Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza met with members of the Asian community inside Gracie Mansion on Thursday to discuss his plan to overhaul admissions to the city’s specialized high schools, while just outside advocates opposed to a central feature of the plan rallied.
The closed-door meeting happened in the midst of budget negotiations in Albany, just days before the session is scheduled to wrap up. State lawmakers have yet to act on the mayor’s year-old proposal to increase integration at the specialized schools by doing away with the SHSAT, the exam that solely governs admissions. Many at Thursday’s rally complained that the mayor’s meeting, which wasn’t open to the public, was an apparent last ditch effort by the mayor to sway the opinion of some members of the Asian community behind his proposal.
“The mayor has never had any panel discussions with our communities in earnest,” said Chien Kwok, a parent who attended the rally. “He always pre-selected his people like he’s doing now — leaving out the people who don’t make him look good.”
Kwok said he and other protesters were there to make their voices heard despite being “shut out of this one-sided meeting.” Inside, over roughly two hours, parents and community organizers expressed disappointment to de Blasio, Carranza, and other city officials over how the proposal was rolled out, according to Yiatin Chu, a supporter of the SHSAT who was in attendance.
The mayor apologized to the room for “any feelings that were hurt by the way they conducted the process,” Chu said.
“What we heard around the table from many people in the community is the need to be very vocal and very public with an apology to the Asian community — which we have not seen,” Chu said.
Chu felt the opinions in the room skewed heavily in favor of the mayor, a sentiment she expressed to the chancellor.
“I said that there are fewer parents sitting around this table than there are organizations that obviously get funding from you,” she said.
Among the groups invited were Keep SHSAT, Chinese American Planning Council, Chinese American Justice Alliance, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, and Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York.
“Just because they have Asian in their name and just because they have a conduit to speak their mind, they don’t represent Asian parents of the communities that I am engaging in,” Chu continued.
Several of the people who attended the meeting declined to speak with Chalkbeat as they exited about what they had heard. Others, like Shino Tanikawa, who serves on District 2’s Community Education Council, were invited and chose not to attend.
City officials, including the mayor and chancellor, didn’t speak specifically about the negotiations happening in Albany, according to Chu, but did intimate that they planned on continuing conversations with community stakeholders.
“Our city works best when diverse stakeholders are at the table,” Will Baskin-Gerwit, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement. “The mayor has enormous respect for these leaders and the communities they represent. He wishes he had sat down with them sooner.”
David Rem, the father of a Latina student who will attend Stuyvesant in the fall, said he came to the rally to protest against de Blasio’s proposal which he views as “racist and divisive.”
“The way the mayor’s going about the program is saying to your brown and your black kids that you’re not smart enough to pass the specialized high school test,” Rem said. “But these kids are talented. They need the resources, they need the prep from gifted and talented that will help them pass the test. The mayor is unwilling because he wants a quick fix.”
The mayor and chancellor have reportedly floated the possibility of scrapping the SHSAT in favor of expanded gifted and talented programs. However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told New York Post that he wouldn’t agree to any “horse trading.” State lawmakers are expected to reveal a final budget soon.
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