Behind the scenes, parents mount coordinated campaign to block Upper West Side rezoning

On June 3, parents at P.S. 452 on the Upper West Side received an online survey about the city’s plan to move their school from its high-priced neighborhood to a building 16 blocks south.

“If you are a homeowner, how concerned are you about the impact of the P.S. 452 move on the value of your home/apartment?” the survey asked. It also asked the parents whether they would send their children to private or charter schools if the plan was approved, and if they would continue donating money to the school.

The same day it was distributed, the school emailed parents to say the survey, which bore the school’s official logo, came from an “anonymous source” — not the school or the city. In fact, it was created by a group of parents opposed to the move.

The following week, the same group emailed their fellow parents to urge them to contact education department officials about the move. They included a list of talking points on why the city should scrap the plan.

These private communications provide a window into how a group of parents at a high-performing school in an affluent neighborhood has tried to block a move that is supported by school faculty members, and would give the school more space and a more diverse student body.

The proposal would shift P.S. 452 into a building on 61st Street that sits across from a public-housing development, which would likely lead it to enroll more low-income families. Today, just 9 percent of the school’s students qualify for subsidized lunch, compared to 48 percent of students across its Upper West Side district.

Before a recent public hearing about the plan, the opposition group emailed the other parents and urged them to attend: “Many elected officials will be at this meeting and we need to show up in force,” said the email, one of several obtained by Chalkbeat.

Scores of parents did attend that meeting, where they overwhelmingly spoke out against the plan.

“They are doing a good job: they are loud, they are visible,” said a fourth-grade parent who supports the move because it would give the school more space and could make it more socioeconomically diverse. Like several other parents, she spoke to Chalkbeat on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing peers who oppose the move.

Parents both for and against the plan have received emails from the opposition group, which uses an email account called “Concerned Parents.”

A survey about the proposed P.S. 452 move that featured the school’s logo was sent to parents.

A June 7 email from the group advised parents to “focus on the positive elements of 452” in their emails to the city. It specifically cautioned against “negative comments” about P.S. 191, the school on 61st Street whose building 452 would move into. The email explained: “Negative comments will not engender any sympathy from DOE and other stakeholders.”

Then the email offered “Talking points you might consider” against the move. One of the arguments was that “we made sacrifices to live near excellent schools, and as such entered into a deal with the city that our children would go to his or her zoned school in our neighborhood.”

A subsequent email also said that one of the parents’ main arguments against the move — that it would lengthen their children’s walk to school — “is not a sympathetic situation” to some officials. Instead, it told the parents to focus on a number of other arguments, including “losing the school we have built” and “having made a pact with the city by moving in zone.”

One of the people behind the “Concerned Parents” account agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named.

She said she and a number of other P.S. 452 parents had banded together to create the survey and talking points. She said the survey was an attempt to gauge support for the plan, and the talking points were simply meant to provide parents with information that she said officials had failed to properly share with them.

Meanwhile, other P.S. 452 parents have gone beyond the school community to try to thwart the city’s plan.

A resident of the Schwab House, a co-op apartment building a few blocks from 452 where units have sold for more than $3 million, posted a notice about the move on the building’s online message board.

“There is a consideration to move the school to a neighborhood (61st and Amsterdam) that has a very different demographic makeup,” read the message, which urged residents to call their elected officials. “THIS CAN GREATLY IMPACT THE VALUE OF OUR HOMES. The great schools are part of what makes this area very desirable.”

Parents said the woman who posted the message is a fellow P.S. 452 parent.

The message, which was first reported by the website Gothamist, spurred Schwab House resident Larry Shapiro to attend a hearing about the relocation Monday and denounce the “offensive” posting.

“I’m old enough to remember when people meant some pretty ugly things when they discussed how a demographic makeup of a school or neighborhood might affect property values,” said Shapiro, 61, in written remarks he shared with Chalkbeat.

The education department has not yet officially proposed the move. Officials have said they are gathering feedback on the plan now, and will decide over the next few months whether to formally propose it.