Feb. 21, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The Department of Education has extended the timeline for a controversial plan to integrate and diversify the Queens public school district spanning from Forest Hills to Jamaica following heavy criticism from parents.
The DOE extended the planning process for the District 28 Diversity Plan through December 2020 and added additional meetings at every middle and elementary school in the public school district plus six public workshops.
While District 28 is diverse in its makeup, individual schools within the district do not indicate that, officials say. In fact, none of the District 28 schools are reflective of the district’s ethnic makeup, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.
The district’s 55 schools are segregated because admission is based on the geographic neighborhoods of each student — in the north are the affluent, mostly white neighborhoods of Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Rego Park; and in the south are the working class, mostly black and minority neighborhoods of Jamaica and Richmond Hill.
The DOE’s integration plan aims to fix that through community input. District 28 is one of five school districts (Districts 9, 13, 16, 28 and 31) across the city that is in the process of developing an integration plan.
The department announced the changes Wednesday in response to backlash it received from District 28 parents and elected officials who called the process opaque, confusing and insufficient.
In a Dec.12 letter to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi said the four initial engagement meetings for the plan weren’t enough to gain meaningful feedback from parents and families.
“We appreciate the Department of Educations’ statements regarding public engagement and community involvement, but real opportunities for our residents to be involved and engaged have simply not materialized to date,” he wrote.
The DOE will begin hosting meetings at every school within District 28 in March, followed by six public workshops beginning in May — as a result of the feedback.
Parents will have more time and opportunities to weigh in on the plan, which was initially set to wrap up in June. Final recommendations based on these meetings will now be completed in December, the DOE said.
From the recommendations, the DOE will develop the integration plan.
The department also released the names of the 20-person working group that will guide the integration plan process. Two months ago, parents started a petition demanding the DOE name the members who are charged with representing them. It garnered more than 1,400 signatures.
The DOE announced the changes just hours before the mayor hosted a high-tension town hall meeting at a District 28 school in Forest Hills.
At the town hall, a resident — and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors — asked Mayor Bill de Blasio why there is no Jewish representation on the working group when there is a large Jewish population in the northern part of School District 28.
“I feel like I’m living 40 years ago — 50 years ago,” she said. De Blasio guaranteed the oversight will be fixed.
The department is working with community leaders to expand the working group and bring in additional members, the DOE said in a press release Wednesday.
The District 28 diversity plan came up twice more at the town hall.
The president of the Community Education Council (CEC) for District 28, a parent body that advises school decisions, asked de Blasio if the whole plan could be wiped clean.
“Can we squash the whole plan, start all over and get the working group by the parents for the parents?” Vijah Ramjattan, the CEC president, asked.
Ramjattan took issue with the fact that the members of the advisory working group were not voted and elected to the group democratically by parents and were instead appointed to the group by the DOE.
“Let’s all vote as a community who we want to represent us,” Ramjattan said to cheers.
De Blasio said the current working group will not be scrapped, but new members will be added at the suggestion of the CEC and community leaders.
“I don’t want to say that the people who have already been named don’t have a place at the table, I want to add whatever additional people,” de Blasio said.
He said the integration plan would not move forward until it has the CEC’s approval and also emphasized that they would not being busing children to distant schools in order to diversify the district.
A third resident, a parent of biracial children who attend public schools in District 28, spoke out in favor of the integration plan and asked the mayor to “not allow the obstructionist groups to derail it.”
“My children have been repeatedly adultified in this district, harassed and disciplined over normal childhood behavior,” Atina Bazin said. “We live in New York City, one of the most segregated cities in the nation. I am supportive of a process that leads to real integration.”
De Blasio said he wants to see the district diversified but that the plan must have community buy-in to succeed.
Studies have shown that diversity in schools lead to greater academic success and longtime benefits for students and segregation among schools perpetuates inequality, advocates say.