Volume 79, Number 35 | February 3 - 9, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Students from the Clinton School for Writers and Artists rallied on the City Hall steps Jan. 26 to protest the temporary relocation of their Chelsea middle school. Many wore red paint — their school color — on their faces.

Chelsea Writers students say mayor, Klein writing them off

By Jefferson Siegel 

The steps of City Hall served as a classroom for participatory democracy on Tues., Jan. 26, as dozens of students from the Clinton School for Writers and Artists in Chelsea came to protest a Department of Education proposal to move the middle school to another location for an undetermined number of years.

Clinton School students rallied to stop the proposed move, along with parents and support staff from several other schools. Many of the students had daubed red paint, the school’s official color, on their faces to demonstrate solidarity as they chanted, “D.O.E. don’t be cruel. Let us keep our Clinton School.”

“In a time of massive budget cuts, this temporary move is fiscally irresponsible,” Susan Kramer told the crowd. Kramer, a parent and member of the Clinton School Relocation Committee, called on D.O.E. to give the school another year at its current location while the purchase of a new school building near Union Square is finalized.

The Clinton School, a middle school serving grades six through eight, has shared space with P.S. 11 on W. 21st St. for more than 30 years. When the Clinton School recognized that overcrowding in the building was becoming unmanageable, its Relocation Committee found the Union Square location, which D.O.E. confirmed as suitable. Negotiations for its purchase were initiated.

Problems arose when the department proposed that the Clinton School temporarily move elsewhere without specifying a timeframe. At subsequent meetings with D.O.E. and its task force at City Hall, parents objected to any interim move that could last from one to three years.

“For middle school kids, three years is permanent,” Kramer told the crowd.

Complicating the situation, parents said the new building has not been identified in an educational impact statement issued earlier this month, contradicting a December 2009 letter from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott that the property was already identified and in negotiations.

The proposed move has repercussions for several other schools as well. If the Clinton School students move into “temporary” space at P.S. 33 on W. 26th St., special-education students from P.S. 138, also located in the P.S. 33 building, would be moved out of the neighborhood to the American Sign Language building on E. 23rd St.

“It’s just a horrible situation,” lamented Pat Jewett, P.T.A. president of P.S. 138. “If D.O.E. makes this move, they will be taking an illegal action,” she warned. School officials only learned of the proposal before last month’s holiday break.

Jewett is also concerned about a dearth of information from D.O.E.

“P.S. 138 has been e-mailing and writing D.O.E. with no response,” she said.

At the Jan. 26 rally, Lola Daehler, 12, a seventh grader at the Clinton School, stood holding a large envelope addressed to Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The envelope contained petitions with 154 signatures, as well as several personal letters written by concerned students to the mayor, asking that the school be allowed to stay until a permanent home is secured. Daehler had planned to personally deliver the envelope after the rally.

As the youngster stood with friends near the front of the crowd, Bloomberg emerged from City Hall with an entourage of aides and security. As they walked briskly to their cars, Daehler ran after the mayor, calling out to him to take the envelope. Bloomberg, though just a few feet away, did not acknowledge her. As the mayor climbed into his car, one of his aides turned and held his hand out to stop Daehler from approaching.

“I thought Bloomberg was nicer, but he isn’t really supporting us,” Daehler lamented as she was consoled by classmates. “He didn’t even turn to say, ‘You can mail this to me.’ He just pretended I wasn’t there.

“He’s not only ignoring us,” Daehler added, “he’s ignoring kids with major disabilities.”

After the rally, several parents entered City Hall with the envelope, where it was accepted at the front desk.

Gabrielle Brown, 16, graduated from the Clinton School two years ago but is concerned for her younger sister, who is still a student there.

“Their job is to think logically about the most carefully planned-out moves that are supposed to benefit the kids most,” Brown said of D.O.E., her arm around her younger sibling. “The fact that they haven’t, shows that they’re not doing their jobs.”

Alexandra Leaf, a mother of two, one of whom attends the Clinton School, said, “I think of schools and neighborhoods as ecosystems with their own complex life. In a city like New York, that means lots of little elements that manage to live together beautifully. To relocate Clinton, that’s been there 30 years, and to relocate [P.S.] 138, is to upset a delicate balance and cause undue harm.”

The Clinton School won the 2009 Blackboard Award for Manhattan’s Outstanding Public Middle School.

Two public hearings on the proposed move are scheduled: on Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of P.S. 33, at 281 Ninth Ave., and Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Clinton School auditorium, at 320 W. 21st St. A Panel for Educational Policy vote on the move is scheduled for Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at M.S. 131, at 100 Hester St.

 

 

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