An overflow crowd had people pounding at the Queens Borough Hall community room door yesterday for an SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test) school diversity forum – many of whom came to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s proposal to get rid of the exam.

    During the April 12 meeting, Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) – chair of the Senate’s NYC Education Committee – accused de Blasio of purposefully not coming to his constituents with his proposal last year because the mayor knew there would be a backlash from the Asian community.

    “Last year things came to a head when the de Blasio administration proposed some pretty significant changes that have not gone anywhere at this point,” said Liu. “Today the Senate is holding forums for the simple purpose of hearing any opinions on this issue. This is necessary because last year the city proposed a plan without including many parts of the city, and in particular the Asian community was excluded, not inadvertently, but intentionally and deliberately.”

    Throughout the forum parents and former alums of the eight specialized high schools took issue with a statement from Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza earlier in the week that insinuated that those who weren’t on board with the elimination of the test were racist.

    State Sen. John Liu. Photo by Naeisha Rose

    “As soon as he got here he tweeted ‘angry white parents,'” said Charles Vavruska, a parent of a specialized high school student. “Then he said that Asians “own the admissions system.'”

    On April 2, 2018, Carranza took over as schools chancellor from Carmen Farina after her retirement and on April 27, 2018 he retweeted a NY1 video titled “Room of Rich, White NYC Parents Get Mad at Plan to Diversify Neighborhood’s Schools.” He later apologized about forwarding the tweet.

    In June 2018, on a “Good Day New York” segment Carranza said, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that one ethnic group owns admissions to these schools.”

    Asian American students made up nearly 52 percent of the student body at the eight elite schools throughout the city that requires a single exam for admissions.

    “We’ve never had this before,” said Vavruska. “I don’t remember this division between communities back then. I certainly don’t remember the chancellor instigating it. I love this city. I don’t want to see one community pitted against another community.”

    Vavruska was not the only parent that felt the mayor’s proposal was pitting different communities against each other.

    Charles Vavruska, a parent of a Brooklyn Tech student. Photo by Naeisha Rose

    Horace Davis, a black alum of Brooklyn Tech with a student also attending the specialized school, doesn’t blame the test for the current lack of diversity in the elite eight institutions.

    “In the 70s, 80s and 90s blacks and Hispanics accounted for more than 50 percent of the students at Brooklyn Technical High School,” said Davis. “Today’s admissions criteria – the specialized high school test – is the identical process that was used back then, suggesting the lack of diversity is not the consequence of the test.”

    Davis like several other parents in the room blamed former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for stripping communities of color of special progress classes, honors classes, and gifted & talented programs during his tenure as the head of the city from 2001 to 2013.

    “Underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics at specialized high schools is a symptom of a much larger problem,” said Davis. “What we definitely need is to restore the gifted & talented programs.”

    Davis along with many other parents also suggested there is a need for more seats at specialized high schools and more specialized high schools in general, especially in Queens, which has 2.3 million residents.

    Queens High School for the Sciences at York College in Jamaica is the only specialized school in the World’s Borough and admitted a total of 151 students in 2018, according to the city’s Department of Education. Overall, there were 5,067 seats for students that year throughout the eight schools. There are over 1.135 million students in the New York City school system.

    “For every argument you give for getting rid of the test I can give you two for keeping it. The bottom line is taking away the test will marginalize opportunities for thousands of students of mostly low-income and mostly immigrant [backgrounds],” said David Lee. “At this point not only is the rollout racist, but the whole concept is racist. It is polarizing.”

    Similar to Davis, Lee said, “create more schools, create more seats, and let’s fix the crisis in K to eight schools, in particular for African American and Latino students.”

    Despite the outcry from parents who want the test to stay, de Blasio wants a more open process. One proposal includes the top seven percent of students of every middle school attending a specialized high school.

    In March 2019, blacks and Latinos received 10.3 percent of offers to specialized high schools.

    “The mayor believes we need an education system that gives every child the opportunity to succeed no matter their background or whether they can ace a single test,” said the mayor’s Deputy Press Secretary Jacqueline Rothenberg. “Dramatic reform is necessary to open the doors of opportunity at specialized high schools and our plan allows for more opportunity across the board.”

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