Dividing our communities

A sad spectacle at a recent public hearing in Harlem shows how the Department of Education’s process for co-locating schools divides communities.

On one side of the auditorium of the Mid-Manhattan Adult Learning Center on 120th Street sat dozens of students and parents from a charter school that is slated to take over an entire floor and other space in the building. Across the aisle and filling most of the room were hundreds of adult students with their children and teachers from the thriving school.

Most who spoke on behalf of the charter school, Democracy Prep, were African-American. Most of the adult students were also people of color, many of them immigrants from Haiti, African nations and elsewhere.

Most on both sides were also apparently middle- or working-class or poor residents of this city. They share a desire for education and a path to a successful future.

How did it happen that people with so much in common would be pitted against each other, fighting over space in a school?

As several speakers at the hearing noted, the blame lies with neither Democracy Prep, which wants space for a new high school, nor with the adult learning center, which needs all the building space it now has.

The fault lies with the DOE for refusing to listen to the reasoned arguments of the adult learning center’s students, staff and supporters or even to engage with them before announcing the co-location plan in May.

Surely, the DOE could have found a more suitable space for Democracy Prep rather than taking over a third of a building that is bustling with 3,000 adult students working to master English, earn GEDs and get trained for productive jobs that will reap benefits for our city.

But the DOE appears to have no respect for the achievements of the adult ed school. Instead, it is forcing a co-location that pits one set of students against another.

The desire for an education should unite communities, not tear them apart.

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