Pre-K Director Finds Out Program is Canceled in Surprising Way

By Eddie Small on September 5, 2014 8:52am 

 Rainbow's location in Throgs Neck was going to take on 12 students in universal pre-k this school year.
Rainbow's location in Throgs Neck was going to take on 12 students in universal pre-k this school year.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

THROGS NECK — Tara Fenelon was surprised to get a call on Saturday from the Department of Education letting her know that the Montessori Rainbow Academy was not going to be offering universal pre-kindergarten this year for her daughter, Malia.

That's because not only does Fenelon work at the school, she's the director.

"He informed me that the school my daughter would be going to was not going to be opening for universal pre-K," she said. "And I asked him why, and he said that the school isn't ready. He had no idea I was the director here."

Montessori Rainbow's sites, located in Throgs Neck — the one Fenelon's daughter was set to attend — and Soundview, are among the nine universal pre-k programs that the city recently closed.

The DOE said this was because the city's Department of Investigation was looking into Rainbow for
"integrity issues." The DOI would not elaborate.

School officials said they were unsure about the focus of the investigation, but believe it stems from a contract dispute with the city housing authority, according to the school's CEO and founder Dr. Nilda Gibson.

NYCHA referred comments on the matter to DOI.

Fenelon and Gibson said they were not told that the city would be contacting parents about their program being shut down.

When they did reach the DOE on Sunday, a representative said the department was only supposed to say that the shutdown was a possibility, according to Fenelon.

Since then, they've been trying to get a definitive answer.

"DOE has not told us that we don't have universal pre-k," she said. "We've been calling and calling and calling."

All schools were informed about the delay or cancellation of their universal pre-k program, and specialists are working with each individual family to make sure they have a quality alternative school in which to enroll their child, according to a DOE spokeswoman.

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Rainbow is still open and offering pre-k this year, but families will have to pay $295 a week for it. Fenelon is using the paid option, but officials said it is not feasible for all of their families.

Partial day pre-K sessions have been offered at the Throgs Neck site for three years, but this was going to be the first year they would offer it for the full day.

Parents were notified on Sunday and Monday of the decision to shutter the programs, and each parent has been called at least twice by the DOE, according to a city official.

As of Thursday evening, 152 out of 265 children had been placed in other programs.

Rainbow had 12 universal pre-k students at its Throgs Neck location and 18 in Soundview. Gibson said she is not sure how many of those children have been placed elsewhere.

Families were surprised to get the call that Rainbow would not be offering universal pre-k this year, according to Fenelon.

"Some thought it was a prank and ignored it," she said.

Bruce Rivera, a parent who planned to have his 4-year-old son Elias Rivera attend pre-K at Rainbow, said he was very upset to hear that he would not have this option.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I think the way that we were told is grossly inappropriate.”

Elias has attended the school since he was 2 and has not been enrolled in another location yet, Rivera said. So far, spots they have checked out have either been full, not full-day programs or not up to his standards.

“A lot of the choices are just not comparable. They’re just not good schools,” he said. “I’m not going to just put my kid in the school because it said there’s some room on a list.”

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