Give Mayor de Blasio credit for establishing universal pre-K and expanding it to 3-K. No doubt those programs are giving thousands of children an educational foundation they otherwise would not have while providing great relief to working parents.
But when you get beyond nursery school, the mayor’s educational policies are divisive disasters: think of the attacks on the “elite eight” high schools and the Success Academy charter system, or the failed Renewal Schools program. The latest victims of his misguided experiments in social engineering are the children and families of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Briarwood, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and Jamaica: the people of School District 28.
As usual with de Blasio and his lieutenants, the goal appears a noble one: in this case to increase diversity in middle schools and reduce New York’s notoriously high levels of de facto segregation. But as always, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Who wants to send their preteen child to a school that might be several miles away on public buses? That’s just one reason the project, only just launched, is already causing mass consternation.
A meeting on the integration plan held last Thursday in Jamaica drew far more people than the room set aside for it could take, leaving scores of parents and other interested parties locked out. You would think the Department of Education, knowing how contentious an issue such as sending young children to school outside their own neighborhoods is for parents, would have set aside a bigger space for the meeting. Was the room chosen on purpose to minimize the voice of the public? Or was it just incompetence on the part of a department and mayoral administration that display plenty of it? We find it impossible to say.
The administration also is keeping private the identities of those people charged with actually approving an integration plan: a “working group” that had met the night before the public event. A city consultant said the members’ names would not be disclosed due to “privacy issues,” and the DOE ignored emails asking for more information about the group. The names of members of the district’s Community Education Council are public. So are those on all community boards and their committees, not to mention every legislative body from the City Council to the U.S. Senate. And yet this group, charged with making decisions that could upend the lives of thousands of people, is in some kind of protected class. Is this supposed to enhance the trust and cooperation of parents in District 28? It’s done just the opposite.
In a perfect world, perhaps the schools would be more diverse than they are. But it’s not as if they got that way through some kind of state segregation policy. People live where they live, generally without facing the kind of racist real estate redlining of decades past. Forest Hills has been a largely Jewish community for generations. Jamaica has been predominately African American for a long time also. But neither area is solely made up of one ethnic or religious group, and demographics change over time all on their own — look how strong the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean community has become in Richmond Hill, for just one example.
District 28 won a $200,000 grant to come up with a plan to diversify its middle schools. Parents are right to be worried that not only will their kids be forced to spend hours commuting to new schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods if some kind of diversity plan is approved but that their education will suffer, not improve, as a result. And it would be divisive, amounting to forced busing, just without the buses.
Queens is proudly the most diverse large county in the United States. We don’t need any mandates along such lines.