Downtown Express photo by Julie Shapiro
The Dept. of Education’s Elizabeth Rose explained the Downtown kindergarten decision Wednesday night.
Kindergarten rejection letters sent out at P.S. 234
By Julie Shapiro
Parents found relief or anxiety in their mailboxes this week as kindergarten admissions letters arrived.
The relief went mostly to families who are zoned for P.S. 89, P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School — all of whom received acceptances.
But many families zoned for P.S. 234 were not so lucky. Tribeca’s perennially overcrowded elementary school received far too many applications and used a lottery to place 67 children on a waiting list.
Jim St. Andre, who lives at 50 Murray St., a few blocks from P.S. 234, opened his letter on Wednesday to find that his son was No. 61.
“We have no chance of getting in,” St. Andre said Wednesday night. “It’s an incredible amount of disappointment and frustration with the situation.”
Part of St. Andre’s frustration is that the Dept. of Education will not let him and other waitlisted families express a preference for their second choice. St. Andre, for example, prefers the Spruce Street School over P.S. 89 or P.S. 276 because he doesn’t want his son to cross the West Side Highway at one of its busiest intersections.
“What I want is to have some option in where my son goes to school,” St. Andre said.
Community Board 1 passed a resolution this week urging the city to consider parents’ second-choice preference.
Elizabeth Rose, the D.O.E.’s director of portfolio planning for District 2, said Wednesday night that she understood the community board’s position, but the city’s policy is to place waitlisted children in the nearest school with available seats, without asking for a preference. Rose said giving parents the extra choice ultimately “creates worse feelings and more anxiety,” especially if the city can’t honor that choice.
Rose spoke at the District 2 Community Education Council meeting, where she laid out the next steps for families zoned for P.S. 234.
Rose said that Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234, has already heard from some parents who received one of the school’s 115 general education seats but are sending their children to private school. Additional seats in the school will open up as children with special needs are placed in the collaborative team teaching program or as they are admitted to the city’s gifted and talented programs, she said.
P.S. 234 asked all families who received seats to confirm that they want to attend by April 9 and to register between April 12 and April 23. As the school hears of seats opening up, “They will not wait, they will not pass Go,” Rose said, but the school will immediately notify families on the waitlist.
Those children who are still on P.S. 234’s waitlist in May will be offered alternate seats the week of May 17, Rose said. That’s six weeks earlier than the D.O.E. notified parents on waitlists Downtown last year, she said.
“Because we know how anxious families are, we want to make sure everyone knows as early as they possibly can,” Rose said.
The alternate offers will likely be in extra classes the city opens in P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School and in available space at P.S. 3 in the Village. Rose said it was unlikely that seats would open up at P.S. 89.
In fact, P.S. 89 in north Battery Park City is also dealing with more applications than the school can handle: 88 for 65 general education seats. But unlike P.S. 234, which held a lottery, P.S 89 sent out acceptance letters to all the zoned students who applied. To prevent the school from being overcrowded this fall, the city also sent a second letter to the roughly 20 children who live in Gateway Plaza, offering them the chance to switch to P.S. 276, the new school opening in south B.P.C.
Connie Schraft, parent coordinator at P.S. 89, said she expects many Gateway families to take the 276 offer, since they live close to 276 and wanted to be zoned there anyway.
“We’re expecting it will work out fine,” Schraft said.
St. Andre, the Murray St. parent, said it was unfair for the city to offer a choice to some Lower Manhattan families and not others.
“All any of us are hoping for is a reasonable, defensible, logical plan going forward that treats all residents the same way,” he said.
St. Andre also pointed out that the city appears to have defied its policy on siblings in the P.S. 234 lottery. The city’s official policy is to give first preference for kindergarten seats to zoned children with siblings in the school, then zoned children without siblings, then out-of-zone children with a sibling in the school, and finally out-of zone children without siblings, according to Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, D.O.E. spokesperson. But for P.S. 234, school and D.O.E. officials said repeatedly that all siblings of current students, whether they were zoned for 234 or not, would automatically receive a seat in the school. By all appearances, the school did in fact give preference to all siblings.
Anneliese Pfeil, a southwest Tribeca resident whose son won the P.S. 234 lottery, said that if the city was willing to bend its policy on siblings at P.S. 234, then the city should also bend its policy on parents expressing a preference for a second choice.
While Pfeil said she was “thrilled” to receive a seat at 234, she added that it was important for parents to keep fighting for those who were shut out.
There was some confusion over the Downtown waitlists this week because the numbers that the D.O.E. released publicly showed waitlists at all four Lower Manhattan schools. Rose said the city’s numbers are just estimates based on the budgeted capacity of the schools, and the true numbers are coming from the schools themselves.
Those numbers are higher than the D.O.E. anticipated when rezoning Downtown’s schools earlier this year. Two weeks ago, Rose said the city hopes to build a new 450-seat elementary school somewhere on the West Side south of the Village to meet the growing need.
Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and C.E.C. member, said Wednesday that parents have been calling for a new school for years, and time is running out.
“Now it’s not theoretical — it’s very imminent,” Greenleaf said. “If you want an analogy, we’re not painting the nursery anymore. We need new schools, and we need intermediate solutions.”