City Council says all NYC school districts must develop integration plans

Every New York City school district that doesn’t already have an integration plan in the works will be tasked with creating one, under a bill the City Council approved Thursday.

This work is already happening in certain places, such as Manhattan’s District 1 and 3 and Brooklyn’s District 15, where controversial admissions changes have shown some promise in integrating student bodies. Five other districts are developing their own diversity plans using $200,000 grants from the education department. 

It’s unclear how each working group would fund their efforts, though the bill says the city can lend the groups administrative support.

Before the vote, bill sponsor Councilwoman Carlina Rivera of Lower Manhattan told reporters that her legislation creates an inclusive process for a school system that “is failing to provide equitable education for all New Yorkers.” 

Under Rivera’s bill, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to create a “diversity working group” in every district that doesn’t already have one. The mayor must appoint at least 13 people to each group, consisting of students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and advocates. Each group can also choose to partner with a community-based organization, as long as it comes from a list pre-approved by the mayor. 

These panels will operate separately from the Mayor’s School Diversity Advisory group, which recently recommended dozens of changes to help desegregate the school system such as phasing out gifted and talented classes.

Within two years of a group’s creation, its members would have to publish an integration plan that tackles such issues as admission policies, language access, and transportation, and send their recommendations to the mayor, the schools chancellor, and the speaker of the City Council. 

“Our students thrive in diverse learning environments, and we thank the Council for their partnership in developing this important, community-driven work,” education department spokesperson Miranda Barbot said in a statement. 

The task of creating these groups could be passed to whoever succeeds de Blasio, whose term ends in January 2022. Every working group must be created by 2024, the bill says.

The legislation passed the same day the city released preliminary enrollment data for Brooklyn District 15, where a middle school integration plan is in its  first year. Eight of its 11 middle schools met targets of having 40 to 75% of its students from low-income families, learning English as a new language, or living in temporary housing — up from just three schools last year. 

Districts that already have a plan or are in the process of creating one would not be required to create a working group but would have to provide their plan and recommendations to the City Council, the bill states. 

Rivera’s plan “goes a long way to say, ‘Hey, let’s give power to the people,’” said David E. Kirkland, executive director of NYU Metro Center and a member of the city’s School Diversity Advisory Group. He said the bill is an important start in giving school communities a voice in spurring integration, but also said it falls short of actually overseeing the implementation of a plan and ensuring that it stays intact.

“Achievement seems to me to be the lowest bar,” Kirkland said. “The question after achievement is, how do we maintain that? We haven’t done a good job in this country of maintaining integration.” 

Rivera’s bill was passed along with a slate of school diversity bills: 

  • A bill from Councilman Brad Lander will require the education department to report more detailed student demographic data and provide a side-by-side comparison of how each school’s demographics match up to its surrounding district and the whole city. 
  • Councilman Mark Treyger, who also oversees the city’s education committee, sponsored a bill that will require education officials to publish an annual report on the demographics of teachers and other schools staff, such as administrators and paraprofessionals. Those reports, which must be posted online, must include gender, race, length of employment at the school, and years of experience in that position. 
  • Public Advocate Jumaane Williams pitched a bill that will make permanent the city’s mayoraly appointed School Diversity Advisory Group, and would add to it members appointed by the Public Advocate and the City Council Speaker’s office. Starting in 2021 and annually after that, the group would have to write a report reviewing integration efforts by the education department and provide any recommendations. They’ll also be required to hold at least one public hearing in each borough annually.