Carmen Garcia wanted her son to attend a good school in her Upper West Side neighborhood. She was happy to find a bilingual parent to translate for her while she toured the Manhattan School for Children on West 93rd Street. Then, the guide asked them to be quiet. “I felt like I couldn’t ask questions. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’” said Garcia. Her son, like many of the district’s Latino children, now attends P.S. 165 on West 109th Street.
Garcia gave little thought to her tour-going experience until hearing stories from others about being ignored or being told they didn’t live within a school’s zone. The Center for Immigrant Families (CIF) noticed the problem as well. The community-organizing group spent the year compiling parents’ stories.
This week, CIF is releasing a report, “Segregated and Unequal,” showing how several public schools in the West Side’s former District 3—now part of Region 10—have become white-hot for white families, to the exclusion of others.
The shift isn’t due to changing neighborhood demographics, said the center’s Ujju Aggarwal; rather, schools limit access to low-income, immigrant families of color through a “subtle process of low-level decisions”—by not translating information, by making parents jump through hoops to prove residency, or by asking for contributions for activities and supplies in the range of $700. CIF also pointed to one school that took students from outside its official zone for its gifted-and-talented program.
Although only 19 percent of students in District 3 are white, some schools have kindergarten classes with a majority of white students, according to stats CIF obtained from the Department of Education. At P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, for instance, CIF said the disparity between upper and lower grades reveals segregation has become starker in recent years.
Department of Education officials refused to comment prior to the report’s release.
CIF talked to white middle-class parents about the registration process for its report and found that admission can depend on parents’ connections, letter writing, phone calls, ability to fundraise or take time off work to attend meetings. According to CIF, parents living outside a school’s zone or even the district use these skills to take spots that would otherwise go to children of immigrant families.
“Immigrant students get shafted,” said Sonal Patel, an attorney for the group Advocates for Children, which has joined community groups including Make the Road by Walking and the New York Immigration Coalition to improve language access in city schools. Without enough information in their language, says Patel, parents often feel ill equipped to get their children into schools or get them needed services.
But sometimes, CIF found, the discrimination is more subtle. At P.S. 166, although Delsa Rosso’s daughter scored high enough for the school’s gifted and talented program, Rosso was told there wasn’t room. Rosso repeatedly complained to school administrators. Finally this year, instead of placing the fourth-grader in the gifted program, they put her in fifth-grade classes—without notifying Rosso. “They don’t pay attention to me,” she said. “They hope I get tired and just go away.”