Brooklyn Boro

Your back-to-school briefing

Here's what happened at Brooklyn schools over the summer.

September 5, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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School is back in session — and now’s your chance to look back on a summer’s worth of education reporting at the Brooklyn Eagle.

More than 900 New York City schools tested positive for lead paint, teachers pushed for a day off on Dec. 23 and a bunch of recommendations were made to desegregate schools. And that’s just some of what went down this summer.

To stay on top of what’s to come, you can peruse the school calendar and the calendar of hearings, parent teacher conferences and more.

Here’s the rest of what happened over the summer vacation (in no particular order):

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

A pol proposed scrapping the Regents

Image via Pexels

A former educator and City Council member from Brooklyn wants to do away with the statewide high school Regents exams, demanding alternatives he says will better measure student success.

Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn and once taught history and economics at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, is planning on asking the state to abolish the standardized test, he told the Brooklyn Eagle in August. “The former teacher in me knows that these exams do not really capture student abilities,” he said.

A diversity panel released its recommendations

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the city is accepting a diversity task force's recommendations Monday at Tweed Courthouse.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the city is accepting a diversity task force’s recommendations at Tweed Courthouse. Photo by Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed 62 of 67 suggestions made by the School Diversity Advisory Group, such as training teachers in culturally responsive education and requiring schools to work to eliminate racial disparities in suspensions.

The task force, commissioned by the mayor in 2017 to address school segregation, released its second set of recommendations in August. This time, the panel proposed a phase-out of the city’s gifted and talented programs, a change to the way District 75 students are zoned and more. (Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stressed Tuesday that there would be no changes this year.)

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Some Catholic schools closed

Bishop Kearney High School. Image via Google Maps

In a move that shocked southwest Brooklyn, Bishop Kearney High School announced in May that it would close for good at the end of the summer. The venerable Catholic school had educated generations of girls since 1961. But, when one door closes, another opens, say two Brooklyn lawmakers who last month unveiled that they’re pushing for a new specialized high school where Bishop Kearney long stood.

Meanwhile, a Clinton Hill Catholic school announced on Aug. 13 that it would close its doors on Aug. 31, leaving families scrambling to find a new school before the first day of school. After more than a century of educating, the recently merged St. Francis Xavier-Queen of All Saints Catholic Academy at 300 Vanderbilt Ave. is no more. Officials blamed the decision on a decline in enrollment and significant debt.

New gender inclusion guidelines unveiled

The Department of Education has unveiled new ‘gender inclusion’ guidelines. Eagle file photo

In a showing of support for LGBTQ+ youth, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced the Guidelines on Gender Inclusion at the end of June, along with revisions to the Department of Education’s existing Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Expansive Students. The new set of guidelines covers, among other provisions, inclusion across genders in student clubs and health classes, and a more fluid dress code, “free of gender stereotypes.”

Advocates called them a step in the right direction.

More than 900 classrooms tested positive for lead paint

Photo by Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

New data released by the Education Department on July 31 found that more than 900 New York City elementary school classrooms had tested positive for lead. Brooklyn posted the highest number of school buildings testing positive for lead paint, with 114 buildings. Two school buildings — P.S. 108 in Brooklyn and P.S. 49 in the Bronx — each had a dozen classrooms test positive for lead paint, the highest figure for a single school building.

The city pledged to make the classrooms safe before the school year.

City unveils new admissions process for middle and high schools

Mayor Bill de Blasio. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

De Blasio and Carranza joined parents and educators at M.S. 890 in Kensington last month to announce a new admissions process for the city’s public middle and high schools. The overhaul will simplify paperwork, do away with an entire second round of applications and allow online tracking of a student’s status.

Teachers weren’t impressed by a proposed bill to curb vaping

A JuuL vape pen. AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

As more and more teens take up vaping, a City Council member is hoping to crack down on the sale of non-tobacco smoking products near New York City schools. If passed, the bill would prohibit retailers that sell smoking paraphernalia from operating within 500 feet of any public or private school — a distance a bit shorter than the average city block. Under the legislation, restricted inventory would include water pipes, rolling papers and electronic cigarette components.

As Brooklyn teachers see it, though, an extra 500 feet won’t do much to keep kids from buying new cartridges for their Juuls — a popular e-cigarette that’s shaped like a USB flash drive — or other types of e-cigarettes.

Parents and teachers called for an extra day off

Image via Pexels

More than 25,000 people have now called on the DOE and Carranza to cancel school on Monday, Dec. 23 — the sole school day before a one-week vacation. A petition launched in May charges that, the last four times Dec. 23 has fallen on a Monday, there has been no school. But, according to the DOE’s 2019-2020 calendar, winter recess is scheduled to start on Tuesday, Dec. 24, with classes to resume the following Thursday, Jan. 2.

