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Queens Parents Demand A Say In City's Plan To Diversify School District

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A plan to diversify a Queens school district prompted a protest from parents Thursday.

The Department of Education and a consultant spoke at a contentious public school board meeting.

Frustration had been brewing since Queens parents -- attending a public meeting last month -- couldn't get into the room.

Thursday night, angry parents stormed the school board meeting over the potential plan to change a large school district stretching from Forest Hills to Jamaica.

The DOE and consultant WXY - an urban planning firm - held the meeting, which parents feel they weren't consulted on.

"We're here in January for a plan that's supposed to have the results out in June and not one parent has met with any of these workshops," parent Jason Fink said.

(Credit: CBS2)

District 15 in Brooklyn, including Park Slope and Sunset Park, had a diversity plan implemented this school year. It meant no more admissions testing for middle schools. Students who were from disadvantaged backgrounds with lower grades got priority seats at historically higher performing schools.

Enrollment dropped 7% – and that plan may be a template for other schools.

"When I realized the commute times and that she would be traveling as an 11-year-old on the MTA subway by herself, I grew even more concerned," said parent Jean Hahn.

Some claim Queens' District 28 middle schools are segregated by income in the more affluent northern half of the district, and the poorer southern end.

"Our children do not learn the same, so taking my son or anybody else's child out of the south part and shipping them there it's doing them a disservice," parent Lorraine Reed said at a recent meeting.

"The core of the District 28 Diversity Process is community engagement and we welcome every voice and every community member," said Katie O'Hanlon, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. "The public engagement process has not yet begun and we look forward to having a productive and healthy dialogue during this community driven initiative."

WXY postponed a scheduled interview, and said the reason was that DOE requested it speak to parents about the plan's process first.  However, the DOE says it never asked WXY to postpone or cancel any interview.

David Bloomfield, professor of education at the CUNY Graduate Center contends the Brooklyn plan is working and could work in Queens too.

"It not only raises the test scores in terms of academic performance but that's what education is supposed to be about – diversifying your perspectives," said Bloomfield.

"This isn't something where populous said we want this… it's something part of a grand social engineering experiment. I don't know how we wound up with it but I know that we don't want it to happen here," Fink said.

The DOE insists no plan has been formulated yet.

A DOE spokesperson says there have been no proposals put forth in District 28 as the community engagement process has not yet begun. DOE adds that when it begins, it will involve public workshops, community presentations, and stakeholder meetings before any final proposal is put forward. She says the purpose of Thursday's regularly scheduled school board meeting was to discuss the upcoming engagement process.

The DOE says D28 received a $200,00 District Diversity grant, funded by DOE, as did four other districts.

A FOIL request to see the contract between DOE and WXY suggests money being paid to WXY is coming from he New York City Economic Development Corporation and not the DOE.  An NYC FOIL officer wrote "DOE accessed the services of WXY Studio through the NYCEDC's contract."

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