By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The Spruce Street School will not launch its sixth grade until 2015, the Department of Education said this week, and local parents are furious.
The DOE had previously promised to start sixth-grade classes at Spruce in 2011, when the school moves into its permanent home at the base of Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower. Spruce started with just kindergarten classes in a temporary space last year and is slated to eventually grow into a full K-8.
But now parents are worried that Spruce’s middle school will never have room to open. They fear that the city will pack extra elementary students into Spruce’s new building over the next several years as a way of alleviating school overcrowding downtown, which could fill up the building well before 2015.
"The longer it takes for the sixth grade to start, the greater the chance the DOE takes away our middle school," said Learan Kahanov, a parent at the Spruce Street School. "When the DOE says they’re going to do it later, they don’t do it later."
Danielle Elder, co-president of Spruce’s PTA, said there is no reason to delay opening the school’s sixth grade.
"The seats are built," Elder said at a Community Board 1 meeting Tuesday. "The Gehry tower is going to be open. Does it make sense for the classrooms to sit empty?"
CB1 unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the DOE "honor its past promises to the community" and open the sixth grade next fall.
A Department of Education spokesman did not comment on the reason for the city’s decision.
In its resolution on Tuesday, Community Board 1 said the DOE is arguing that downtown does not need any more middle school seats right now, because the new sixth grade at P.S./I.S. 276 did not fill up this year. That's the explanation DOE officials gave to Spruce's School Leadership Team last week, several parents said.
P.S./I.S. 276, which opened last month in Battery Park City, can hold at least 75 students per grade but enrolled just 60 sixth graders in its inaugural year.
The reason for the school's under-enrollment, parents said, is not because there is no demand for the seats, but rather many people did not know the school was opening. Incoming sixth graders could not apply during the regular middle school choice process, but had to apply later during a process specifically for new schools.
Concerned parents plan to raise the issue of Spruce’s middle school at a meeting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is hosting with DOE officials Thursday afternoon.