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Playing Musical Chairs to Promote Diversity and Avoid Integration

June 20, 2016

Yesterday I wrote a post on Nikole Hannah-Jones excellent article on the sad state of segregation in NYC schools, an article that described a situation in Brooklyn where an under crowded school serving poor and black students was going to open its doors to mostly affluent white children who attended a nearby neighborhood school that was overcrowded. The parents affected by this transfer protested the proposed boundary realignment for a host of reasons that sounded high-minded but came down to this: I don’t want my child mixing with those children from the projects.

Last week’s NYTimes offered an article that illustrates that this parental attitude is not limited to Brooklyn. In “A Game of Musical Chairs Played With Schools Divides the Upper West Side”, Kate Taylor describes a similar issue in Manhattan where children in an overcrowded school (PS 199) were proposed to attend an under-crowded school (PS 191) in a nearby neighborhood. The problem with the under crowded school?

….most of the children at the other school, P.S. 191, are poor, and black or Hispanic. P.S. 191 has much lower test scores, and last year, the state labeled the school persistently dangerous, though many of its supporters argued that this was a mistake.

The NYC school district, though, came up with a creative workaround!

Now, instead of a simple solution, the department is considering a convoluted one that amounts to an educational game of musical chairs: First, P.S. 191 would move a block west, taking over a building under construction that was originally intended for a new school. The hope is that the move would provide a symbolic fresh start for P.S. 191 and that the gleaming campus would make it more appealing to the families moved there. Then, another school on the Upper West Side, P.S. 452, which shares a building with two other schools, would move into P.S. 191’s current home, giving it room to grow. The school that had been envisioned for the new building would not open.

Unsurprisingly, the parents of PS 452 were not happy with this proposal. Why?

P.S. 191’s building is across the street from a public housing complex, where many of its students live. If P.S. 452 moved into that building, its new attendance zone would probably include part of the complex.

Parents opposed to the move have had to defend themselves against the suggestion that they oppose a change to the school’s demographics.

“The thing is, I really do believe in integration; I really do think every child that goes to public school deserves a good education and deserves to be safe and stable and all of those things,” Sara Roucloux, a member of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 452, said.

Here’s what is particularly distressing: if students from PS 191 attended school with the students from either PS 199 or PS 452 all the students would benefit, especially the ones from PS 191 because their test scores would undoubtedly rise and those safety issues would assuredly disappear. Here’s hoping the city can find a resolution that benefits all the children on the Upper West Side.

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