Can School Zones Change?

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Just like their suburban counterparts, New York City parents often base their real estate decisions on the quality of the public schools. But New York City's vast array of choices and regulations can make that decision frustrating.

A reader, Michele Host, e-mailed this question:

My husband and I are looking for a new apartment, and we're being mindful of both the school district and the school zone as we do so because we have a 2-year-old. We're worried about the possibility that we could choose an apartment based, in part, on the apartment being in a particular zone, and then have the zone change.

Obviously there are other issues that could impact a student's school choice, such as overcrowding, etc., but we're very curious to know what the rules and regulations are surrounding how often school zones can change — are there any?

A spokesman for the city's Department of Education, Frank Thomas, said:

"I don't believe there is a limit on how many [zoning] changes can take place. Population, neighborhoods are always changing. But, if a student is enrolled and the zone changes they are grandfathered in."

Zoning changes for elementary and middle schools used to be made by local school boards. But those were replaced in 2003, when the State Legislature created Community Education Councils.

According to the Chancellor's Regulations, these councils were given authority to approve zoning lines, as submitted by community superintendents, applicable to schools under their jurisdiction.

The Department of Education still makes all zoning decisions with respect to high schools and schools of choice. But the regulations state that "C.E.C.'s shall be responsible for approving the zoning lines submitted by the community superintendent for zoned district schools." And when a decision is made, "parent associations/parent-teacher associations may appeal zoning line decisions made by the Community Education Council to the chancellor within 10 days of the decision."

At the Schoolbook Town Hall in Brooklyn on Thursday night, Kelvin Diamond, a member of the Community Education Council for District 13 in Brooklyn, was asked if established school zones ever change, and he said he did not know of any cases but suggested it could happen if neighborhood populations shift.

Zoning has been a contentious issue in Manhattan's District 2, where the Community Education Council rejected plans last month to simultaneously rezone schools in the Chelsea and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, as well as several schools in TriBeCa and Lower Manhattan.

This is why parents take such an interest when new schools are proposed for a neighborhood: They want to know the boundaries for its catchment zone, because just one block can make all the difference in where a child will go to school.