When I tell people I’m from Queens, I often hear how diverse the borough is. And depending on how much time or patience I have, I often follow that up with, “Yes, but it’s also the most segregated.” After school dismissal at my high school, Bayside, was the perfect example of this. You didn’t really have to ask anyone which bus they were taking to get home — the white kids jumped on the Q76 going toward Whitestone or simply walked home. The Asian Americans waited at the Q28 stop to get to Flushing, along with the Latino students who would then jump on the 7 train afterward. Black students hopped on either the Q31 or the Q76 heading toward Jamaica. I knew the buses and trains in Queens like the back of my hands from visiting friends all over the borough. And as fun as it was to feel like I had traveled to a different country every time I visited a friend, I knew that most of my friends did not explore much outside of their own nabes and unless you auditioned to be in a school like Bayside, schools were also pretty segregated.
So when a recent National Public Radio podcast covered the drama at a Community Education Council (CEC) meeting regarding a diversity plan for District 28 in Queens, I was not surprised. Code Switch is a podcast about how race, class and power shape American schools. District 28 in Queens is a largely diverse–but segregated–part of Queens with a north and south side. The north side, consisting of Rego Park and Forest Hills have the best schools in the district, while the south side which contains sections of Jamaica are at a stark contrast. So when parents who live on the north side got wind that District 28 would be participating in a new diversity project, things didn’t go well.
The podcast follows the process of a grant that was awarded to District 28 in an effort to diversify the district. Districts that were awarded the grant were to hold workshops hosted by diversity working groups made up of community stakeholders where members of the community could give input on ways in which to diversify the district schools. However, when parents realized that a district in Brooklyn had come up with a plan to bus students across the district as part of their diversity solution, they panicked. Before a single workshop could take place, around 200 parents showed up to a CEC meeting that typically only has a turnout of 10-20 people.
So what was the issue? Most of the parents against the idea of a diversity plan were those from the north side of the district. They argued that it would not be fair to potentially have their children removed from their school and be sent to a sub-par school in the south side of the district. One parent from the south side argued that rather than move around the students, the focus should be on improving the schools located in the south side.
The podcast will dive deeper into the history of the neighborhoods of District 28 in Queens over several episodes and more on the diversity project process. Ultimately, according to the website, the diversity plan was halted due to Covid-19. Listen to the Code Switch podcast here.