair, the longstanding effects of segregation in the lower part of our district, and our plan does that," said Kim Watkins, chairwoman of Community Education Council 3's zoning committee, at a Wednesday council meeting. The CEC will make the final vote in November on the rezoning plan.
"We attacked [overcrowding] aggressively and we attacked it with a bold decision" to create an even larger zone for one elementary school, P.S. 191, Watkins said.
The P.S. 191 zone should expand north to West 70th Street, bumping the number of P.S. 191 kindergarten classes from two to four or even six, the letter stated.
Under this scenario, three buildings from the Lincoln Towers complex would be removed from the zone for P.S. 199, an overcrowded school that's had a predominately white student population, into the zone for P.S. 191, an under-enrolled school with a predominately black and Latino population.
Lincoln Towers residents have loudly protested this plan, and Wednesday was no exception. CEC members worked to make the case that the issues facing the district, in terms of overcrowding and the lack of racial diversity, require a move that would leave some people unhappy.
In past meetings, the DOE has repeatedly used the word "diversity" to justify zone line changes.
CEC 3 member Dan Katz said Wednesday that instead of talking about diversity, the conversation should shift to segregation.
"...In my lifetime at some point in time, somebody drew a circle around [NYCHA's] Amsterdam Houses and said all of the kids who are living in a high-poverty neighborhood are going to go to one school and one school only. That's segregation," Katz said.
Children living in Amsterdam Houses are currently zoned to P.S. 191, but the CEC's plan would break apart the complex and rezone some buildings to P.S. 199.
"[Segregation] was allowed to happen here in District 3. There’s really no other way of looking at it and saying that was deliberate, it was unjust," Katz added. "And yet we were practicing that and we're still practicing that to this day in the southernmost part of District 3."
Rather than waiting for a plan to emerge from the DOE, as happened last fall, the CEC took a proactive approach this time with a plan that can address "egregious segregation," council member Kristen Berger said.
But residents who spoke out in opposition to the plan at the packed meeting took umbrage with what they felt was an implication that because they opposed the plan, they opposed ending school segregation.
"Everybody supports diversity, but this has been used as an ideological weapon. Anyone who opposes the plan, well that person must be a bigot," said Alex Harrington, a Lincoln Towers resident who said the CEC has repeatedly failed to listen to what the community wants.
Gary Ramsay, a parent and resident of Lincoln Towers, objected to what he perceived as the notion that everyone should just join the council's "love fest," or they were racist.
"Racism could be perceived as carving out our community, a diverse community, and then carving in seven ultra-rich, ultra-white developments, essentially re-segregating 199," he said.
"If you allow them to sell this story without checking the facts, that could be considered racism," Ramsay added.
However, a small minority of people present at the meeting praised the CEC's plan and its initiative.
"You’ll hear the complaints... what you won’t hear is from the thousands of children who will benefit in the future, many of whom haven’t even been born," said Clara Hemphill, the founding editor of Inside Schools, a citywide guide to public schools.
The CEC also heard from many P.S. 452 parents who opposed the proposal to move their small West 77th Street school to a building that will be vacated on West 61st Street so that it can grow.
Not all parents oppose the move, and the school's leadership has spoken in favor of it.
Noah Gotbaum was the lone CEC member who said he was not in favor of the council's proposed plan and said he could relate to parents who felt "blindsided" by it. Gotbaum opposes moving P.S. 452 and said the current plan doesn't go far enough in addressing district-wide segregation.
The DOE is slated to present its final draft plan on Nov. 3.