What is about W.E.B. Du Bois that the de Blasio Administration doesn’t like?
That’s the question on several local lawmakers lips after the Department of Education this week reversed its earlier decision to shutter the W. E. B. Dubois High School in the middle of gentrifying Crown Heights with one major rub – they want to rename the institution Aspirations Diploma Plus High School.
The school’s namesake is a seminal figure in African-American history that preached self-empowerment and opposed the controversial Atlanta Compromise. Du Bois believed that black empowerment came from increased political representation through the African-American intellectual elite, the idea that African-Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership.
“To paraphrase W. E. B. Du Bois in ‘The Souls of Black Folk,’ people of conscience are bound to ask this nation of three things: 1. the right to vote; 2. civic equality; 3. the education of youth according to ability. W. E. B. DuBois Academic High School exemplifies these words. His connection to Brooklyn as a renowned scholar, as a civil rights hero, and as a co-founder of the NAACP, and his connection to the name of this school must not be erased,” said State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Central Brooklyn).
The controversy over the school began several months ago, when the DOE announced it would close the school because of low enrollment and bus the nearly all black student body to the Brownsville Academy High School, 115 East New York in impoverished Brownsville.
However, after much pressure from nearly all of Central Brooklyn’s black elected officials as well as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Public Advocate Letitia James, the DOE withdrew the plan just weeks after the Panel on Education Policy’s (PEP) final vote on the proposal was cancelled.
In place of the old proposal sits a new plan in which DOE officials aim to consolidate Du Bois at its current site with Aspirations Diploma Plus High School, 1495 Herkimer Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The new plan, a result of Aspirations having a building lease end date of 2019, also calls for the name change. Additionally, there will be a school leadership change from current Du Bois Principal Katherine Costa to the principal of Aspirations.
According to the DOE, although the high school will get a new name, the actual building will be called the W.E.B. Du Bois Campus, and Costa, along with any existing staff at Du Bois, will not be fired but merely re-distributed.
Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights) though applauding the original consolidation plan reversal, denounced the second consolidation proposal.
“The DOE’s new consolidation plan includes a proposal to consolidate Aspirations Diploma Plus High School into W.E.B. Du Bois High School, and while I welcome the Aspirations students and faculty into our community with open arms, I stand in solidarity with my colleagues, community members, and the entire W.E.B. Du Bois family to denounce the DOE’s proposal to remove the name W.E.B. Du Bois, and its leadership team from the school,” said Mosley.
W.E.B. Du Bois High School is a transfer high school serving over-aged, under-credited students since 2001. The school has a history of serving academically challenged students and has been critical in the predominantly Black community of Crown Heights for giving second chances to any student willing to earn their high school diploma.
City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Forte Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights) was also adamant in preserving the school’s name and staff, while also praising the consolidation proposal as a new opportunity for school funding.
“I must underscore that we will stand firm on these aspects: we must preserve our school name; maintain our leadership, teaching, and administrative staff; incorporate the best curriculum and enrichment programs such as the digital gem known as the W.E.B. Center; and most importantly, celebrate our new families and students. Our beautiful new partnership with Aspirations Diploma Plus High School will surely be a union that will transform the lives of our scholars,” said Cumbo.
The consolidation plan would not go into effect until the 2019-2020 academic calendar.