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Opinion | A Brooklyn School District Finds a Path Toward Integration

Elected officials who prefer not to discuss the fact that New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the United States could soon have no choice. A state appellate court has said that an anti-discrimination lawsuit can move forward.

The suit charges New York with maintaining a “racialized pipeline” through which gifted and talented programs and screening practices condemn many students of color to “neglected schools that deliver inferior and unacceptable outcomes.” If successful, this landmark legal challenge could remake admissions practices at selective public schools.

At the same time, in Brooklyn, a public school district that covers both poor and affluent neighborhoods has shown it is possible to integrate schools — without rancor or a mass exodus of white families — when parents and school officials value integration as a benefit in itself.

As my colleague Troy Closson explained last week, the remaking of Brooklyn’s District 15 began several years ago, when parents expressed a desire to integrate middle schools that were among the most homogeneous in the city. “Selective admissions were scrapped,” Closson wrote. “Every child got a lottery number instead. Schools adopted targets to admit certain numbers of disadvantaged children.” Middle schools set aside seats for students who were from low-income families, living in temporary housing or still learning English. Crucially, the schools fill incoming classes through a lottery, instead of using metrics like grades or attendance.

As a result, the district’s middle schools, which were the second-most socioeconomically segregated, improved to rank 19th out of the city’s 32 local districts. Teachers and students now say friendships are emerging across income lines, and a more diverse set of middle schoolers began taking state algebra exams.

Antonia Martinelli, a parent leader, told The Times: “We’ve managed to debunk this ‘good school-bad school’ narrative. Parents understand that they’re all great schools.”

Integration is hardly a cure-all, and challenges remain. But this example shows that breaking with segregation does not have to involve bitterness and decades of delays.

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