Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he is still weighing the fate of some key public school admissions policies — including whether to allow selective admissions at middle schools and geographic priority at high schools. “We are still reviewing all issues related to admissions,” he said at a press conference Monday morning.
This comes after de Blasio announced a series of changes last December he said would simplify admissions and make them more fair.
At the time, the mayor called for “a pause” on middle school screens, like the use of grades, test scores, or attendance to determine admissions; eliminated district priority, notably ending a longstanding policy that allowed students in Manhattan’s District 2 first dibs at the area’s more selective high schools; and promised an end to all geographic priority for high schools within two years. Hundreds of high schools across the city use residence as a factor in deciding who gets in.
“We will eliminate geographic priorities over the next two years, thus giving a much bigger swath of the city an opportunity to experience some of our great high schools,” de Blasio said at the time.
The use of grades, test scores, attendance, and geography have often served as barriers for students of color and those from low-income families seeking admission to the city’s more selective schools. As expected, the change to middle school admissions paved the way for more students from low-income families to get into schools that had enrolled disproportionately few in the past. Popular Manhattan high schools also offered more seats to students who lived outside District 2.
While the decision on middle school admissions was always described as temporary, it seemed the move to get rid of geographic priority for high schools had been made.
In fact, as the New York Post reported, the education department’s 2022 NYC Public School Admissions Guide says, “beginning with admissions for students entering high school in September 2022, no high school applicant will have priority to attend a school based on where they live.”
“I did think that removing the geographic screens was a fait accompli,” said Joyce Szuflita, an education consultant and founder of NYC School Help.
But on Monday, de Blasio said he was still deliberating.
“There's been a lot going on, obviously, but we're going to look at this very carefully, look at some of the input we've received from communities, and come up with more specifics,” he said.
In a statement, education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon acknowledged that the administration is “reevaluating” last year’s decision to remove geographic priority based on feedback from the public. “As always, we are putting the needs of families front and center, and we will share details soon,” she said.
Consultant Szuflita said a relatively small portion of schools use geographic priority in admissions, but there are some schools in the Bronx and Queens that have borough priority, and some schools in Brooklyn and Queens also prioritize or guarantee admission to students who live in a neighborhood or zone.
“It was nice if you had a zoned school and you liked it,” she said.
But while geographic priority only impacts a slice of applicants, Szuflita said all families would benefit from more information and certainty. She said students and parents have to do a lot of research when applying to schools, and time is of the essence.
“Take us out of our misery and make a decision already,” she said.
Still, the longer-term fate of all of these policies may lie with Mayor-elect Eric Adams. A call to Adams’ spokesperson was not returned by press time. But in an email to WNYC/Gothamist last spring, Adams said zip codes should not “determine the future” of students, although he seemed to seek a more targeted approach.
“We should seek to change screening practices that are not achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity on a school-by-school analysis, evaluated annually,” he said. “We will limit geographic preferences for school selection, and replace the current screening process with a pathway for every student to go to a middle school and high school that best suits their interest, ability and learning needs.”