another point of view

Parents who support controversial Upper West Side school move: ‘We welcome the idea of rezoning’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A meeting at P.S. 191, an elementary school in Manhattan's District 3.

In recent weeks, dozens of Upper West Side parents have voiced their objections to a proposed rezoning that would move P.S. 452 to a new home 16 blocks south. While the move would give their school room to grow, it would also add to some families’ commute time and potentially change the demographics of the school.

P.S. 452’s population is 74 percent white and Asian and 9 percent low-income, in a district that is 43 percent white and Asian and 48 percent low-income.

Chalkbeat recently reported on the coordinated campaign mounted by some parents to block the plan. But not all P.S. 452 parents are in their camp. A group of them sent us this letter for publication:

As parents of P.S. 452 students, we welcome the idea of rezoning and relocation of our school to the current site of P.S. 191 on 61st Street and Amsterdam Ave.

The 61st Street facility will allow the stellar educators of P.S. 452 to expand the school’s curriculum with dedicated spaces for a variety of services, including occupational, physical, and speech therapy. The building features appropriate classrooms and spaces for elementary students ages 4-11, a private playground structure and large yard for physical education and recess. The facility has a well-maintained, air-conditioned auditorium for assemblies, concerts, community meetings, and more. Separate art, music, science, gym, and media lab spaces provide students with valuable enrichment opportunities. The opportunity is at hand to build a robust educational experience under the leadership of Principal Parker and his excellent team.

P.S. 452 teachers have expressed concerns about the constraints they face in the current space, which is shared with two other schools. P.S. 452 is unable to fulfill its mandate of three sections per grade at its current location without further sacrifices from its own student body and serious impingement on the operations of its co-located schools. P.S. 452 students currently have limited access to common spaces including the auditorium, gym, yard, and cafeteria. Teachers and administrators must constantly synthesize schedules, make contingency plans, and coordinate movements, which has become increasingly complicated as P.S. 452 has grown. The move presents an opportunity to bring a high-performing school with a cohesive team of educators to a better, dedicated facility.

Some opponents of the move claim that owners of real estate in the zone of P.S. 452 have made a “pact” with the city that ensures that the status quo will be indefinitely maintained. But the idea that the quality of public education should be proportional to the purchasing power of local residents is unacceptable. The city is accountable to all New Yorkers. Moving P.S. 452 is an opportunity to do the right thing by allowing a successful school to serve more children.

Some parents worry about a longer trip to school. The inconvenience of a short bus ride or a longer walk pales in comparison to the much greater good of the superior school facility and a student body from a wide range of backgrounds, which research consistently shows is better for all children. If the commute is indeed a problem, current P.S. 452 students should be given a choice to switch to another school in the 70s.

Regardless of the decision to relocate P.S. 452, the Department of Education and Community Education Council 3 have stated that a large-scale rezoning of District 3 will occur in 2017. Moving P.S. 452 to its own stand-alone building promises tremendous long-term benefits despite short-term challenges. The Upper West Side needs to commit itself to a future in which excellent educational opportunities will be available to children from every background. We urge the Department of Education to make a formal proposal in support of the move.

Submitted by:

Amy Aversa, Brett Alperowitz, Nancy Becker, Melissa Birnbaum, Elam Birnbaum, Hilda Blair, Susan Blank, Jared Blank, Sheila Boland, Dave Campanile, Sila Cevikce Shaman, Karen Dahl, Sarah Danzig Simon, Vesna Dapic, Stephanie German, Anne Eidelman, Jean Goshko, Alan Halperin, Wendy Halperin, Ami Kantawala, Karen Kemp, Greg Kemp, Melissa Kraft, Ken Miller, Patricia Mayer, Lauren Monchik, Sapna Moudgil-Shah, Eboni  Navas, Willie Navas, Jr., Stefanie Nelson, Adam Parks, Allegra Parks, Rachel Pincu-Singer, Adam Pollack, Abby Rapoport, Amanda Rives, Brian Reich, Jorge Rosero, Mark Seaman, Guy Singer, Prital Shah, Jeff Shaman, Beate Sissenich, Amy Staub, Brian Staub, Heather Tait, Marcos Tiburcio, Annmarie Weiss, Jack Weiss, Samrat Worah

Immigration fears

Chicago on Trump administration changes: ‘A sicker, poorer and less secure community’

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
A scene from an August immigration rally in downtown Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted a public comment on the proposed public charge rule changes on Monday.

The possibility of tougher rules on immigration and citizenship has provoked “tremendous fear” and plummeting participation in publicly funded daycare programs and afterschool care, according to a federal memorandum the City of Chicago submitted Monday.

The Trump administration has proposed changes that would weigh participation in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance when granting residency and citizenship.

The changes could be devastating, the Chicago memorandum warns.

They could affect 110,000 Chicago residents, according to the filing. One in three Chicago residents receives Medicaid benefits, which the proposed changes would affect.

Chicago and New York led a coalition of 30 cities that filed comments to the Department of Homeland Security over changes to the so-called “public charge” rule, which is used by immigration officials to decide who is allowed entry and permanent residency in the United States.

