Volume 22, Number 38 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 29 - February 4, 2010
Cheers & jeers as school Option 2 is picked
By Julie Shapiro
Ending months of speculation and battles that divided Lower Manhattan, the District 2 Community Education Council voted Wednesday night for school zoning Option 2.
The board’s 6-4 vote means that all Tribeca children west of Church St. will be zoned for P.S. 234. Children in east Tribeca and the Seaport will attend the Spruce Street School; the Financial District south of Liberty St. and Battery Park City south of Albany St. will attend P.S./I.S. 276; and north Battery Park City and Gateway Plaza will attend P.S. 89.
The new school zones are expected to be temporary and could last for several years. All children will be allowed to remain in their current schools and all younger siblings will be grandfathered into their older siblings’ schools.
The many public hearings on school zoning over the last several months have often been filled with applause and shouting, but as the C.E.C. voted Wednesday night, the couple hundred parents in P.S. 33’s auditorium in Chelsea fell silent. When C.E.C. President T. Elzora Cleveland confirmed the final tally, and it became clear that Option 2 had won, the room stayed quiet and no one moved. A couple of Option 2 supporters, wearing red, started to applaud, but they quickly stopped.
“We’re very relieved,” said Grace Flood, an Option 2 supporter and board member of the Greenwich Court condominium. Greenwich Court was included in P.S. 234 in the final versions of both Option 2 and the other option, called 3 Revised, but Flood was speaking on behalf of other south Tribeca residents who live across the street from P.S. 234 and did not want to cross the West Side Highway to attend P.S. 89 under Option 3R.
Standing among Option 2 supporters immediately after the vote, Flood said her next task was “to try to heal the divisions” between Lower Manhattan parents over the zoning issue.
On the other side of the auditorium, the Option 3R supporters gathered soberly, shaking their heads and comforting each other. Option 3R was embraced by northeast Tribeca parents who wanted P.S. 234; Gateway Plaza parents who wanted P.S./I.S. 276; and southeastern Financial District parents who wanted the Spruce Street School.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” said Kimberly Busi, a Spruce Street parent who is on the school leadership team.
Busi urged southeastern Financial District parents who hoped to be zoned for Spruce but were zoned for P.S. 276 to apply for Spruce anyway, in case there are extra seats available.
The C.E.C., too, is encouraging parents to apply to the schools they want, even if they were not zoned there. The C.E.C. planned to pass a resolution Wednesday night asking the city to find a way to swap seats among children who want to go to a school other than their zoned one.
The C.E.C.’s zoning decision comes just in time for next fall’s kindergarten registration, which starts Feb. 1 and runs through March 12. The Dept. of Education promised to follow the C.E.C.’s decision on school zones, so the zones the C.E.C. voted on will be in place for next fall. If the C.E.C. had not picked an option Wednesday night, the city would have resurrected last year’s lottery to distribute children among Lower Manhattan’s schools.
The C.E.C., a body of appointed and elected parents, tried to vote on the rezoning two weeks ago, and chose Option 2 by a 5-4 vote then, but neither option received the six votes required to pass it. The C.E.C. is supposed to have 11 members but only has 10, and one member, Diana Florence, was missing two weeks ago.
On Wednesday night, all C.E.C. members stuck to their previous positions, and Florence chose Option 2 without explaining her decision, putting it over the top. In addition to Florence, Cleveland, zoning committee co-chairpersons Shino Tanikawa and Sarah Chu, Mary Silver and P.S. 234 parent Eric Greenleaf voted for Option 2. Michael Markowitz, Lisa Urban, Cynthia Alvarez and Beth Cirone voted for Option 3 Revised.
C.E.C. members on both sides of the debate cited safety concerns and said they were picking the option they felt best kept Lower Manhattan’s communities intact.
Those communities often felt very separate during the past few months of debate, and several longtime parent activists Downtown said Wednesday night that they were disgusted by the way parents pitted themselves against each other to get what they wanted.
The intensity of the fight even got in the way of the C.E.C. appointing an 11th member Wednesday night to fill its final vacancy, a parent of an English as a second language student. Janet Roitman, who was supposed to be appointed, withdrew her application, partly because of the vitriol surrounding the Lower Manhattan rezoning.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, Cleveland read a letter from Roitman, a P.S. 234 parent, who said she was inundated with calls and e-mails when parents found out that she might be joining the C.E.C.
“The aggressive behavior of many [Downtown parents] has given me reason to pause,” Roitman wrote. She said personal matters also played a factor in her decision to withdraw her name.
Downtown’s five principals (including Maggie Siena, principal of P.S. 150, which is located in Tribeca but is not a zoned school) also urged parents to calm down when they spoke before the C.E.C.’s vote. The principals did not take a position on the zoning but promised that all of Downtown’s schools would provide a strong education.
“They’re all going to learn to read and do math,” said Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234. “Many schools can do that.”
Ripperger reminded the crowd that it is also important for parents to teach their children how to handle challenge and conflict.
“Tonight is a good place to begin,” she said. “When you go home tonight, do you want your child to hear that they’re going to a great school, or do you want them to believe that they’re getting second best?… Remember: Your child is sitting beside you — and they are learning.”