Williamsburg parents protest city’s plan to co-locate third school inside kids’ building

Some call plan ‘racist’

October 22, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Parents, teachers and community members in a Hispanic section of Williamsburg say they are shocked and dismayed that the Department of Education (DOE) plans to “shoehorn” another middle school into their kids’ school building which already houses an elementary school and a middle school.

Hundreds at P.S. 196 and M.S. 582, at 207 Bushwick Ave.,  rallied in protest before a hearing Monday evening, calling the city’s plan outrageous and even racist. Roughly 80 percent of the students at the schools are Hispanic, while the rest are mostly black.

DOE claims the school building is “underutilized,” projected to serve about 650 students next year but with room for a thousand. But parents say that the city is not taking into account that a whopping 20-plus percent of students there require Special Education and occupational or physical therapy, and that squeezing in another 350 students would mean the elimination of science labs, gym time and other enrichment programs that help all their kids succeed.

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“You can’t teach Special Ed kids in a room with three other groups,” Maria Brunson, mother of a sixth-grader at M.S. 582, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “They can’t learn like that.” DOE’s plan would eliminate the art room and science lab, and overcrowd classrooms, she said. “How are these kids going to learn?”

“This campus currently provides a variety of unique services and houses one of the largest populations of self-contained special education and special needs students in the district,” Councilmember Diana Reyna (Williamsburg/ Bushwick) said in a statement. “Contrary to what the Department of Education is saying, the space at P.S. 196 is by no means underutilized.”

In a Special Education class the legal ratio of students to teacher can be no more than 12 to 1, with one full-time teacher and one additional staff person for every three students. So while it may appear on paper that a room can house 35 students, in reality, with a Special Ed  class, the room can hold only 12.

P.S. 196 received an “A” on last year’s school progress report, with high grades in all categories. The school received extra credit for “exceptional graduation outcomes” of students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students who enter high school at a low performance levels.

DOE says that its policy of small schools is proving to be a successful one for the city’s kids. But Ms. Brunson said that squeezing in another school would sabotage P.S. 196’s success. “This school is doing very well. People want to come here; we’ve fought for something good. We want our kids to have what other kids have, and we want the schools to succeed.”

According to the advocacy group “Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools!” (WAGPOPS!), some of the rooms P.S. 196 would lose were built just for P.S. 196 and outfitted for specific purposes “at no cost to taxpayers as the result of our unique partnerships with companies such as J. Crew, Barclay’s Bank, J.P. Morgan and others.”

Coucilmember Reyna; Assemblywoman Maritza Davila; City Council candidate Antonio Reynoso, Councilmember Letitia James and Community Board 1 have come out against the plan, and almost 300 community members have signed a petition on Change.org addressed to the Mayor’s Panel on Educational Policy.  The petition reads in part:

“The current proposal is based on an erroneous assessment of our current utilization of space, and is pedagogically inappropriate. It ignores where the true need for an additional middle school exists in our district, and imposes a counterproductive burden on our two existing schools, while offering no additional educational benefit to the students of either.”

District 14’s Community Education Council recommends another nearby location for the new middle school: M.S. 330. “Unlike our own sector, it is in a part of our district that is in need of additional middle schools, and it would not unduly burden the existing school that it would share space with.”

Some parents are even calling the city’s plan racist – and they point their fingers straight at Mayor Bloomberg. “Bloomberg doesn’t go to white people’s schools and say we’re going to take away your science program,” Ms. Brunson said. “Our kids need science programs, too. Why pick on minority schools? He can’t stand in Staten Island and say we’re going to take your science lab, your gym and your lunch room.”

District 14 Community Education Council president Tesa Wilson, in a statement, agreed with Brunson. “They are going to look at my brown and black children and tell me that they can’t have a dance room or a science lab, that it’s a luxury. These extra rooms aren’t luxuries, they are rights.”

While co-locations and school closures disproportionally impact students of color, the city did recently try to co-locate another middle school inside a struggling middle school, I.S. 2, in Staten Island. The city dropped the plan earlier this month, however, after strong opposition. I.S. 2 is 56 percent white.

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