Today’s news:

An unwelcome ‘gift’ - Dist. 21 gifted programs closed to outsiders

School District 21’s gifted programs are no longer open to students outside of the district.

“I am very concerned with the loss of students. Our schools are going to be decimated, our classes are going to be eliminated, and there goes jobs,” Judy Gerowitz, District 21’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative, said at a meeting of the district’s Community Education Council (CEC).

For years, children attending schools in Districts 20 and 22 were admitted to gifted and talented programs in District 21 schools because of a 1974 court order meant to desegregate I.S. 239, the Mark Twain School for the Gifted and Talented. The court order applied to all middle schools in District 21, which includes Coney Island and Bensonhurst.

The court order was lifted this year after the parents of an Indian-American girl sued the city because their daughter was denied admission to Mark Twain based on the court order’s racial quota system, which held minorities to higher admission standards than white students.

Now, to be admitted to a District 21 school, a child must either reside within the district or attend a school in the district. Mark Twain remains a citywide program, thereby accepting students from throughout the city.

Laurie Windsor, president of the CEC for District 20, which spans Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst, said the new policy is equitable.

“What’s fair is fair,” she said. “It is fair to District 21 that they keep their programs the same way that District 20 wants to keep their programs.”

At the CEC meeting, Paul Helfman, the city Department of Education’s (DOE) director of student enrollment for School Districts 20, 21 and 31, said District 21 would still attract high caliber students.

However, if District 21 is unable to fill all of its gifted seats, Windsor suggested that students from Districts 20 and 22 be given a chance to apply — especially since the DOE will now close programs lacking enough eligible students.

“It would be such a sin to see any program close because they don’t have enough seats,” Windsor said.

By prohibiting students from leaving their district, they’ll have to consider local, and often overlooked schools, said Christopher Spinelli, president of the CEC for District 22, which includes Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

“I think this may be a good thing because we have historically lost some of our best students to Districts 20 and 21,” Spinelli said. “We’ve always tried to tell the story of how good the middle schools in District 22 are and statistically, they’re head and shoulders above most in the city.”

Brooklyn’s middle schools will hold open houses through December. School contact information is available on the DOE’s Web site, http://schools.nyc.gov.

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