Organizers say the one-day week would be counter-productive for both students and staff. A school aide and mother-of-three told the Eagle she thought the move was “very Grinch-ish.”

Students with special needs are still waiting for pre-K seats

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While their peers attend universal pre-K programs across the city, many children with special needs are still waiting for seats. As of May 29, New York City was in need of more than 400 special education preschool seats and, while the city’s newest budget agreement allots for an additional 200 seats this coming school year, the need remains.

“We have heard from parents desperate for their preschoolers to get the help they need, but who have been sitting at home for months waiting for a seat, while their peers attend universal pre-K classes,” Randi Levine, policy director of Advocates for Children of New York, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

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The fate of SHSAT is still in question

Families of children enrolled in specialized high schools protest the elimination of the SHSAT. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
Families of children enrolled in specialized high schools protest the elimination of the SHSAT. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost

Both the school year and the state’s legislative session ended without a decision on the fate of the much-debated Specialized High School Admissions Test. But, as students enjoyed summer vacation, lawmakers looked ahead to the New Year, when the issue will likely be revisited (and has led to backlash against the schools chancellor).

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The Eagle took a look at Brooklyn’s opt-out rates

Attitudes toward the tests vary widely from district to district — and even school to school. Image via Pexels
Attitudes toward the tests vary widely from district to district — and even school to school. Image via Pexels

A Brooklyn school district saw more students opt out of state exams for the 2017-18 school year than any other district in the city, Department of Education data from May showed. The numbers, obtained by Chalkbeat and shared with the Brooklyn Eagle, illustrated profoundly different attitudes toward the tests from district to district — and even school to school.

A city rep proposed transferring control of special education to the health department

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In a City Council resolution introduced July 23, Bronx Councilmember Andy King called on city, state and federal officials to take special education out of the hands of the city’s Department of Education and hand it over to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, instead. King cited nearly 7,500 special education-related, due-process complaints against the DOE as of this February, as well as a 2016 lawsuit that asserted a lack of sufficient tracking by the city agency.

Data found that Brooklyn kids don’t get enough PE

Data shows that thousands of Brooklyn children aren't getting sufficient physical education. Image via Pexels
Data shows that thousands of Brooklyn children aren’t getting sufficient physical education. Image via Pexels

Data released at the end of the school year showed that Brooklyn kids are seriously lacking when it comes to physical education. The data, provided by the DOE and broken down by the City Council, examines the number of students who do and do not meet the respective PE requirements for elementary, middle and high schools for the 2017-18 school year. Brooklyn comes in third percentage-wise, but that rate represents the highest number of children citywide: 58,213.

A potential rezoning for District 15

Some parents and community activists have rallied around P.S. 676 the Red Hook Neighborhood School, which now finds itself in the middle of a push to improve integration in Brooklyn’s District 15. Photo by Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat

Education department leaders are proposing to rezone seven elementary schools in Brooklyn’s District 15 in hopes of relieving overcrowding at some of the area’s most coveted schools and encouraging diversity at some of its more segregated ones.

But parents and community advocates have raised concerns — including community leaders who have poured their energy into P.S. 676, the Red Hook Neighborhood School. They argue that the rezoning plans don’t adequately address the needs of their school, one of the city’s lowest-performing.

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Brooklyn parents grappled with school disciplinary changes

Residents can vote to fund local projects starting March 30 through participatory budgeting in New York City. One project in Councilmember Stephen Levin’s District would supply AV equipment for P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Mary Frost.
P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

DOE officials hosted a series of feedback sessions over the summer to address parents’ concerns about a rollout of changes in the school disciplinary code. Parents who showed up to the Brooklyn session, however, were left largely without answers to their questions — especially because the 50-plus page document outlining the changes had been released just that morning.

A ‘pathway’ to pay parity for pre-K teachers

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson sign the new pre-K pay parity agreement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson sign the new pre-K pay parity agreement. Eagle photo by John Alexander

New York City officials committed in June to providing funding in the next budget to create pay parity for early childhood education providers across the city, vowing to strike a deal on salaries later in the summer. The mayor and the City Council announced in July that a new contract agreement would bump up the salary of some CBO teachers by $20,000, bringing them one step closer to pay parity. But, not all felt the scaled had been properly balanced.

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New stricter, speed camera law near schools

Officials held a press conference to tout the new law. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

The state’s new, stricter speed camera law went into effect on July 11, but Sept. 5 marks the first day the cameras will be working while school is in session. Under the new law, which was passed by the state legislature in March and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May, the city will have speed cameras in 750 school zones around the five boroughs by June of 2020. Here’s what you need to know.

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