Brooklyn hipsters fight school de-segregation: They ‘aren’t racists’ — ‘they just don’t want to be in a ghetto’
Hipster dad and daughter (Shutterstock)

More than 100 parents showed up to oppose a proposed rezoning plan that would desegregate two public elementary schools in Brooklyn Heights.

The rezoning plan would push upper-middle-class white families from an overcrowded public school that serves the Dumbo and Vinegar Hill neighborhoods to an under-capacity elementary school that currently serves black families who live in the city-run Farragut Houses, reported the New York Times.

The city sees redrawing the school district lines as an obvious solution, but families from both schools oppose the move.

Parents who live in Dumbo, a formerly decaying industrial district where condominiums now regularly sell for millions of dollars, are worried about the overcrowded Public School 8 but think the rezoning plan was developed too hastily and without their input.

"I am disappointed that (education officials) haven't involved (my) community," a Dumbo father told Gothamist. "Why is redrawing a few lines on a map (a solution) for fixing a severely underperforming school? Because that's what the numbers show for (Public School) 307. How is sending Dumbo and Vinegar Hill students to 307 going to fix its problems? If it hasn't happened yet, why would it happen next year?"

Third-graders at P.S. 8 passed state tests at an 86-percent rate in 2012, with just 1 percent performing "below standards," but P.S. 307's pass rate was just 16 percent -- and 37 percent of students fell below standards.

But parents say that doesn't tell the whole story about P.S. 307, and they're worried about the changes that an influx of wealthy white children will bring to their school -- which has benefitted from having too few students.

"We have Pre-K and kindergarten students learning Mandarin three times a week," said Faraji Hannah-Jones, co-president of the school's PTA and the father of a kindergartener. "We have our second-graders learning to play violin, we have a health and wellness program. But you just look at the outward appearance -- you see the Farragut houses."

New York City, which assigns children to schools based on geographic zones, is one of the most segregated school systems in the U.S.

Researchers have found that minority students who attend integrated schools perform better academically, earn higher incomes and are healthier than minority students who attend segregated schools.

Gary Orfield, who published a study last year on school segregation in the state of New York, said rezoning a school to take advantage of gentrification was the exact opposite of what the city had done for decades.

The researcher said white parents "aren't racist" for opposing the rezoned school district, but were merely concerned about their child being a minority student at a mostly poor school.

“They aren’t people who don’t want to be with other races and other cultures -- they just don’t want to be in a ghetto,” said Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They don’t want to be in a school where everybody’s poor and their kid is the only white kid or the only Asian kid.”

But a spokesman for Church of the Open Door, which many Farragut residents attend, said race was a factor on both sides of the debate.

"We know some white people don't want to go to PS 307 because it's predominantly black," the spokesman said. "And some of the black people don't want this influx of white people coming in."

P.S. 307 enjoys rich programming, in part, because the school benefits from Title 1 funding for minority school where at least 60 percent of students qualify for free lunch, and some parents fear rich white students will spell an end to those programs.

"We fought hard to build this school, and we're not just going to let people come from outside when we worked so hard and dedicated ourselves," said one parent. "Our blood, sweat and tears are here."

A revised plan will likely be presented Sept. 30, and rezoning could be finalized by the end of the school year.