Parents at two West Harlem public schools chanted “sí se puede” at a public forum on Wednesday about the New York City Department of Education’s proposal to squeeze a third school in the same building as the two schools.
The Educational Impact Statement said that the DOE has complied with the proposal. Its approval would lead to the addition of a sixth grade for the 2014-15 school year. Seventh and eighth grades would be phased in over the following two years.
Elsa Nunez, superintendent of Community Education Council 6, said that based on the DOE’s findings, the campus could accommodate all three schools—P.S. 325, 192, and the proposed new middle school—without reaching the building’s maximum capacity.
While parents were divided over the prospect of co-locating a third school in the building, they agreed that the area needs a middle school.
“We want our children to stay here until eighth grade so they don’t have to travel so far,” said Rosa Alvarez , the parent of a third-grade student. She expressed her frustration that the closest middle school that her older daughter can attend is on 191st Street, 55 blocks away from her elementary school. “I’m not able to attend the meetings at my daughter’s school, so I applaud the new school coming,” she said.
CEC members struggled to determine whether parental support was stronger for the co-location of a new middle school on the existing property or for the expansion of one of the existing elementary schools into a K-8 model.
Angela Garces, a CEC District 6 member, questioned whether parents truly understood the distinction, although she recognized that they “have been given a lot of information in a short period of time.”
Miriam Aristy-Farer, CEC District 6 president, noted that the Educational Impact Statement was not made available in Spanish until Sept. 20, despite the high percentage of Spanish speakers in the district. Almost every parent who spoke at the meeting did so exclusively in Spanish.
“I don’t think you’ve been given 45 to 60 days,” she told parents, referring to the time period required to review such a proposal.
Several CEC members expressed their support for an expansion proposal that was first brought up three years ago. Others said they saw the situation as an example of the DOE’s lack of concern for parents’ demands.
“If we are going to exercise democracy in this situation, let the voice of the parents be heard. Go back to the original proposal,” Fe Florimon, a CEC member, said.
P.S. 192 Parent Teacher Association President Carol Compres questioned the benefits of focusing on expansion before education quality.
“I don’t know why the DOE supposedly doesn’t have enough funds to raise the schools up, instead of putting another school inside the building,” she said.
Another CEC member, Victoria Frye, expressed further frustration with the DOE’s failure to respond to community demands for a middle school that have been voiced since the 1980s.
The DOE, she said, “excels at dividing us as parents. When you shove three schools in one building, that’s what you get. A divided community.”
The DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the co-location proposal on Oct. 15.