More than 100 anxious parents gathered in the auditorium at PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights last night to discuss the proposed rezoning of two public elementary schools serving swaths of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and Fort Greene that are currently divided along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The rezoning would require predominantly white, upper-middle-class, bursting-at-the-seams PS 8 to move DUMBO and Vinegar Hill families to PS 307—a school that is currently under capacity, and predominantly serves African-American residents of the NYCHA-run Farragut Houses.

Black and Hispanic students currently represent 34% of PS 8's student body, while PS 307 is 95% minority. Under the proposed rezoning these percentages are expected to shift to 25-35% and 55-65% respectively.

"This is a difficult process, and we don't do it well in NYC," said David Goldsmith, president of Community Education Council 13, which will ultimately vote on the rezoning. "We're the most segregated school system in the country. These are communities that aren't used to working together."

"We know some white people don't want to go to PS 307 because it's predominantly black," said a spokeswoman from The Church of the Open Door, which many residents of the Farragut Houses attend. "And some of the black people don't want this influx of white people coming in. To do it so shockingly and so quickly… let's stop the present plan and fight for the time to create a new plan."

The rezoning plan offered by the Department of Education and the Office of District Planning would impact kindergarten and Pre-K students in the 2016-2017 school year, excluding those "grandfathered" into PS 8 by older siblings. According to ODP data, 162 kindergarteners live in the PS 8 zone, compared to 17 in PS 307's zone. Based on the department's projections, the new zoning would balance the numbers: 102 at PS8 and 77 at PS 307.

At last night's meeting, most of the parental indignation was directed at the DOE, which proposed the rezoning plan on September 2nd, and planned only two town-hall meetings—one at each school—before a revised plan is expected to be presented on September 30th. The rezoning could be finalized before the end of the year.

Overcrowding has been an issue at PS 8 for years, and shows no signs of slowing down. According to the ODP, the school is currently at 135% capacity. This year, it had a waiting list of 50 students. Last fall, the NY Times reported that about half a dozen residential developments are projected to add more than 550 apartments and between 1,500 and 2,000 people to DUMBO in the next few years.

"When you look back at the current zones as they are, it's ridiculous," said Mark Dwyer, a father of a PS 8 kindergartener. "But it feels like [everything] is being dropped on us very quickly right now."

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The ODP's proposed rezoning. Black lines represent proposed zones. Blue is current PS 8, salmon is current 307. (via)

"I am disappointed that you [the DOE reps] haven't involved [my] community," said one DUMBO father, who identified himself as a parent of a 1-year-old. "Why is redrawing a few lines on a map [a stand-in] for fixing a severely underperforming school? Because that's what the numbers show for 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?"

According to the NY Times, PS 8 3rd graders had a pass rate of 86% on state tests in 2012, with 1% performing "below standards." At PS 307, the pass rate was 16%, and 37% of students are below standards.

But some parents retorted that test scores are not a fair measure of a school's performance. Due to its overcrowding, PS 8 cut its Pre-K program in 2013, and has no language program. Students across all grades share a single room for art classes.

"In all honesty, there are a lot of really good things happening at 307 that aren’t happening here," said a new PS 8 parent, who asked to remain anonymous because she is a reporter.

"We have Pre-K and kindergarten students learning Mandarin three times a week," said Faraji Hannah-Jones, the co-president of PS 307's PTA, and 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."

Programming at PS 307 is rich, in part, because the school benefits from Title 1 funding—additional funding for minority schools where at least 60% of the students qualify for free lunch.

Some parents at 307 fear that the drastic rezoning would jeopardize these 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 anonymous 307 parent at the first town hall last week. "Our blood sweat and tears are here."

Still, Hannah-Jones is primarily concerned about the stigma some PS 8 parents and hopefuls have attached to PS 307. "You're on a waiting list by choice because you have failed to do the research on the other school," he said. "It's totally optional [to choose PS 8]. It's by choice based on emotion, opinion, and perception."

"You are using 307 to make your complaints about the process," he added. "I challenge you to walk across the street and talk to some of those Farragut mothers and aunties and sisters and brothers who have been to the school since it's beginning. They're the pioneers, they've been here before you have."

Benjamin Greene, co-president of PS 307's PTA, told the audience of PS 8 parents that he was trying to understand their point of view.

"Me and my co-president walked around DUMBO last weekend with our wives. And we talked to people about 307," Greene said. "Most of this is about fear of the unknown. You don’t know what we got down there!”

We have reached out to the DOE for comment and will update with any further information.

UPDATE: DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye issued the following statement this evening:

“These zones were created decades ago and no longer reflect the needs of Downtown Brooklyn families. We’ve proposed a solution that will ensure each school has an appropriate zone size to create better schools for all students. We’re working closely with the CEC, members of both school communities and engaging parents to collect feedback before any final proposal is submitted to best serve the community.”