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Education department officials took questions from parents regarding plans to integrate middle schools at a Community Education Council District 28 meeting in December 2019.

Education department officials took questions from parents regarding plans to integrate middle schools at a Community Education Council District 28 meeting in December 2019.

Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat

Facing backlash, Queens middle school integration plans are tweaked

Answering intense criticism from parents, the education department on Wednesday announced changes to the process that officials hope will lead to a middle school integration plan in Queens District 28.

The process will now take six months longer than originally anticipated, wrapping up in December 2020. It will also entail more public meetings — including one at every district elementary and middle school. 

Additionally, the city released the names of members of the working group that will guide decision-making for any final plans. Group members had previously  been identified only by position or affiliation with local schools and organizations, a point that critics used to blast the effort as shrouded in secrecy. 

“This process’s success is dependent on hearing viewpoints from every corner of the district, mutual trust, transparency and clarity, and we are committed to responding to the requests we’ve received,” education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon wrote in an emailed statement. 

The changes were announced just hours before Mayor Bill de Blasio was scheduled to appear at a town hall meeting in one of the district’s middle schools.

District 28 received a grant from the education department to launch a community engagement process, with the public’s feedback used as the foundation for integration plan for the area’s middle schools. Though the Queens district enrolls a diverse group of students, not a single middle school reflects the local demographics. 

Through the grant, the district contracted with WXY Studio, the urban planning firm that led widely heralded public forums in Brooklyn. That process helped lead to a sweeping middle school integration plan in District 15, which spans brownstone neighborhoods, including Park Slope, and working-class immigrant enclaves, such as Sunset Park. 

But the process in District 28 has been far more contentious, with parents flooding public meetings in protest.

Now the city is pledging to add more members to the Queens working group. Parents had noted that the area’s vast Jewish community was not represented in the working group, a criticism that was leveled at the mayor at Wednesday night’s town hall. He pledged to change that.

“I guarantee it,” he said. “Of course there needs to be representation.”

The changes didn’t seem to go far enough for some. At the town hall, Vijah Ramjattan — president of the local Community Education Council, a parent body that oversees school issues — called for a complete do-over. He took issue with the working group being made up of unelected members.

“Can we squash the whole plan, start all over, and get a working group by the parents, for the parents,” he asked. “Let’s all vote as a community who we want to represent us.” 

De Blasio assured the crowd that any changes would only move forward with support from the community, and tried to quell fears that students would be bused across long distances to integrate schools

“School busing, to me, is not the way to get it done,” he said. “We want a great education for our kids. We don’t want our kids traveling crazy distances.”  

A spokeswoman for the education department said planning will kick off with school-level meetings prior to hosting six district-wide workshops, which will begin in May. 

Below is the list of working group members that the education department shared Wednesday. 

  •         Mohamed Q. Amin, founder and executive director of Caribbean Equality Project
  •         Oswald Araujo, director of Beacon Services at Queens Community House
  •         Stephanie Barreto-Lastra, community affairs borough manager, Division of Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communication of the NYC Department of Education
  •         Sadio Comrie, teacher at Redwood Middle School
  •         Simone Dornbach, PTA co-president at The Academy for Excellence through the Arts PS 303
  •         Merari Gallimore, PTA president of PS 80 Thurgood Marshall Magnet School of Multimedia and Communication
  •         Shavvone Jackson, PTA recording secretary, SLT member, and Title 1 board member for Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School
  •         Mohammed Enamul Karim, parent at PS 182 Samantha Smith
  •         Venus Ketcham, community leader in Southeast Queens and parent at JHS 217 Robert Van Wyck
  •         Seiw Kong, District 28 acting superintendent
  •         Karin Marroquin, parent leader at the Queens School for Leadership and Excellence PS 349
  •         Maureen McTigue, teacher at PS 117 J Keld Briarwood School
  •         Patricia Mitchell, principal of PS 48 William Wordsworth
  •         Shernette Pink, program manager at Queens Youth Justice Center
  •         Howard Pollack, Community Education Council District 28 member, PS 196 parent/teacher leadership team member
  •         Vincent Suraci, principal of JHS 157 Stephen Halsey
  •         Mazeda Uddin, director of South Asian Fund for Education Scholarship Training
  •         Stella Xu, education committee chairperson for Forest Hills Asian Association
  •         Student – JHS 8 New Prep
  •         Student – JHS 190 Russell Sage