By Christina Veiga, Chalkbeat
PARK SLOPE/CARROLL GARDEN/RED HOOK – The education department on Tuesday unveiled a proposal for redrawing elementary school zone lines to relieve overcrowding and encourage integration in Brooklyn’s District 15.
Along with a map of the potential changes, though, came suggestions that a decision could be delayed so that a more diverse group of families could weigh in on how to redraw attendance boundaries for seven area schools.
“We have certainly been making efforts to reach out to people but I don’t think that anybody in this room would say this room fully represents what District 15 has to offer,” Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark said, noting that the original timeline for moving forward in the 2020-21 school year could change.
District 15 includes the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook. There are two scenarios on the table that would affect schools across this uniquely diverse corner of northwest corner of Brooklyn.
The first proposal would redraw zone lines, shrinking the boundaries at some sought-after schools, such as P.S. 29 and P.S. 58. Some students currently expected to attend P.S. 58 would instead be zoned for P.S. 15 in Red Hook or P.S. 32 in Carroll Gardens, according to the map presented at Tuesday’s meeting. And a portion of students currently zoned for P.S. 29 would be split among P.S. 15, P.S. 32, and P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill. For P.S. 38, the zone would expand to include students currently slated to attend P.S. 261.
The attendance boundary for P.S. 676 The Red Hook Neighborhood School, which has long struggled to attract students, would remain the same.
The second proposal would remove zone lines from all seven schools, moving instead to a lottery system.
Ultimately, it’s up to the education department to propose changes to zone lines, and to the local Community Education Council to vote on the city’s plan.
In both proposals currently being considered, an admissions priority would be given for up to 35% of seats for students who are homeless, learning English as a new language, or qualify for reduced-price lunch. That could help create more economic and racial diversity, and ensure schools enroll more equal shares of students who often need more support to thrive academically.
Parents who gathered Tuesday at P.S. 32 to learn about the proposals raised questions about the potential of having to travel long distances with young children in tow — or having to depend on the city’s notoriously unreliable school buses. Another recurring theme: whether affluent families would simply leave the public system if they lost access to coveted schools. P.S. 29 and P.S. 58 are in some of the most sought-after Brooklyn zip codes, and enrollment in those schools is about 74% white.
“The actual stakes in this fight are: Do people stay?” asked one father. “Things like busing are, I think, no question, a way to decrease the number of students in the district.”
Others in attendance worried the plans don’t go far enough to meet the city’s goal of a fairer school system.
Of particular concern is P.S. 676, which has seen its enrollment dwindle — there were about 120 students last year — but would not receive more students under the proposed redrawn zone lines. Education department officials have said the school needs to improve before it can attract more families. To that end, many have credited the principal there with making notable strides.
But some in the Red Hook community have said the city’s plan to keep P.S. 676’s zone lines in tact puts the burden on families of color to integrate into mostly white, affluent school communities. Last year, only two students at the school were white, and most students come from the surrounding public housing complex.
Goldmark suggested the city would listen to feedback if parents feel like additional time is needed to make sure more families know about the proposals and have had their say.
“We will be listening to voices not just in terms of the number of people who are in the room tonight, but we need to make sure that we’re hearing from every community,” Goldmark said.
Doing more parent engagement could help lead to a new rezoning option, some council members and parents said. The education department had originally planned to present its final proposal in early fall.
Delaying a decision could present a challenge for P.S. 32, which is slated to open an addition with room for another 400 children next school year. On the other hand, Red Hook activists have pointed out that P.S. 676 has had a glut of space for years, and have accused the education department of not sharing a similar urgency around filling it.
District 15 council President Camille Casaretti advocated for a temporary rezoning for the next year, coupled with more community outreach to possibly come up with other options.
“Community members are asking for more time — and we know there are repercussions to waiting,” Casaretti said. “If we delay, our overcrowded and underutilized schools are going to be left to struggle for another year while our goal of equity also gets pushed to the side.”
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.