Volume 22, Number 02 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 22 - 28, 2009
Downtown school panel sues over kindergarten spots
By Albert Amateau
The parent members of the District 2 Community Education Council filed a lawsuit on Monday charging the city Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein with violating state education law by making changes in Tribeca, Battery Park City and other district schools without C.E.C. approval or consultation.
The action filed in State Supreme Court claims that by failing to consult with the district C.E.C., the Education Department is effectively denying parents a voice in the process.
The law requires the D.O.E. to get community approval to make zoning changes in neighborhood elementary and middle schools. The law also requires D.O.E. to consult with the C.E.C. before establishing certain new programs or expanding or reducing high schools.
Regarding Lower Manhattan, the suit says that parents on the C.E.C. learned last June that the D.O.E. was ready to open two new schools in the neighborhood, Spruce Street School and P.S./I.S. 276. Some students zoned for P.S. 89 in Battery Park City and P.S. 234 in Tribeca were assigned to the new schools instead. The new schools will be operating out of temporary space in the D.O.E.’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse starting this September.
The suit argues that by moving children out of their zoned schools and into newly created schools the D.O.E. has effectively created new school zones and altered the zones of existing schools without consulting the District 2 C.E.C. or giving the council the opportunity to approve the zones.
“Thus in March 2009, some families of entering kindergartners previously zoned for either P.S. 89 or 234, despite their stated preference for their zoned elementary school, have been assigned to one of the two Tweed basement programs for new schools,” the suit says.
A D.O.E. spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, but Dennis Walcott, deputy mayor for education, addressed some of the lawsuit’s points in a column published by Downtown Express last week. Ironically, many Downtown parents had lobbied the D.O.E. to change the school zoning this year, in part so that students who are living right next to P.S. 234 or 89 would not have to travel further.
Walcott wrote: “Many parents were frustrated that the D.O.E. did not consider families’ proximity to P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 when making kindergarten placements…. But the city has an obligation to serve zoned students regardless of their address….
“We are working aggressively to clarify and resolve enrollment issues at crowded schools, both Downtown and throughout the city.”
Some parents who selected one of the existing schools as their first choice were randomly assigned to Tweed.
The suit also says that many families of children eligible for kindergarten in September in the Village, Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side were advised by D.O.E. that their children are on waiting lists for their zoned schools without explaining the procedure for devising the lists or for selecting which students are put on the list. Seventy-nine students in the Village have still not been assigned a zoned seat anywhere.
The suit wants the court to rule that D.O.E. policies in all those cases violate the state education law and seeks to compel the department to cede all zone alterations to the Community Education Council.