DOE Fails to Count Thousands of Students Taking Class in Trailers: Report

By Amy Zimmer on June 9, 2014 7:02am 

 Temporary classroom units at I.S. 125 in Woodside.
Temporary classroom units at I.S. 125 in Woodside.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

QUEENS — Richmond Hill High School is so crowded that, at any given time, 375 students are attending classes in temporary trailers next to the school, according to the school's PTA.

But the Department of Education's latest report on school trailers did not list any students in temporary classrooms there. It also didn't count thousands of other students in trailers at dozens of public schools across the city, advocates said in a report released Friday.

“If you don't have an honest accounting of how many kids are attending classes in [trailers] and a real plan to replace those seats, then you are playing games with the public,” said Leonie Haimson, whose group Class Size Matters put out the report.

“The first step with any real plan to alleviate school overcrowding must begin with honest numbers."

The School Construction Authority's 2012 report on trailers listed 7,158 students in the temporary classrooms, which are often criticized by parents and teachers as moldy, leaky and disruptive of students' learning.

But the School Construction Authority's number did not include thousands of students from 47 schools who were in trailers but were not counted because of technicalities, the study found.

For example, at 14 high schools, including Richmond Hill High School, the DOE did not count any students in trailers because the trailers were not used as homerooms, according to the School Construction Authority's explanation of the numbers.

And in 28 elementary schools and three middle schools, no children were counted in the trailers because the temporary classrooms were used for art, music or other special classes, rather than standard academic subjects, the School Construction Authority said.

Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the PTA at Richmond Hill High School, was outraged that the DOE did not count the students who attend daily classes in the school's 16 trailers.

"The trailers are unsafe and unhealthy," said Mahadeo, the father of a freshman and a senior at the school.

"There's mold and fungus. They have gone beyond their useful life: They were supposed to be there five or six years. It's been nearly 14 years."

Another school where the DOE counted no students in trailers was Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows.

Arthur Goldstein, an English as a Second Language teacher at Francis Lewis, said the school has eight classrooms in trailers, where 272 students attend class at any given time.

“It's ridiculous they can pretend my kids don't exist when in fact they come every day at 7:45 a.m. except the few who are late,” Goldstein said. “I teach in the trailers. I’ve been in there for about 10 years.”

Goldstein added that water and moisture collect under the trailers, making mold a “chronic problem.”

A Department of Education spokeswoman declined to address the discrepancy in counting the number of students attending classes in trailers.

The city's latest figures from this month show the number of students in trailers has dropped since 2012, with 6,777 students in 110 overcrowded schools using them, the DOE spokeswoman said.

The de Blasio administration has pledged to remove all trailers from city schools in the next five years, according to the DOE's 2015–2019 capital plan which sets aside $480 million to get rid of the trailers and rebuild playgrounds in their wake.

The $12.8 billion capital plan also aims to create more than 33,000 school seats across the system, some of which will be geared toward alleviating overcrowding at schools with trailers, the DOE spokeswoman said.

The new seats will be in “areas projected for enrollment growth, directly addressing overcrowding and this administration’s goal of creating additional high-quality full-day pre-kindergarten seats,” a DOE spokeswoman said.

However, some teachers and advocates who have been contending with trailers for years doubt that the temporary classrooms could just disappear.

At Richmond Hill High School, for example, DOE officials told DNAinfo New York that trailers would not be used for "core instruction" starting this fall and would instead be used primarily for administrative purposes.

But the DOE's own educational impact statement for a planned co-location of a charter school inside Richmond Hill notes that its students will continue to take classes in the trailers next school year.

And at Francis Lewis High School, Goldstein said he was discouraged by the fact that the DOE's capital plan would not add any new school seats nearby.

“De Blasio is making big promises getting rid of the trailers,” Goldstein said. “But he's made no provisions for the students.”

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