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Schools could bend rules through PROSE to boost diversity, officials suggest

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña at P.S. 206.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña at P.S. 206.

Jessica Glazer

After signing off on a few groundbreaking school-diversity plans last fall, New York City officials have signaled that they will consider letting more schools make such changes.

Several schools are now eyeing the city’s PROSE program — which gives schools some freedom from union contract rules and city regulations — as a way to change their admissions rules in order to boost diversity. In a shift, the education department has said it will consider diversity-oriented plans in the round of PROSE applications due this month, after it had previously rejected schools’ proposals to adopt new admissions rules through that program.

This follows the city’s announcement in November that it would allow seven elementary schools to set aside seats at their schools for students who meet certain criteria, like being from low-income families. After that pilot program was announced, PROSE staffers convened a meeting of interested schools to discuss how they might make similar changes.

“We look forward to reviewing all of the exciting and innovative ideas schools propose through PROSE — including possible admissions changes to foster diversity,” spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the teachers union is offering small grants to PROSE schools that want to explore diversity plans. For instance, the specialized Brooklyn Latin School in Williamsburg sought a grant to help fund recruiting efforts aimed at middle schools where few students have traditionally applied to the most competitive schools.

Other PROSE schools in gentrifying neighborhoods want to adopt policies that will help them maintain a mix of students from different backgrounds even as more middle-class families seek to enroll their children.

“People feel as if we have a window of opportunity,” said Tina Collins, a United Federation of Teachers official who helps run PROSE, “that the schools are interested in addressing before that opportunity closes.”

The number of affected schools is still likely to be small.

An education department newsletter to PROSE schools from December said that the pilot program had “opened the door” for 10 PROSE schools to pursue admissions changes. A department spokesman said that figure includes five schools already in the pilot program — meaning the number of schools with permission to carry out diverse-enrollment plans could increase from seven to 12.

Schools in the original pilot program, announced in November, will be able to set aside a portion of their pre-K and kindergarten seats for low-income students, non-native English speakers, and students involved in the child-welfare system.

Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan, for one, will reserve 60 percent of its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten seats for students from low-income families, and another 10 percent of seats for students with an incarcerated family member. The school had proposed that 10 percent set-aside during the first round of PROSE, but it was not approved.

“I think it makes a lot of sense for us to go back and think about how can we spread it further,” said Julie Zuckerman, principal of Castle Bridge. “Because seven out of 1,700 schools is ridiculous.”

A joint panel of education department, teachers union, and principals union representatives must sign off on any PROSE plans, and 65 percent of each school’s staff must also vote in favor of the plans.