A plan to co-locate two schools in Harlem is drawing intense opposition from residents who say the city Department of Education has long neglected the host school, P.S. 36.
The city wants to temporarily move some students from Teachers College Community School into P.S. 36, which overlooks Morningside Park. But at a community hearing Wednesday, parents blasted the proposal and accused the department of letting P.S. 36 languish until its space became needed by a wealthier, whiter school community.
Valencia Moore, PTA president of P.S. 36, listed all the repairs and resources she says are needed at her school: new electrical wiring, stronger Wi-Fi, replacement desks and new bookshelves.
“Some of our teachers are using milk crates to store their books,” she said. “We’re short-staffed now, where we have parents coming in and volunteering.”
She added that parents have asked the city for years to make repairs to the school’s playground. City officials on Wednesday said they are planning to make the fixes and promised to look into another recurring request — to renovate bathrooms. For parents, the city’s response only exacerbated a sense of inequity many feel.
“Now, all of a sudden you can find money to fix the playground — because you’re bringing a wealthier school,” said Sanayi Beckles-Canton, president of the local Community Education Council. “You have kids bullying other groups of kids because their school looks better. That’s going on in Harlem… We deserve better.”
Sanayi Beckles-Canton, president of Community Education Council District 5 in Harlem.
TCCS is a diverse school where fewer than half of the students are low-income. Meanwhile, most of the students at P.S. 36 are black or Hispanic, and almost 90 percent are poor. To meet their students’ needs, P.S. 36 has partnerships with eight community organizations, which offer health screenings, counseling and mental health services within the building.
The co-location proposal stems from a battle to create a middle school for TCCS — something the community has pushed for. Opened in 2011 through a partnership between the city and Columbia University, the school is poised to admit its first sixth-grade class in the upcoming school year.
The problem is there’s no room for the extra grades at the current TCCS campus on Morningside Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets. So city officials have proposed moving TCCS’s younger students — pre-K through second grade — into the P.S. 36 building. The move is supposed to be temporary until the Department of Education can find a permanent home for TCCS.
Parents at TCCS have concerns of their own.
Laura Blake has a daughter at TCCS. She said parents are skeptical the co-location would work, and worry that staff and resources will be stretched thin across two campuses.
“It’s not a solution,” she said.
She echoed concerns from P.S. 36 parents that there simply isn’t enough room for more students — despite assurances to the contrary from city officials.
Moore, the P.S. 36 PTA president, worried the co-location would impede her school’s ability to continue to host community partners and serve its sizeable population — 31 percent — of students with special needs.
“We’re the little people,” she said. “We shouldn’t be bombarded by people who have money.”
According to the co-location proposal, only 64 percent of P.S. 36 is currently being used and students will still be able to receive the special education services they’re entitled to.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education explained why the move was necessary. “As demand for TCCS grows among families, we’re committed to providing its students and staff with the space and resources they need to continue thriving,” Michael Aciman wrote in an email. “This temporary re-siting will help ensure that the school can continue to grow enrollment and expand the grades it serves, as we work diligently to find a permanent home that meets the needs of the entire TCCS community.”
The Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide body, is scheduled to vote on the proposal at their regular meeting on Feb. 28.