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To Promote Integration, N.Y.C. to Pilot Diversity Plans in Some Schools

In an effort to promote diversity in some schools, the New York City department of education is launching a pilot program that will allow seven elementary schools to make tweaks to their admissions criteria to ensure that certain percentages of low-income students, English-language learners and, in one case, children impacted by incarceration, enroll in those schools.

The city's announcement on Friday followed a request the principals made in 2014 to pursue diversity plans at their schools. (Chalkbeat New York first reported that the city would allow the principals to make the changes.)

The announcement of the pilot program comes as officials continue to wrestle with how to promote diversity in the city's schools. The pilot also comes on the heels of proposals by the city to rezone schools in Brooklyn and on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which elicited criticisms from parents in those communities. The Upper West Side plan was later dropped.

New York state has the most segregated schools in the country, according to a  2014 report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles. 

In May, the New York City Council passed the School Diversity and Accountability Act, which asks the mayor and the schools chancellor to work toward ensuring that schools reflect the city's diversity. They are required to provide annual updates to the city council on school demographics, including at the grade level and in specific programs, and steps they are taking to promote diversity. 

Even before the pilot, Brooklyn's P.S. 133, in the Park Slope neighborhood, had been pursuing efforts to ensure that its student population was diverse. The school reserves 35 percent of its kindergarten slots for students who are English-language learners or qualify for free and reduced lunch.  

"Students learn from the diverse experiences and cultures of their fellow students, and it's important that our schools match the diversity of our City," Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in Friday's announcement. "I'm pleased that by working with principals, superintendents, and community members, we were able to create admissions policies that promote diversity and respect the needs of the community. I'm hopeful that these changes will help serve as a model for schools across the City."

Julie Zuckerman, the principal of Castle Bridge School, said: "This new admissions policy will help our school better reflect the diversity of our City. Creating a diverse school community is critical to developing the kind of schools and society intended by the Brown v. Board of Education decision. I am thrilled that this administration is taking this step."

Under the pilot, Castle Bridge School in Manhattan's Washington Heights, will have a 10 percent priority for families affected by incarceration and 60 percent for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

 "Diversity in the classroom is a powerful tool for our society and our students," State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "Students in diverse classrooms learn more, have more opportunity and they develop a better perspective on life outside of school." 

Still, the number of schools in the diversity pilot represents just a small fraction of the schools that educate the city's nearly 1 million students. The city has not released a systemwide diversity plan.

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