Public school parents rally to challenge mayor/DOE commitment to diversity

12/14/2017, 1:55 p.m.
A group of parents, an elected official and public high school students gathered at City Hall last week to challenge ...
Classroom at Mott Haven Academy Charter School Cyril Josh Barker

A group of parents, an elected official and public high school students gathered at City Hall last week to challenge the mayor. The challenge? Proof of his and the Department of Education’s commitment to diversity.

Fifty parents from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, New York City Council Member Brad Lander, students and allies rallied to call out the mayor and his administration’s failure to start its promised cultural competency trainings for school staff and the lack of curriculum and course offerings focusing on the cultural backgrounds of city students.

“I asked two of my daughters, who are now in college, ‘During K-12th grades, did you learn about your culture or your classmates’ culture?’” said Maria Gil, a parent and member of Make The Road New York. “They responded in saying, ‘We didn’t learn anything about that in school. What we learned, we learned from home, TV or our own research.’ This means that students can graduate from high school without knowing anything about their culture.”

The coalition referred to the mayor’s diversity plan as “shortsighted,” saying school diversity can’t be limited to just moving students around to different schools. To them, it has to include a diverse school staff and curriculum and cultural competency training for all staff.

“I was bussed to a predominantly white school as a child and often felt isolated,” stated Chevion Weeks-Lopez, a Queens-based parent of a public school student. “One of the things that would have helped me is having more teachers of color. I didn’t have enough support. And there are many students today who still have this experience in their schools.”

Felicia Alexander, a public school parent and NYC Coalition for Education Justice member, said that access to advanced placement courses is fine, but the curriculum still needs to be changed.

“The Department of Education says they are making progress on diversity because of initiatives like AP for All, which raises the number of students of color who have access to Advanced Placement courses,” said Alexander in a statement. “Yet increasing students’ access to G&T and AP courses is not the same as diversifying the curriculum. The need for programs like AP for All is the DOE’s attempt to correct historic bias in assignment of students to advanced courses, and proves that bias has played a large part in the way the school system currently operates.”

Despite the racial and ethnic diversity of New York City, its public school system remains one of the most segregated in the country. This summer, the de Blasio administration announced its goal to increase the number of students attending schools that reflect the city’s racial demographics by 50,000 and decrease the number of schools whose students were isolated in one economic class by 10 percent.

Hebh Jamal, high school student and director of public relations for IntegrateNYC, said that the definition of integration shouldn’t be limited to movement of bodies.

“We acknowledge the hurtful consequences that were subjected on Black and Brown families, so the students at IntegrateNYC came up with a multifaceted framework,” said Jamal in a statement. “We believe in the 5 Rs of true integration: Race and enrollment, resource allocation, relationships across identity lines, restorative practices and representation of our faculty and teaching staff.”