Who "Rules" The Schools?

We’re excited to jump back into current events after our recent series. This week, we’re featuring an article from The New York Post on what’s “within the rules.”

The Post recently ran a story calling out top New York City Department of Education executives who ditched their residential school zones and sent their children to other district schools. Each of the situations was supposedly “within the rules,” but the article’s tone questions the legitimacy of their exceptional situations.

In one case, when The Post contacted the Department of Education (DOE), they claimed the administrator’s house was zoned for the school. However, after Post reporters discovered her address, the DOE changed their tune, stating that she had filed for a “child-care hardship waiver,” allowing her child to attend the school her child was not zoned for. In another case, an administrator's child easily bypassed the commonly long waiting list for intradistrict transfer.

What’s so compelling about this story?  First, it’s interesting because when children are assigned to schools, parents often find the assignments inappropriate for their children. Exceptions are needed, and rules are created to grant them. So, a parent may feel some empathy for these administrators who wanted to move their children to a different school. However, for the average family, attaining these exceptions is difficult and unlikely, and it is more common that they are stuck in the school attached to their address.

Even more compelling, however, is the reality that an alternative set of rules exists for parents who are well-connected or in positions of power. These rules are not publicized, and sometimes they are not even published. Take, for example, a similar story from Raleigh, NC where a school board’s vice chairman not only had her daughter moved to a better school but also had an extra stop added to the bus route for her daughter. When pushed to show how she had “followed the rules,” administrators described their verbal agreements as excuses to cover for not having a paper trail. Perhaps the rules are “real,” but they are obscure, difficult to navigate, or downright invisible for the typical parent.

Without power, very few people have access to the secret rules or to the people who have the authority to grant waivers without any paperwork. But often, when they are discovered to be using their powerful positions, administrators pretend that the system is transparent, stating that families should feel good knowing everyone is always “following the rules” (just not the same ones). 

School system administrators like having the power to assign students to schools "for the good of the system.” Then, administrators and their “friends” are essentially allowed choices, but everyone else is not. They want control but they also want to build in a system to grant exceptions for themselves and for influential people.

It is hard to ignore that these administrators weren’t satisfied with their own children’s school assignments. With the power to escape the system, they didn’t want their children’s education to be defined by their addresses. They wanted a choice. When considering how the school systems work in your community and affect the neighborhoods around them, assess whether the system you are being sold is an idealized version of the truth. Is there really equal opportunity for education in your neighborhood? Is everyone really following the rules? Are the rules the same for everyone? Are you even sure that you can know what the rules really are?

Dissatisfied with what exists? Check out a system without district lines.