One conversation that marked the NYC education community in 2017 was the integration of its public schools. Earlier this year, District 1 developed an integration plan and Chancellor Farina developed a steering committee for school diversity. However, recent efforts to address racial segregation in the city’s public school system have been met with fervent push back and in some instances, have made the public school system more separate and unequal.
Earlier this year the New York City Department of Education announced efforts to rezone school districts in the Upper West Side. The rezoning efforts would place more white students in P.S 191 and more poor, minority students in P.S 199 and 452. In response to the rezoning plans, a New York Times article mentions that, “current P.S. 452 parents who oppose the school being moved have said they would sue to halt the plan. Residents of two buildings that would be rezoned from P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 — 165 and 185 West End Avenue — have hired a lawyer.” The social and financial capital of wealthy families living in the Upper West Side far outweighs that of poor families in the surrounding community, therefore, rezoning efforts in the Upper West Side will likely fail.
America has been trying to address school segregation since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ruled that separate schools for African Americans and whites was unconstitutional and aimed to speed up the pace of desegregation in schools. However, the fervor of the courts to address school segregation fizzled away a couple decades later when the federal courts ruled in Milliken v. Bradley (1974) that schools district lines could not be redrawn to achieve integration if explicit segregation policies did not exist. This case made the distinction between de facto and de jure segregation: de facto or, “by the facts,” refers to segregation that occurs for some reason other than discriminatory policies, whereas de jure or, “by law,” is segregation that occurs as a direct result of discriminatory laws that maintain racial segregation.
The continued segregation of NYC schools and insistence from community members to keep schools unchanged reveals that even “liberal New Yorkers” don’t want to integrate schools. Even further, I would argue that schools also don’t want to integrate because successfully serving a diverse demographic academically, socially and culturally is extremely difficult to accomplish. Ironically, “diversity” has become a buzzword for schools and the education community in New York at large, but its meaning has been watered down as an attractive selling point for prospective families. Both schools and community members are in favor of “diversity,” but only to a degree that will not disrupt the school’s existing population. This is why diversity and integration policies will do little to desegregate NYC schools unless community members and school leaders actually want to adopt and implement these plans.