Entrenched positions and pleas for change: NYC council debates school integration

City council members on Wednesday grilled education department officials on school segregation at a joint hearing of the Education Committee and Civil and Human Rights Committee.

The sharp questions and answer session took place just weeks before the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The atmosphere was a stark departure from just five years ago, when council members questioned education department officials about diversity issues in a school system that remains among the most segregated in the country. Back then, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his previous schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, steadfastly refused to even mention the words “integration” or “segregation.”

Battle lines remained hardened around the what to do about the lack of diversity in the specialized high schools, a debate that overshadowed much of the hearing. Some council members tried to strike a delicate balance between the need for reforms and listening to the concerns of the Asian community, whose children make up a majority of the schools’ students.

Recent polling shows that most New Yorkers want to overhaul the single-test admissions system currently enshrined in state law. But before the hearing, a group of largely Asian-American advocates protested a city proposal to overhaul admissions.

One Asian-American student testified that her community shouldn’t be painted with a single brush and that she supported integration efforts.
“Integrating our schools will reduce racial bias and counter stereotypes,” said Bonnie Tang, who attended city public schools and is now in college.
Carranza touched on the undertones of the frequent argument that changing the admissions method would dampen academic quality.

“I will call that racist every time I hear it,” he said. “If you don’t want me to call you on it, don’t say it.”