Brooklyn Boro

City mulling over changes for siblings in school admissions

December 13, 2019 Christina Veiga, Chalkbeat NY
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This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here.

The Education Department won’t give twins and siblings preference in middle school admissions this year in Brooklyn’s District 15, despite a parent-led campaign to make it easier for their children to attend the same schools.

But there could be changes in store for next year’s fifth-graders — and not just those in District 15: The Education Department is weighing whether to offer a twins or siblings admissions preference in other districts, according to parents involved in the push.

“We had so much hope,” said Anna Carpenter, the mom of twin fifth-graders at P.S. 107 who had been advocating to change the admissions policy for next year’s incoming sixth graders.

Carpenter was part of a group of moms with twins who argued that a new admissions policy to integrate middle schools in District 15 has made it harder for their children to stay together, creating logistical headaches for families. They launched an online petition and lobbied local elected officials, who issued a letter calling for an admissions preference that would also extend to other siblings. Even schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, himself a twin who attended college alongside his brother, indicated an openness to change.

Parent advocates learned the night before middle school applications were due that the Education Department would not move forward with a proposal for this year, said Stephanie Becker, another P.S. 107 mom of fifth-grade twins. She said she received a call from the city’s head of enrollment, who explained that the change could not be implemented this year due to short notice that families would have received. The school official also noted the possibility of extending a sibling priority beyond District 15 in future application rounds.

Education Department spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon did not provide any specific details on the city’s decision-making but confirmed that they were still considering a policy change for the future.

“We are always looking for ways to support our families and make their lives easier,” she wrote in an email. “Any change to our admissions system needs thorough analysis, and we need to listen to families citywide to understand their positions. We look forward to continuing a productive dialogue with the community and reviewing this proposal.”

Becker wishes the city could have used District 15 as a test case, just as the area has helped pioneer integration efforts that have served as an example for elsewhere in the city.

“They could have just piloted it in District 15,” she said, stressing her support for the district’s diversity push in addition to a twins priority. “They didn’t have to wait.”

Families in District 15 — which spans affluent neighborhoods such as Park Slope and lower-income areas including Sunset Park — must apply to middle schools. Until last year, almost all of its 11 middle schools used competitive admissions criteria, such as test scores and attendance records. For the first time last year, the district eliminated such “screens” and instead moved to a lottery system that gives priority to students who are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or come from poor families.

While the change was meant to spur more diversity in a starkly segregated swath of Brooklyn, families said it also took away the leeway that schools had to offer extend admissions offers to twins and siblings. When a school is already segregated, offering siblings an admissions preference can hamper integration efforts by making fewer seats available to children from different backgrounds.

But an Education Department analysis found that a sibling priority wouldn’t significantly tip the scales in Brooklyn’s District 15, according to data shared with community members involved in crafting the area’s integration plan. Twins families largely reflect the diversity of the district, the data showed, and the majority of those who would have received a sibling preference would have come from the district’s priority groups for disadvantaged students.

According to those familiar with the tabled proposal for District 15, twins would have had the option of sharing a single lottery number if applying to the same schools in the same order. Fifth graders who have a sibling currently enrolled in sixth grade would have also received admissions preference next year.

About 50 District 15 families with twins would have been affected, according to estimates shared with the integration working group members. Another 80 families would benefit from the sibling priority.

Middle school applications were due Dec. 6. Families should receive their admissions offers in the spring.

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