Maya Ruben, an Upper West Sider and the parent of a child at P.S. 452, choked up at a District 3 Community Education Council meeting while imploring the CEC not to relocate her school.
“Keeping P.S. 452 on 77th Street would be the least disruptive option for everyone in district 3,” she said. “I urge stakeholders to remember that people have made an active choice to be in this neighborhood. Please don’t rip it apart.”
The issue at hand was a controversial rezoning of overcrowded Upper West Side schools proposed by the Department of Education, that they plan to put into effect for the 2017-2018 school year pending approval. Two proposals for the rezoning were revealed at a meeting on July 14: In Scenario A, a new elementary school would be created where P.S. 191 currently stands at W. 61st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and P.S. 452 would stay put. P.S. 191 would be moved into a vacant building a block to the west of where it is now. In Scenario B, the one that has caused a community uproar, P.S. 452 would move to P.S. 191’s current building 16 blocks further downtown, and P.S. 191 would move into the vacant building. It is unclear what will be done with the William J. O’Shea building that houses P.S. 452 should the latter scenario be approved.
Underlying the months-long discussion of Upper West Side overcrowding is the fact that the area’s schools are also some of the most segregated in the city, and the question of how much either one of the proposed scenarios will benefit non-white students at the upper and lower ends of the district. “I just can’t understand how this would be acceptable to the DOE or to the CEC to make policy and spaces where fundamentally only people who have a large amount of access and a large sense of entitlement are participating in the discussion,” a white community member said. “It’s your job … to include people.” The audience of approximately 80 people at last week’s meeting was overwhelmingly white, though the effects of whatever decision is made will certainly reverberate through the entire district, which stretches from W. 59th to W. 116th Street to the west of Morningside Park.
Several members of the Public School Parents for School Equity and Desegregation group circulated a pamphlet at the meeting stating a number of principles they hope CEC 3 will adopt. “Equitable admissions policies must apply to everyone, without allowing ‘workarounds’ that exempt privileged families,” it read. Scenario B redraws 11 school zones covering the entire district, which some see as a benefit because doing so could lead to improvements and more integration in all District 3 schools. Scenario A is less complex and would only disturb seven school zones up to W. 90th Street.
One parent who was opposed to moving P.S. 452 (by less than a mile) went so far as to suggest that doing so would cause student obesity. “If you move a school as far from children as you’re proposing with 452, almost none of them will walk,” he said. “We’re hearing about all these unquantified advantages of moving 452 … I don’t see how you can throw that at us with this enormous downside of a commute of up to a mile long staring us in the face without addressing it.” The resident went on to say that he doesn’t think the CEC should approve either of the potential rezoning plans, but especially not Scenario B.
When the DOE announced it would be rezoning District 3 in some form almost a year ago, reactions were largely negative and many parents demanded that the school zones they purposefully chose to live in be kept intact. Now, however, as more attention is paid to drastic school segregation throughout the city, more voices are speaking up in favor of any plan that will alleviate the situation. “I want to commend the CEC and the zoning committee for tackling the segregation in the southern part of the district,” said a community member who specified that she is not affiliated with any of the schools involved but has been paying close attention to this matter. “I think the moving of 452 to allow a good principal to expand his school and his enrollment in a comfortable building and at the same time allow for the northern part of the district to start to have their needs addressed, too, personally makes me in favor of the proposal that moves 452.”
CEC 3 will vote on the proposed scenarios some time this fall.