Volume 79, Number 37 | February 17 - 23, 2010
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Villager photos by Elsa Rensaa

Last Thursday afternoon, students and parents from P.S. 188 and P.S. 94 protested against giving more space in their building to Girls Prep, left. Meanwhile, Girls Prep students and parents counterprotested in support of getting more space, right.

Charter school wants to grow, but two other schools say, No

By Albert Amateau

More than 300 parents from Girls Prep charter school and two Community School District 1 public schools — P.S. 188, known as the Island School, and P.S. 94, a special education program for autistic children — argued bitterly last week over space they all share in the same building at E. Houston St. at Avenue D.

At issue was the plan, demanded by the charter school and put forth by the city’s Department of Education, to allow Girls Prep to expand from a kindergarten-to-fifth-grade school with 268 students to K-to-8 for 530 students over the next three years.

To allow the expansion, P.S. 94, currently with about 40 handicapped students in nine classrooms covering grades 4 to 8, would shrink over the next couple of years as its students graduate. Next year, no grade 4 would be enrolled, and the year after, no grade 5 would enter. Four classrooms are expected to be freed for Girls Prep.

As for P.S. 188, it would remain at about 400 students in grades K to 8.

Just before the three-hour meeting on Thurs., Feb. 11, angry partisans of P.S. 188 and P.S. 94 demonstrated in front of the 100-year-old school building at 442 E. Houston St., while determined parents of Girls Prep students counter demonstrated.

“The Department of Education wants to pit us against each other,” City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, told the P.S. 188 and P.S. 94 group. “You can’t expand one school at the expense of another school.”

“Rosie works for the U.F.T.,” chanted the Girls Prep demonstrators, referring to the United Federation of Teachers union and its endorsement of Mendez’s Council campaign. The U.F.T. has been critical of charter schools, which, although publicly funded, are not under D.O.E. or union contracts, but under state supervision and are answerable to their boards of directors.

Nevertheless, the Bloomberg administration has been encouraging charter schools, including Girls Prep; Michael Duffy, director of the D.O.E. Office of Charter Schools, presented the expansion plan at the Feb. 11 meeting.

D.O.E. officials said the expansion would not displace any existing students from P.S. 188 or P.S. 94. Mendez said the statement was absurd.

“When you reduce the number of classes, as you’ll be doing at P.S. 94, you’re displacing kids,” she said.

Miriam Roccah, founder and executive director of Girls Prep, said the school, organized 12 years ago, is 98 percent Latina and African-American and gives priority to girls in District 1, which covers most of the Lower East Side.

“Our applications ask your name, your address, what other schools you’ve attended, and that’s it — if you’re a girl and you live in the district, you’re in,” Roccah said.

The charter school’s achievement is 30 points higher than district schools, she said, adding, “Don’t let union propaganda and campaign politics stand in your way.”

Opponents, however, point out that despite the priority, students from District 1 amount to only 38 percent of Girls Prep’s enrollment, the rest coming from out of the district and out of Manhattan.

Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council, charged that charter schools siphon resources from district public schools, which serve low-income families.

Girls Prep shared a building with P.S. 15 on E. Fourth St. between Avenues C and D for several years and moved to 442 E. Houston St. three years ago. Last fall, the school’s quest for more space prompted D.O.E. to propose other alternatives that would have impacted Shuang Wen School, the dual-language English/Mandarin school on Cherry St., and P.S. 20 on Essex St.

“This is not about unions, this is not about race — this is about space,” said Edward Hambaton, a P.S. 188 third-grade teacher.

Jessica Santos, mother of a 9-year-old boy at P.S. 94, and a member of the P.S. 94 School Leadership Team, said the plan would eliminate programs that autistic children need.

“Our kids are different, they’re not less,” she said. “We need a sensitivity room — because our kids get overexcited and confused in a big gymnasium. We need a music room, we need a theater room.”

The city mandates that special education classes have no more than six students with one teacher and one assistant.

Ronnie Schuster, principal of P.S. 94, presented Andrew Campbell, a student who proudly announced that he is going to high school next year. Campbell talked about his technology class teacher and getting on the Internet.

“Please don’t forget P.S. 94,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from the meeting.

Ellen McHugh, a parent of a special education student and a member of the Citywide Council on Special Education, told the meeting that there were originally 14 rooms in the Houston St. building for P.S. 94.

“Now there will be five. The [Department of Education] is conducting a minimal program,” McHugh said. “It should be planning a totally inclusive program so that every child can learn here.”

John Englert, another C.C.S.E. member, noted that a leak from the roof into the fifth floor was reported months ago.

“Maybe they’ll fix it now because kids with disabilities are being displaced by other children,” he said.

Mary Pree, principal of P.S. 188, said P.S. 94 needs more space, not less.

“We’ve made some baby steps toward integrating P.S. 188 and P.S. 94,” Pree said. “I think we shortchange the city by reducing space for District 75 [special education]. We at P.S. 188 are working on being a full-service community school, with classes for parents, after-school programs and vacation-time schools.”

John Coleman, a parent at P.S. 20 on Essex St. — which was at risk of losing space under an earlier plan for the Girls Prep expansion — said the charter school needs to find its own place to grow.

“Girls Prep needs its own building, a place to find new ways to help all children,” he said.

 

 

 

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