P.S. 51 Parents and Teachers Unite Against Proposed School Split

By Meredith Hoffman on June 22, 2011 7:40pm 

By Meredith Hoffman

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HELL'S KITCHEN - Teachers and parents from P.S. 51 staged an emotional rally Wednesday to protest health risks and a proposal to split up the school stemming from a spate of construction on the block.

The rally comes about two months after work began on a new school buidling at 520 W. 45th St. and is set to get underway on a new luxury housing complex.

Parents learned last week that because of the projects, their children may be divided between the Clinton School, at 425 W. 33rd St. and P.S. 11, at 320 W. 21st Street, as first reported by DNAInfo.

"It would be a nightmare if we split the school. We ask for a fair relocation," said Shani Perez, a teacher and chapter leader of the United Federation of Teachers.

Perez said that noise constantly cuts into lessons, and added that she and her colleagues are suffering health problems thanks to the construction.

"We're only hearing the excavating when we're teaching," she said. "Teachers are suffering headaches, coughs."

Rafael Mejilla, a teacher who also has three children at the school, said the Bloomberg administration should have foreseen the need for a relocation.

"The [school] administration has declined the offer [to split up]," he said. "We're not going to accept being split up. But the other option is to stay here, we don't want that."

Alfred Gonzales, District Two Representative for the UFT asked: "How can the school provide services the kids need and be split?

"The DOE has the money [to keep the kids together]," he yelled to cheering parents. "We can do it. The UFT is with you."

Maria Perlas, a teacher at the school for 34 years, complained of a layer of dust accumulating on the computers and a gnawing cough.

"I just think that we're getting the shaft," she said. "It's because we have minority parents, lower income. Would this be happening to a school in TriBeCa, or in the Upper East Side?"

Several parents spoke out at the rally as well, telling of their children's rashes, migraines, coughs and sore throats.

Tamara Flannagan, who previously told DNAinfo she plans to transfer her child due to education concerns, said the school is being neglected by the Department of Education.

"Let this be a warning to all of us," she said. "This shows us how much our government cares about public education. The ten buildings being built on this site will bring in billions of dollars in revenue. The developers will win, the politicians will win, and our children will lose."

"I'm here for the parents still having to deal with this," said Dale Robinson, who pulled her child from P.S. 51 about three months ago.

Robinson said her son's wheezing, couging and chest pains got so severe that her doctor wrote the school a note to request his transfer.

While his condition has improved, she's planning to sue the School Construction Authority, and potentially the city.

Parents at P.S. 11 and the Clinton School also oppose P.S. 51's split, said Barbara Thies, whose daughter, a second grader, attends P.S. 11.

"It's extremely upsetting. After all P.S. 11 and the Clinton School went through, we finally have our homes," said Thies, referring to the space the schools shared until last fall. "And now, to have another school divided, is inhumane."

Amidst the community's overwhelming consternation, co-president of the PTA Lyn Fernandez attempted a few hopeful words.

"I think we're going to be relocated," she said, hanging at the back of the crowd. "I think [City Council Speaker] Christine Quinn is going to do the right thing. She has a heart."

Quinn has written a letter requesting that the school be relocated. It's not clear if she has the power to determine whether the school should be split.

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