PS 133 William A. Butler School   |    610 Baltic Street Brooklyn, NY 11217   |   p. (718) 398-5320    |   f. (718) 398-5325
 

Dear Families —

Councilmember Ritchie Torres and I are pleased to invite you to a New York City Council Education Committee’s oversight hearing on “Diversity in New York City Schools:”

Date:               Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Time:               1 pm (DOE will testify first; public testimony likely to begin around 2 pm)

Location:         Council Chambers – City Hall

This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”), the third-annual “School Diversity Accountability Act” report (just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced plan for District 1 and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools.

After that — and just as important — the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools. (We’re sorry that it’s during the school/work day. We would be glad to write notes to principal/teachers/supervisors, asking that they allow students, teachers, or employees to testify).

This hearing builds on critical work that many of you have been doing throughout the city. In 2014 — in the wake of the UCLA report that woke New Yorkers up to the fact that our schools are among the most segregated in the country — many of you testified about your work at the City Council’s first hearing on school segregation in recent decades. That hearing led the two of us to pass the School Diversity Accountability Act in 2015 calling on the DOE to prioritize diversity in policy- and decision-making processes, and to issue an yearly report to the Council with annual statistics, plans for progress, and ways to measure it.

Since that first hearing, your organizing has grown dramatically. The Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation (ASID) has come together as a citywide network of activists working on the ground and educators bringing a pedagogical and critical eye. IntegrateNYC4Me, the student wing of the school integration movement, has blossomed into one of the most inspiring efforts we’ve seen in the city. In Districts 1, 3, 13, 15, and 17, in individual schools, through PTAs, SLTs, CECs, and independent groups, parents and activists have pushed hard for change.

As a result of this organizing (and of some great journalism and research, too), we have started to see steps forward. The DOE’s “Diversity in Admissions” program has grown to 21 schools (four years ago, DOE lawyers argued against doing it at all). Rezoning processes on the Upper West Side, in Brooklyn Heights, for PS 133 in Park Slope, and for PS 130 in Windsor Terrace/Kensington have included school diversity as an important factor. After many years of tireless organizing by parents and the Community Education Council in District 1 in Lower Manhattan, and some grueling negotiations, the DOE and the CEC just announced the launch of the first district-wide “Diversity in Admissions” pilot program in NYC, adopting a “controlled choice” approach.

This past spring, the Department of Education finally issued a plan for addressing the issue in a broader way: Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools. Many of you criticized that plan as not ambitious enough, and we agree. We were particularly troubled that it did not even include the words “segregation” or “integration.” We will surely not solve a problem we cannot even name. As James Baldwin wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

But the plan contains real signs of progress, and we believe it is a real opportunity. The setting of concrete targets — increasing the number of students in integrated school by 50,000, and reducing the number of economically stratified schools by 10% (150 schools) — is a bona-fide breakthrough. We are not aware of any other big city that has voluntarily set such goals. We’re eager to hear more about the School Diversity Advisory Group, and the commitment to end some — though far from all — of the admissions policies that institutionalize discrimination.

We are mindful that the work of integration is not just about admissions policies. It requires culturally-responsive education, where students see themselves represented on the teaching staff and in the curriculum. It requires thoughtful approaches to talking honestly about race, and building community across lines of difference. We’re eager to hear what is working (and not working) in your schools.

Please reach out to Annie Levers in my office at alevers@council.nyc.gov if you would like to provide testimony at the hearing (and if you need a note to a principal or a supervisor to do so). If you are not able to attend in person, you can submit written testimony to alevers@council.nyc.gov, or tune in live on the Council’s website. After the hearing, a full video,  transcript and copies of the testimony will be made available at the above site.

None of this would have happened without the insistent activism of students and teachers, parents and public officials, all with an eye toward recapturing the spirit of Brown vs. Board of Education: segregated schools cannot teach inclusive democracy.

We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re grateful to be on this path with you.

City Council Members Brad Lander & Ritchie Torres