speaking of segregation

On Upper West Side, Fariña says school integration can’t be forced on parents

Stepping into a charged debate over school segregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Wednesday that while diversity benefits all students, integration should not be forced on families.

In one of her most extensive public discussions of the issue, Fariña explained that she had sought out diverse schools for her own children. But as schools chief, she said she believes that creating schools with a wide mix of students is more the job of individual schools and parents than the city, since not all families place the same value on diversity.

“What I believe in and what I can convince other people to believe in are not necessarily the same thing,” she told the capacity crowd at a forum at P.S. 191 on West 61st Street. Developing diverse schools, she added, is a complicated process that “needs to be planned for, it needs to be accepted, and it needs to be carefully thought out.”

Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have increasingly been called upon to address the city’s deeply entrenched school segregation by parents and advocates who point to the mayor’s vow to reign in inequality. In response, both officials have sought to embrace diversity without endorsing changes to enrollment or zoning policies that could potentially drive middle-class families out of the school system.

Despite those efforts, Fariña faces that exact scenario at P.S. 191, a low-performing school that serves mostly poor students of color from an adjacent public-housing complex.

The city has proposed sending the school some wealthier students who would have attended P.S. 199, a high-flying school just blocks away that is severely overcrowded. Some 199 parents have responded to the plan by threatening to flee the district, while others have called for a solution that directly confronts the race and class segregation at both schools.

Fariña displayed little sympathy for parents seeking to keep hold of their 199 seats at all costs, saying that overcrowding will only be solved through “hard decisions,” not “fairy dust.” But she also declined to get behind alternative zoning proposals floated by parents, which they say would alleviate overcrowding while also doing more to integrate both schools.

When asked directly how the administration is working to increase school diversity, she suggested that community resistance — like that on display at 199 — is a major concern. Any effort to “impose it from the outside” would require buy-in from parents, she said.

“Parents make choices,” she told the crowd. “When you have choice, then parents have to decide what’s their biggest priority.”

Fariña recited many points about school diversity that she has made before.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña fielded several questions about school diversity at a town hall meeting Wednesday on the Upper West Side.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña fielded several questions about school diversity at a town hall meeting Wednesday on the Upper West Side.

She argued that it should extend beyond race and class to include students with disabilities and those still learning English. And she insisted that integration can happen school-by-school, using dual-language programs and school tours to attract more middle-class parents without the need for system-wide policy changes.

“It’s something I’m encouraging schools around the city to do,” she said.

In fact, P.S. 191 has tried to woo more middle-class parents through tours and partnership with local cultural centers, but many remain deeply skeptical of the school because of its below-average test scores and a “persistently dangerous” designation it recently received from the state.

Fariña also suggested that an alternative to integrating schools is having them form “sister school” partnerships, such as the one between the Upper West Side’s affluent P.S. 87 and a low-income school in the South Bronx. She has touted that partnership before, saying P.S. 87 shares a percentage of its vast parent-association funds with the Bronx school and that students write and sometimes visit one another, according to DNAinfo New York, which reported that some P.S. 87 parents said the partnership was not as extensive as Fariña indicated.

Ana Guillermo, a P.S. 199 parent who asked Fariña what she was doing to address school segregation in the Upper West Side and across the city, said she was not satisfied “at all” with the response.

“She didn’t answer the question, actually,” Guillermo said, adding that the administration needs a clear plan to tackle segregation. “We live in a multicultural city, but the schools are not integrated.”

Fariña left after the forum, and members of the District 3 Community Education Council stayed for several more hours to discuss the rezoning.

Most of the council’s elected parent leaders said they do not support the proposed rezoning, which would shrink 199’s catchment area and expand those around 191 and P.S. 452, a newer school to the north. But many also raised questions about the feasibility of alternative plans.

One much-discussed plan would create a single “super zone” for both 191 and 199, allowing families to apply to either school. But several council members said that skirts the problem that many parents could still refuse to apply or send their children to 191.

“There is nothing the DOE or CEC can do to force families to go to 191,” said CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso. “It makes me so uncomfortable and disappointed to say, but it’s a reality that we cannot ignore.”

A more radical plan would divide students by grade between 191, 199, and P.S. 342, a school that is set to open in 2018. All local students would attend each school for a few grades, which would presumably make the schools equally diverse.

Asked about that plan, Fariña said it raised logistical concerns, such as which teachers would be held accountable for students’ test scores.

By the end of the meeting, the discussion had turned to the possibility of delaying the vote on the city’s final proposal, currently scheduled for next month. District Superintendent Ilene Altschul cautioned that unless some families are removed from 199’s zone, its kindergarten waitlist could reach 125 students next year.

At one point in the discussion, Noah Gotbaum, a council member who has promoted the super zone plan, said “there is an elephant in the room that isn’t being discussed.”

“For us to look at this issue,” he said, “and to pretend that segregation is not the major cause of overcrowding at 199 and under-enrollment at 191 is a fantasy.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.