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How NYC Department of Education Is Thwarting School Choice – And Integration

Mayor Bill De Blasio, multiple members of the City Council, and Chancellor Richard Carranza insist there is only one action which will solve all of New York City’s school woes —including over 50 percent of students performing below grade level, dismal college readiness rates, and more. That action is: Integration.

You see, all of these politicians really, really, really wanted their own children to attend integrated schools. But they just couldn’t figure out how to make that happen, and were (presumably) forced to send them to high-scoring, high-income, non-diverse schools. 

But, don’t worry, they’re working night and day to make sure such a horror doesn’t befall you and your children.

To that end, the Mayor’s bumbling mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented NYC with a golden opportunity. Despite Hizzoner’s flinging of the most horrible epithet in his arsenal – privileged – towards those who would dare abandon his impeccably run public schools or his flawlessly governed city, many families appear to have done precisely that. Enrollment is down at some of the most coveted NYC public schools by as much as 20 percent.

Do you realize what this means? Some of the highest performing schools in the city — the “good” schools that many complain are too rich and too white (who cares that they inevitably fail their neediest students, that’s not part of the approved narrative) — at long last have room to accept children from outside their catchment zone!

Integration activists have been demanding this for years!

Kids trapped in schools where only a handful are performing at grade level and where roaches infest the gym (all NYC schools are equal, but some NYC schools are more equal than others) can now transfer to a more highly resourced institution. (If a school is higher performing, it must be because they have better teachers, administrators and facilities. What else could it possibly be?) What a victory for both school choice and integration!

Traditionally, NYC school registration has closed on October 31. Yet, surely, in an emergency like a global pandemic, the Department of Education will extend the deadline, understanding how families are struggling, and allowing as many as possible to take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance.

Instead, without a head’s up to anyone, on Monday, October 12 (a holiday), all waitlist numbers disappeared from the mySchools parent portal

Parents panicked. I leapt into action. On Tuesday, October 13, I reached out to my contact at the DOE, asking:

Parents are reporting that their waitlist position has disappeared from their MySchools account. Does this mean you are closing waitlists early this year? Is this because so many schools have lost students that you are trying to keep enrollment stable? Does it mean schools will not be able to accept transfers even if they have the room? What if a family moves?

That afternoon, I heard back:

The Waitlist has expired. It has been open since offers went out early in the spring. If families are still looking for placements they have to go through their nearest family welcome center. And the only transfers being accommodated at this time are safety and medical transfers.

I followed up:

So even if a school has space and is willing to accept the family, they won’t be allowed to enroll them?

On Wednesday, came the answer:

At this point schools should not be enrolling new students into the G&T program. Schools always have the ability to reach out to our office directly if there is some extenuating circumstance requiring a new admit.

I followed up:

Thank you so much for your answers. You said they shouldn’t be enrolling students into G&T, even if there’s room, but what about General Ed?

I got:

Families can still reach out to family welcome centers for placement.

I clarified:

Just to confirm: Families can reach out to family welcome centers for placement, but “the only transfers being accommodated at this time are safety and medical transfers?” So if a family just wants to switch schools without a safety or medical reason they won’t be allowed to, even if the school has room and is willing to take them?

My final response:

Those requests can still be submitted. The turnaround time for a response is not a priority.

Let me get this straight: After years of complaints that Gifted & Talented programs and high-performing schools are not diverse enough, when there is finally a feasibility to enroll students in schools they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, the DOE has decided to make the process “not a priority?”

Why would that be?

A little over a year ago, I wrote:

When students leave one school for another, their original school loses funding. This is the primary charge leveled against families who opt for charter schools…. Now Gifted & Talented programs have been tainted with the same money-grubbing brush. You’re taking away what’s rightfully ours, the self-proclaimed public school advocates cry!

Your child receiving an appropriate education is irrelevant. What really matters is how much they are literally worth to the school they *should* be going to, rather than the one you believe is best for them.

NAACP member Joette Spencer Campbell said it better than I ever could when she wrote a post entitled: Don’t Make Black Kids the New ‘Cotton’ That Funds Failing Public Schools.

Yet that seems to be exactly what NeQuan McLean, president of the District #16 education council (and SDAG member, though you wouldn’t know that from reading coverage of his comments), seems to be suggesting as he laments about the money zoned schools lose when a child leaves for a G&T program.

Zoned schools also lose money when a child leaves for another zoned school (or for an unzoned school, though critics are strangely silent when it comes to those).

A source told The New York Post, “Parents and principals are left in the dark about how the decreased enrollment will impact budgets. A 20 percent decline in enrollment could reduce a budget by half a million dollars at a time of already shrinking budgets.”

One way to keep budgets from shrinking is to prevent families from switching schools.

Even as DOE Deputy Press Secretary Katie O’Hanlon reassured, “We know that our families are facing many different circumstances and ultimately parents make the best decisions for their children,” her bosses are deliberately making it harder for parents to do precisely that.

What do you think?

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