Opinion: Why Are We Still Waiting For An Integration Plan For NYC High Schools?

Students protesting the de Blasio administration's integration policies earlier this month.
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Students protesting the de Blasio administration's integration policies earlier this month. Courtesy Brent Adams

Earlier this month, our fellow Teens Take Charge activist Tiffani Torres, called into Brian Lehrer’s “Ask The Mayor” segment on WNYC. She asked Mayor de Blasio a question that we, as public high school students, have been asking ourselves for years: How much longer will it take to integrate our schools?

It’s been 65 years since Brown v. Board set a legal precedent to end “separate but equal” and five years since UCLA released a report stating that New York has the most segregated schools in the country, yet school segregation remains one of our city’s greatest problems.

After Tiffani finished her question, Mayor de Blasio complimented her, told her she should run for office one day, and then said, “You’re not hearing what we’re saying to you.”

Mr. Mayor, we would like you to know that have heard you. We have heard you say your hands are tied on this issue. We have heard you say that you cannot “wipe away 400 years of American history.” Recently, however, we have heard your tone shift. You have begun to use the word “segregation” and to name the problem for what it is. A little over a year ago, we heard you say at a press conference that the Specialized High School Admissions Test had to go — and we were standing right behind you, cheering. In September of last year, we were excited to hear you say that more comprehensive high school admissions were in the works. But here we are, almost at the end of the school year, still waiting for those changes.

With all due respect, Mayor de Blasio, it feels like you have not been listening to us, the students, your city’s future, who, day in and day out, are forced to sit in segregated classrooms.

The problem, from our perspective, is that the high school enrollment system is segregative and unjust. Students from privileged backgrounds often get into schools with a plethora of resources to flourish academically, while students from underprivileged backgrounds are left behind. We focus on pursuing change in the high school level not because we deny that K-8 schools need to be addressed, but because we think we can and should address both at the same time.

We have heard your calls for grassroots, bottom-up change. That’s exactly what we represent. Specifically, we worked with dozens of teenagers and adult allies from across the city to craft our Enrollment Equity Plan to integrate high schools, which your advisors have seen and heard about in depth. In fact, on May 17, we gave a thorough policy presentation at City Hall to fifteen top policymakers, including Chancellor Carranza and First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. You were campaigning for the presidency in Iowa that day, but we were told that you received a briefing of the meeting.

Three weeks passed with zero follow-up communication. So, on June 6, hundreds of students, along with allies, educators, and parents, from a range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds rallied on the steps of Tweed Courthouse to demand that you take action to integrate our high schools.

We have seen incremental progress since you have taken office, but in order to truly integrate our schools, we do not need any more pilot programs. We need dramatic, system-wide policy change. And we need it to come from you.

Mayor de Blasio, we are not holding you accountable without reason. Let us not forget that you were elected mayor on an education platform of equity and excellence, nor let us forget that you have fought hard in Albany to maintain mayoral control of the schools. You have asked to be held responsible. You have been in office since we were in middle school.

For years, we and fellow student advocates have taken the lead in the pursuit of integration. Now, it is your turn to deliver on five years of promises to us. We need more than your compliments.

Mayor de Blasio, we are calling for you to approve a comprehensive plan to integrate our high schools by June 26, the last day of school. Just like our teachers tell us in school, we will not accept late assignments.

Ayana Smith is a senior at University Heights High School and Cameron Leo is a junior at the Bronx High School of Science. They are members of the Press Team at Teens Take Charge.

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