City releases draft plan for School District 15 desegregation

P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill.
Photo by Susan De Vries

The Department of Education released a draft proposal for its plan to increase diversity throughout School District 15 this month, following a planning process that was increased by a year to allow for more public input. 

The plan focuses on desegregating schools in Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, and Boerum Hill, by changing the existing zoning lines and shifting some admissions priority towards historically underserved students.

“We’ve learned from this process,” said Max Familian, a staffer at the Department of Education’s District Planning Office during a May meeting of the District 15 Community Education Council. “We’ve learned of the power of longer and more varied engagement strategies, we’ve realized how powerful it can be to build close relationships with community members through planning.” 

In its draft plan, the District Planning Office recommended widening the zoning boundaries of certain schools, and shrinking the boundaries of others, in an effort to shift enrollment to schools that can handle it, and reduce enrollment at overcrowded schools. 

The schools that the department has recommended increasing the zones for are PS 32 in Carroll Gardens, PS 38 in Boerum Hill, and PS 15 in Red Hook, while the schools it is recommending have their zones shrunk are PS 58 and PS 29 in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill respectively — two of the most sought-after public elementary schools in Brooklyn. 

PS 32 on Hoyt Street recently built an entirely new building as an addition to its campus, greatly increasing the number of students it can serve. 

The proposed zoning changes for elementary schools in District 15.Department of Education

The department found that schools like PS 58 and PS 29 were at over 100 percent of their capacity and were serving the smallest amount of historically underrepresented students — which the department defines as students in temporary housing or public housing, receiving free or discounted lunch, or those learning English. 

Schools with larger student populations receive more funding, resulting in inequities between schools throughout the district.

The department is also recommending giving 30 percent priority to underrepresented students in the admissions process to those schools in the zone that encompasses Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Red Hook. 

The proposal is not slated to take effect until the 2022-23 school year and will only affect incoming Pre-K and Kindergarten students. To increase awareness of the plan, the local CEC will hold community outreach sessions within individual school communities throughout the 2021-22 school year. 

The draft proposal was crafted with guidance from a committee of locals with children or grandchildren attending the affected schools. The panel began its work at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, and worked on it virtually throughout the pandemic and historic uprising against racial injustice of 2020. 

“We want to note the significant impact of doing this project in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said panel member Ashley Hammarth. “It was also in the same historical moment as the widespread reckoning with racial injustice that resparked in May 2020. Both the pandemic and racial injustice have greatly underscored our work with a sense of urgency and heightened purpose.” 

Members of CEC15, a local policy advisory board for educational issues, were receptive to the proposal.

“We’ve been working for years towards equity-based integration,” said President Camille Casaretti. “I’m excited to see a rezoning plan that reflects this.”  

Locals will have the chance to weigh in on the draft plan during the May 25 CEC15 meeting