“History teaches that, given this choice, many immigrants will choose to forgo public aid, which will make them a sicker, poorer, and less secure community,” according to the City of Chicago’s comments. You can read the entire document below.

Already, the city said, a group called Gads Hill that operates child care centers in Pilsen and North Lawndale has struggled to enroll children because of families’ worries about the impending rules.

Another operator, Shining Star Youth and Community Services in South Chicago, saw families start to keep children home since the proposed changes were announced.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago told the city that participation in its after-school programming also has taken a hit, the filing said.

The changes to the proposed rule do not specifically mention Head Start or any of the publicly funded child care programs. But many families are fearful that participation in anything offered by the government — from child care to health care to even food programs — would bring them to the attention of immigration authorities.

Early childhood advocates shared similar concerns at a November meeting of the Early Learning Council, an influential group of policymakers who help set the state agenda for children ages birth to 5.

“Families are very confused about the changes,” Rocio Velazquez-Kato, an immigration policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum, told the group. “They think that by enrolling in Head start or free and reduced-price lunch at school — that it will factor against them.”

Public comment on the proposed rule change was due Monday. The 60-day public comment period is required by law before the federal government delivers a final recommendation. 

Read Chicago’s full response below.

on the move

Lack of transportation, conflicting deadlines put school choice out of reach for some, study finds

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

More Colorado students use school choice to opt into traditional district-run schools than use it to attend charter schools. Those who do so are more likely to be white and middle- or upper-class than their peers. And transportation continues to be a barrier for students who want to go somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

Those are the findings of a report on choice and open enrollment in the traditional public school sector put out by Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform advocacy group that supports greater access to school choice.

The report, “Open Doors, Open Districts,” looked at the roughly 49,800 Colorado students who attended school in a district other than the one in which they resided during the 2016-17 school year and another 95,600 who used school choice within the 12 largest districts in the state. Together, these 145,400 students make up roughly 16 percent of all Colorado students. Another 13 percent of state students attend charter schools.

Since 1990, the School Choice Act has allowed students to enroll in any public school they want, without paying tuition, provided there is room — and that the school provides the services that student needs, a sticking point for many students who require special education services.

The number of students using this system to attend school in another district increased 58 percent over 10 years to 49,800 in 2016. Roughly 6,000 of those students attend multi-district online schools.

The students taking advantage of inter-district open enrollment are more likely to be white than Colorado students as a whole — 58 percent are white compared with 54 percent of all students. They’re also less likely to come from low-income families (36 percent, compared with 42 percent of all students), to speak a language other than English at home (8 percent compared with 14 percent statewide), or to have a disability (8 percent compared with 11 percent).

“It is important to understand these differences so that policy leaders and educators can work to ensure that open enrollment opportunities are more accessible for all Colorado families,” the report said. “The underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latino students and English learners suggests there may be some unmet needs in Spanish-speaking communities around inter-district choice — either in information, accessibility, or appropriate services for students.”

The report highlights two major barriers to more students using school choice.

Most districts don’t have the kind of common enrollment system that Denver pioneered or that Jeffco is rolling out each year. Most districts require parents to turn in paperwork at a particular school. Not only do districts not share the same deadlines as each other, often different schools in the same district have different deadlines.

The other is transportation. 

“Time spent driving students to school can conflict with work schedules for parents, and public transit options can be scarce in many areas, making open enrollment functionally impossible for families without a transportation solution,” the report said. In one rural district, a group of parents banded together and hired their own school bus to take students to another district.

A bill sponsored last year by state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, would have addressed both issues, encouraging the creation of more consistent deadlines across the state and allowing districts to cross boundaries to provide transportation. That bill was defeated in the Democratic-controlled House after some school districts said it would set the stage for larger, wealthier districts to poach students.

The transportation provision was later added to an unrelated bill in the final days of the session, a move that led to a lawsuit in which a judicial decision is pending.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly, and it’s not clear how any attempts to expand school choice would fare. Both school choice and charter schools have enjoyed bipartisan but not universal support in Colorado.

By highlighting the prominence of traditional public schools in how Colorado students use the choice system, advocates hope to separate choice and the popular idea that parents should be able to find the school that best meets their child’s needs from the more divisive debate about charter schools, which critics see as siphoning scarce dollars from other schools while not serving all students.

The report recommends developing more consistency between and within districts, providing more information to parents, and removing barriers to transportation.

Districts with higher ratings, which are determined primarily by results on standardized tests, tend to get more students than those with lower ratings, but some districts, particularly in the Denver metro area, send and receive large numbers of students, reflecting that parents and students are making decisions at the school rather than at the district level.

Metro area districts that have struggled to raise student achievement are losing large numbers of students to other districts. A quarter of students who live in Adams 14, whose low test scores prompted a state order for external management, attended school in neighboring districts in 2016. In Westminster, which just came off a state watchlist for low-performing schools this year, that number was 29 percent.

Ready Colorado found no clear relationship between districts that spent more per student and districts that attracted more students — but districts with higher enrollment get more money from the state for each student, creating incentives to compete for students.

Read the full report here.