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Responding to the Assault on District 3 Schools

A version of this column, issued on behalf of the Center for Immigrant Families, originally appeared in the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario. CIF is a social justice community organization of low-income immigrant women of color and other community members in Manhattan.

Community School District 3, which runs along the West Side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 122nd Street, is one of the most diverse school districts in New York City and is also one of the most segregated and unequal. There is careful documentation of unfair and inequitable admissions policies and programs within many of our district’s public schools, which have contributed to the continuation of de facto segregation in our district; some of our schools have a majority of white, affluent students, and others are mostly low-income children of color. There is an unspoken divide between schools in the southern and northern parts of the district.

The federal magnet grant that District 3 recently won is supposed to address this reality. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s press release, districts that get magnet grants receive $11 million intended to, among other goals, “eliminate, reduce, or prevent minority group isolation in elementary and secondary schools with substantial proportions of minority students.”

District 3 has also been the location of much controversy and public attention, as Eva Moskowitz has been on the lookout for a site in the northern part of District 3 for the expansion of her charter network, Harlem Success Academy. Moskowitz first tried to locate Harlem Success 4 at P.S. 145 (located on 105th Street), but was met with strong opposition from parents and community members. Then, apparently, she was looking at P.S. 165 (on 109th street). When Moskowitz pulled out of P.S. 145 as a possible location, the DOE already had a “proposal” in place to co-locate another District 3 public school there and move that school from their current home.

Despite all the closed-door meetings taking place, what is clear is that the DOE has been planning to co-locate, reorganize, and shuffle around particular schools in our district. At no time have these plans grown out of a community process that has responded to, and taken into account the needs and views of the schools being targeted or the community as a whole. Parents refuse to accept that they will have no voice in the future of their children’s education.

Both P.S. 145 and P.S 165 are two wonderful and inclusive community schools that serve a wide range of students, including English language learners and children with special needs. They are real community institutions. The DOE should be looking at P.S. 145 and P.S. 165 as models of schools that reflect and serve the community and should do what it can to enable them to flourish.

If there is a true commitment to addressing inequity and segregation in our district, then we have to investigate and rethink several things:

  1. the zone lines — how they are drawn, who is benefiting from them as they now stand, the purpose they serve, and whether they should be eliminated;
  2. how decisions are made about which schools get created and which schools get relocated and co-located, and whose interests are being served;
  3. the inequitable admissions processes and who has or does not have access to many of our schools;
  4. the creation of programs and policies that serve and privilege largely white and middle/upper class families; and
  5. why some schools are so seriously under-resourced in comparison to others.

The DOE must stop imposing decisions on our schools and communities. We need to be full partners in decisions impacting our children’s education. We will defend our community schools and our children’s right to a decent and equitable education.

We will continue to work for a just public education system that serves and respects all communities.

Ujju Aggarwal and Donna Nevel are collective members of the Center for Immigrant Families.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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