You’ll Be ‘Booted’ If You’re Not Careful Middle School Admission Policy a Mess, Say Parents

By Michèle De Meglio

Outraged that students residing outside of District 21 are occupying seats in local schools, parents are calling on the city Department of Education (DOE) to rethink its middle school admissions policy. “We have an obligation to service the children in this district before we service children from other areas,” Julius Bowens, a member of District 21’s Community Education Council (CEC), asserted at a meeting of his group. “We have to think about serving our community first,” District 21 Community Superintendent Richard D’Auria said. With many top middle schools located in District 21 – I.S. 98 Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences, I.S. 239 Mark Twain Junior High School, and I.S. 228 David A. Boody School for Magnet Studies – students from outside of the district flock to these schools for their gifted and talented programs. “District 21 accommodates many, many students from outside District 21 into its magnet programs,” D’Auria said. “Over 1,000 seats in Twain and Bay Academy alone are occupied by students who have come from all over the city.” According to D’Auria, in 2003, 140 students from District 22 were admitted to Bay Academy. There were 132 children enrolled in 2004 and 136 in 2005. “My primary responsibility is to serve District 21 kids,” D’Auria said, “but the numbers are very telling.” Noting that city students want to attend District 21 schools “because of the level of education and the academics,” CEC President Ronald Stewart said the DOE must decide if these programs should be available to children throughout the five boroughs or just those from the local community. “Do we service the children from outside the city or do we make sure that the children in our district get seats? That’s the question,” he said. Stewart has his own answer. “We are responsible for making sure that our children are filtered into the schools in our district,” said Stewart, who has advocated for the enrollment of minorities and Coney Island residents in local gifted and talented programs. “Our community is very, very disturbed and upset about this,” said District 21 CEC member Ira Zalcman. “There’s a federal mandate that seats are supposed to be reserved [in District 21] for kids from the Coney Island area,” Stewart said. According to District 21’s annual school report card for the 2003-2004 school year, which is located online at www.nycenet.edu, Caucasian students accounted for 39.5 percent of youths enrolled at local schools. Approximately 16.6 percent of students were African-American, 19.9 percent were Hispanic, and 24.1 percent were Asian. While some parents are calling on the DOE to stop enrolling city students at District 21 schools, others are demanding that the policy be maintained. Manhattan Beach residents have complained about the decreasing number of students from P.S. 195, which is located in District 22 at 131 Irwin Street, being admitted to District 21’s Bay Academy. Region 7 Superintendent Michelle Fratti acknowledged that admissions of P.S. 195 students to Bay Academy are on the decline. However, she explained that close district boundaries are causing similar situations throughout the city. “This is not limited to District 21,” she said. “In District 20, I.S. 62 is on the border of another region and we have the same feeding issues…This is pretty common.”