Parents complain they were not consulted before the changes; DOE says parents’ concerns around the changes are misguided
Senator Jesse Hamilton convened a sit-in Tuesday on the steps of the New York City Department of Education in lower Manhattan to protest the DOE’s decision to take control of the admissions process of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, one of the state’s highest-performing intermediate and high schools.
Sen. Hamilton, Reverend Kevin McCall and about a dozen parents and educators knelt in the lobby of the DOE, brandishing signs and chanting, “We shall not be moved!” and “Whose school? Our school!”
“The parents and educators at MECP deserve to have their voices heard,” Hamilton told the crowd, to raucous cheers. “They deserve a say.”
“In the 21st century we should not be talking about taking away schools from the black and brown community,” said Reverend McCall, an MECPS alumnus.
The protestors claimed that the DOE’s move to centralize MECP’s admissions process would weaken the school’s exemplary academic standards, where student proficiency is more than double the city average.
Already, the DOE has eliminated the entrance exam for P.S. 235 Lenox School, another high-performing school that serves as a feeder school for MECP. Aleah Vaughn, whose son is currently enrolled in the 7th grade at Lenox, does not think this is coincidental: “By removing the exam, they make the school less competitive, less rigorous,” she told BKReader. “The exam is the great equalizer, because an ‘A’ in a failing school is not the same as an ‘A’ in a rigorous school.”
Also, in a statement, Sen. Hamilton’s chief of staff, Jarvis Houston, stated: “Changing the admissions policy will directly and indirectly water down the curriculum and lead to the school’s failure.”
But according to the DOE, some of the brouhaha over the Department’s new admissions policy may be misguided and misplaced. According to DOE Deputy Press Secretary Will Martell, centralizing the admissions process would not override the school’s existing screening process, nor would it warrant a curriculum change.
“Rather than admit students separate from the DOE middle schools admissions process, Medgar Evers would continue to screen students and submit their rankings to the DOE,” Martell explained. “Medgar Evers still has the ability to be selective [around] which students get into the school.”
“Medgar Evers still has the ability to be selective for which students get into the school,” said Will Martell, DOE deputy press secretary.
MECP parents began protesting the new admission policy last month, suggesting that the school would not have become a target it did not serve a predominantly black student body.: “In the 21st century, we should not be talking about taking away schools from the black and brown community,” said Reverend McCall, an MECP alumnus.
However, Martell pointed out that centralizing the admissions process would make applying to the school “fair and accessible to everyone,” while encouraging the school to increase diversity within the student body and recruit more students with disabilities, as the rate of disabled students attending MECP is 1 percent, while the district average is 17 percent.
Additionally, he added, MECP is not the only school being drafted into the centralized admissions process; other schools–13 this year alone– also have adopted the change.“For several years, we have been working to bring schools into the centralized admissions process,” Martell said.
These other schools, some with a much less diverse student body, also have been moved into the centralized admissions process, consequently opening admissions to more students of color from the area into high-performing schools .
Still, MECP’s PTA Executive Board Member Norelda Cotterel, complained the DOE failed to consult with parents or school administrators around the impending changes. She said the deputy chancellor of strategy and policy at the DOE told her that the Department was acting upon the requests of parents to centralize the MECP admissions process although, said Cotterel, the DOE would not provide any supporting documentation to prove it.
“Where is the evidence to say that parents are requesting this?” she fumed. “Where is the educational forum that you are conducting to let parents know of the advantages and disadvantages that they face if they go through centralized admissions?”
“We are telling DOE hands off! We will not stop, we will not give up on the education of our children! They deserve quality education like any other child,” said Cotterel. “We are a beacon of hope. DOE should be proud of us; DOE should be using us as an example.”
The new policy takes effect fall 2019, beginning with current 4th graders applying to MECP’s 6th grade intake cohort. In the meantime, said Martell, the DOE plans to host a series of meetings with chancellors and school administrators around the changes.
“There is still plenty of time to work with parents and families on this process,” he said.