Regional planners discuss race-schools divide amid report

This is a first grade classroom at Branch

This is a first grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

How the region's history of racially segregated housing patterns is linked to school district disparities that most negatively affect minority children was debated by members of the Long Island Regional Planning Council Tuesday.

The discussion emerged after a presentation from its consultant, Sharon Mullon, who surveyed the status of affordable housing on the Island and the strengths and weaknesses of various housing strategies. She submitted a draft to the council of a HUD-financed report she produced for the council on creating affordable housing.

John Cameron, council chairman, said in an interview the goal of the report was to "foster the creation of affordable housing on Long Island."


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The council is part of the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities consortium, which has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to explore "equitable and affordable housing," said Christopher Jones, vice president of the Regional Plan Association. He spoke at yesterday's council meeting, held at Molloy College's satellite campus at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.

During the discussion Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who is a council member, said he wanted the report to "de-emphasize" Long Island's history of racial segregation. He said the housing problem today had more to do with "economic segregation."

"I'm looking at it as the people on this island live where they live because it's where they can afford to live," Walter said.

Walter, a Republican, said while he favored school vouchers -- which typically involve a state payment that allows parents to finance their children's education in a public or private school of their own choosing -- a "simpler solution" would be "if you can allow children to cross even public school boundaries." He added no child should have to suffer in a low-performing school district.

"Let the poor school districts go out of business, and let the people come out of their school districts and go to other school districts," Walter said.

Council member Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Long Island, argued against minimizing references to segregation, noting its lingering effects.

"How is it possible, in 2014, to have a community where there is not a person of color?" Sanders asked. She said there were African-Americans who can afford to live in higher wealth districts but "are never going to be shown a house beyond Wyandanch, or the gray areas I talk about like Wheatley Heights. But you can't go to Dix Hills."

Since where a child attends public school is tied to where he or she lives, the link between opportunities in housing and school districts, Sanders said, is inescapable.

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