New Found Democracy in Myanmar Does Not Apply to Rohingya Population

(Originally published in The World Room)

As the world acclaims the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, a minority Muslim group is still the victim of severe human rights violations that cast a shadow on the newfound democracy in Myanmar.

The Rohingyas, who are based in the southwestern Arakan State of Myanmar, have historically been denied citizenship and have been faced with violent attacks from Buddhist, which hit their highest point in 2012. Earlier this year, their right to vote was revoked and they continue to live in inhumane conditions without access to proper food, health care or shelter.

Many Rohingyas acknowledge that the National League for Democracy’s victory is a good step for Myanmar, but it is not a victory for them. They feel as though their own plight is far from being resolved. The violence they face along with the violation of many of their basic human rights have led Rohingyas and many experts and to conclude that the Rohingyas are experiencing a genocide, one that is not recognized by local Burmese officials or by the international community. This has caused the Rohingyas to feel uncertain of their future, regardless of the outcome of these elections.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Wakar Uddin, the director general of Arakan Rohingya Union, an association that claims to represent the approximately 2.6 millions Rohingyas in the world: half of them in Myanmar, and the other half living abroad…Read More

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Location Matters to Clinton Hill Homeless Community

(Originally published in New York Beat)

On a recent sunny Thursday afternoon, Tony was sitting alone on a park bench, surrounded by the white plastic bags that hold his belongings. He was playing chess with a hand made set, carved out of scraps of wood, and it was hard to distinguish the pieces. They weren’t the traditional black and white, but rather different shades of blue on one side and a mix of green, brown and orange pieces on the other.

The park was full of children playing, laughing and screaming, but Tony seemed lost in his game, completely unbothered by their excitement. Of course he could have picked any park to practice his chess skills, but everything about this scene suggested that this one was his home.

“I’ve been living here most of my life,” he said, referring to the neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The fact that Tony, despite not having a house, chose to live in Clinton Hill was no fluke. It was a neighborhood he knew and loved.

Homeless people, just as much as the general population, have preferences for certain neighborhoods and their decision to stay in a specific area can be influenced by a number of factors, from safety, to the presence of services, to a sense of home. But that doesn’t mean homeless people necessarily want to stay in the most peaceful residential neighborhoods…Read More

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Rezoning Shows Race and Class Divide in Brooklyn Schools

When Reverend Dr. Mark V. C. Taylor of the Church of the Open Doors finished his speech on Wednesday night, the auditorium in Public School 307 filled with the sound of cheers and applause as parents from his community of Farragut in Brooklyn gave him a standing ovation.

“This is a bad plan,” he said, referring to the Department of Education’s proposal to rezone P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights in order to alleviate the current overcrowding. The Reverend, a community leader for 25 years, added, “there has not been a serious analysis of the community at P.S. 307.”

If the Community Education Council approves the plan, white financially secure children from P.S. 8 would have to attend P.S. 307, where 95% of students are black and most come from lower-income families.

In trying to satisfy the needs of P.S. 8 parents who have been complaining about overcrowding for over a year, the Department of Education has come up with a solution involving P.S. 307 without consulting its community and evaluating the impact it would have on them.

As a result, over 300 parents in Farragut have already signed a petition against the Department of Education’s proposal.

In the past decade, under the leadership of newly-retired principal Roberta Davenport, P.S. 307 went from being a school in need to becoming a source of pride for the local community; one that Jonathan Geiss‎, the Associate Director of Analytics at the Department of Education said is known as “a wonderful learning community”. Not only is P.S. 307 a Magnet school for studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, it also offers unique courses such as mandarin, chess, violin, pre-kindergarten and ASD Horizon, a program for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

This year, P.S. 307 welcomed a new principal, Stephanie Carroll. Parents said they worry that this is already a period of change and she might need more time before taking on a challenge as big as this rezoning. Carroll refused to comment.

According to Micere Keels, a professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, it is likely that P.S. 8 parents will decide to send their children to a private or charter school and this would limit the impact of the rezoning. But the situation could be quite different if those parents chose to send their children to P.S. 307.

“If a substantial number middle and higher income families do send their kids to the school that is currently a high-poverty school,” she said, “there will definitely be numerous transition issues that need to be managed and policies that they may not currently have in terms of equitable distribution, of enrichment programs and things like that.”

At previous presentations given by the Department of Education, parents repeatedly asked how the change would affect their children’s educational experience but their questions remained unanswered. It is only after this rezoning gained national attention in the past week that the Department mentioned an “implementation task force” that would help the transition, but it remained vague on the details.
It is commonly believed that students from a higher economic class tend to perform better on tests because they have more resources outside of school. If test results rise as a result of these students coming in, P.S. 307 might not be able to allocate the same amount of in-school resources to students who don’t perform as well. Enrichment programs, for example, could become more limited because they are based on test scores.

The fact that parents from P.S. 8 tend to have a higher income, will directly impact funding opportunities for P.S. 307. Title I funding is particularly important in the community. It targets students who are at risk for homelessness and failing in school. However, it is only given in schools where more than 60% of students are eligible for free lunches. This is the case at P.S. 307 but not at P.S. 8. According to a document distributed by the Community Education Council, the rezoning “may affect [P.S. 307’s] future eligibility” for Title 1 funding.

The impact of this rezoning goes beyond students at the elementary school level. Satellite West, the Middle School that shared the building with P.S. 307, will have to move to a new location in order to accommodate the influx of P.S. 8 students. “A middle school isn’t an after-thought and it shouldn’t be an after-thought, it is an important continuity for our elementary schools” said Maggie Spillane, a member of the Community Education Council.

It was only a month ago that the Department of Education formally announced its rezoning plan for the 2016 school year. Prior to September 1st, the Farragut community was not aware of these upcoming changes. With the deadline for the Community Education Council’s decision only 45 days away, members of the P.S. 307 community who are trying to understand how the rezoning will impact them have repeatedly said the same thing: “We need more time.”