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Fear for student rolls

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Educators fear a new middle school placement policy will devastate School District 21.

That’s the new rule ending the years-long practice of District 20 and 22 students attending middle schools in District 21, which boasts several coveted gifted programs in schools like Bay Academy.

Educators in District 21, which spans Coney Island and Bensonhurst, fear enrollment at middle schools will decline without students from Districts 20 and 22, which include Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Borough Park, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

“There is a tremendous concern about future enrollment,” Judy Gerowitz, District 21’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative, said at a meeting of the district’s Community Education Council (CEC). “We’re going to see tremendous drops in enrollment in our traditional middle schools.”

“You are correct. There will be some decline,” agreed Sandy Ferguson, executive director of middle school enrollment for the city Department of Education (DOE).

But he said that’s because enrollment is dropping throughout the city as neighborhood populations change. In the last few years, there have been 500,000 fewer children in middle schools, Ferguson said.

Fewer students could mean harsh consequences for teachers, Gerowitz asserted.

“With the loss of students comes the decline of teaching staff in a school, the decline of administrative staff in a school,” Gerowitz said.

Although he acknowledged that citywide enrollment is falling, Ferguson said District 21 schools will not crumble because of the absence of District 20 and 22 students.

“I don’t think we are going to see the kind of impact that you’re thinking,” he told Gerowitz. “We’re not going to see a drop that’s going to be devastating.”

“I don’t see a change of tons of teachers being laid off,” he continued. “I think it will be a gentle change.”

This spring, the DOE will review enrollment figures to determine if the new policy was successful.

However, if the department wants to change the policy, it would have to consult a judge.

That’s because the policy is the result of the elimination of a 1974 court order meant to desegregate I.S. 239, the Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented. The court order applied to all middle schools in District 21 and implemented racial quotas holding minorities to higher admission standards than white students.

Last year, the DOE successfully sought to have the court order lifted after the parents of an Indian-American girl sued the city because their daughter was denied admission to Mark Twain under the racial quota system.

Now, to be admitted to a District 21 school, a child must either reside within the district or attend a school in the district. Mark Twain is a citywide program accepting students from throughout the city.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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