Parents Protest Magnet School
Meeting Over Columbia Secondary's Location at P.S. 36 Postponed
By Erin Durkin
Issue date: 11/15/06 Section: News
The New York City Department of Education postponed a meeting Tuesday night for parents concerned about a decision to locate the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering at P.S. 36.
The last-minute postponement further angered parents who said they had looked forward to the chance to voice their objections to DOE and Columbia representatives. The meeting was rescheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m."I'm upset because I feel that they should be out here to address any concerns that we have," said Kim Wynn, the president of the Parents' Association at P.S. 36. She said that she was informed of the cancellation at 2:45 p.m. She added that she was told that the decision was made because DOE had expected to have a private meeting with PA leaders and called it off after they were informed it would be public, which might have required a larger space.
The Parents' Association went forward with a planned protest outside the school. Dozens of children held signs and chanted "Save our school!" with parents cheering them on from the sidelines.
Columbia Secondary, a public magnet school that will open next fall and will be run in collaboration by the University and DOE, is set to eventually have its own building on the corner of 125th Street and Broadway, in Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion site. It will be temporarily housed at P.S. 36, a pre-kindergarten to second-grade school located on Morningside Drive.
According to a fact sheet handed out to parents at a meeting last week, DOE decided to locate Columbia Secondary at P.S. 36 after conducting a survey that showed that the school has a capacity for 868 students, while its current enrollment is 550. But parents and students Tuesday night disputed that claim, saying that the presence of Columbia Secondary students would overcrowd the school and cause safety issues.
"It's not really underutilized as the Board of Education would make people think," said Harriet Barns, president of the Community Education Council for District 5. She said that she was asked by DOE to serve on a committee to choose a location for the school, but that "it was set in stone before I was ever contacted."
"They want to cram it in like they did with every other school in District 5, where the kids have no special rooms [for enrichment classes]," she said. "You can't learn that way."
Second-grader Julissa Beralto agreed. "I don't want them to take our school away," she said.
"I think it's going to be a mess," added her mother, Yudelka Olivo. "They're going to squeeze all the little kids in. They're taking over everything. Why they got to mess up P.S. 36?"
Daniel Pelaez, 8, voiced concern for his brother, a pre-kindergartener at the school. "They're just babies. They're just babies in this class. They're not supposed to kick babies out. It's wrong," he said.
Shereen Jackson, herself a graduate of P.S. 36 and the mother of two current students and two graduates, raised the issue of safety at the school. "It'll be dangerous for the littler kids," she said. "No offense to the Columbia kids, but I think that they can find another location."
DOE spokesman Andrew Jacob said, "We take all parents' concerns seriously, and we look forward to addressing them at the meeting on Tuesday." On the decision to locate Columbia Secondary at P.S. 36, he said, "It's going to be a temporary solution, and our obligation is to use all of the facilities to accommodate as many students as possible." After the protest, parents and supporters met to strategize on how to block Columbia Secondary's move.
Newly elected State Senator Bill Perkins, D-Harlem, voiced his support for their efforts. "Columbia is not a friend in this particular situation," he said. "They are driving this as much as the Board of Education is driving this. ... I think we can stop this from happening, and we need to stop it from happening."
Community Board 9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc agreed. He said the board had not been consulted on the decision to place the magnet school at P.S. 36. "As far as we're concerned, this is not going anywhere," he said. "We're going to blast everybody from the chancellor of DOE to the trustees of Columbia."
Leora Falk contributed to this article.