Following a seemingly arbitrary decision, PS 196 teachers and parents are up in arms, saying that the City is putting their children’s educations at risk.
Claiming that the school is underutilized and citing the district’s need for additional Middle Schools, the Department of Education (DOE) notified Principal Janine Colon of its plan to co-locate a Middle School in the perennially A-rated Elementary School’s building, beginning in September 2014. This comes despite the fact that PS 196 already shares its space with another Middle School, 582.
“How do they expect the kids to get to the next grade level?” asked a frustrated Evelyn Rivera, the mother of a PS 196 second grader and an MS 582 sixth grader. “How is the teacher going to [focus] on 35 students [at once]?”
Teachers and parents fear that the decision will lead to increased competition for resources, overcrowd the school, take away gym time as well as cafeteria time (“someone will be eating lunch at 10AM,” said a parent), overgrow class sizes, take away resources from the students and raise safety issues for the younger students who will be significantly outnumbered by older kids.
“We use every inch of our building to enrich the lives of our students,” said Roseann Randazzo, a third grade teacher who has been at the school for eight years. To make space for the new Middle School, classrooms used for enrichment programs, such as those housing the school’s computer, photography, yoga, community leadership and art programs, as well as its “block room,” would need to be vacated by PS 196.
“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,” said Councilmember Diana Reyna. “Contrary to what the Department of Education is saying, the space at PS 196 is by no means underutilized.”
In addition to enrichment programming, the school has five self-contained Special Education classes. Legally, the maximum class size for these special needs students with is 12. The proposed co-location threatens to violate that mandate, as well as that which requires separate classroom space for students who receive Occupational or Physical Therapy, Speech, Guidance, and other services.
“Having decisions made by people whose kids aren’t subject to those decisions just isn’t right,” said Rob Burstein, an ESL teacher who has been at PS 196 for 26 years. “The quality of education we’ve developed will suffer.”
As far as the need for additional Middle Schools in the district, the disagreement is on the location. The District 14 Community Education Council (CEC) has advised the DOE that siting the new Middle School in MS 330 would not impede the programs and services offered there.
“We get that somewhere in the district there needs to be another Middle School,” said Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Janiec. “Why not put it in the area that parents are requesting it.”
“This wouldn’t happen anywhere else, other than communities like ours,” said Maritza Davila, the district’s democratic nominee for the State Assembly. Every program already in that school needs to be protected. Our community needs to stand together to stop the types of services the City is trying to force in.”
PS 196 and MS 582 parents and teachers are organizing an emergency meeting and rally on Monday October 21st at 4:30PM in front of the school. The public hearing on the proposed co-location will follow at 5:30PM in the PS 196 auditorium.