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Village Parents Sue Charity for Leaving to Serve Needier Children

By DNAinfo Staff on December 17, 2010 7:54am

The Children's Aid Society board voted to explore selling its Philip Coltoff Center properties on Sullivan Street Thursday.
The Children's Aid Society board voted to explore selling its Philip Coltoff Center properties on Sullivan Street Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Gabriela Resto-Montero

By Gabriela Resto-Montero

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

GREENWICH VILLAGE — The Children's Aid Society voted Thursday to sell its three Sullivan Street educational buildings and move elsewhere, sparking the ire of Greenwich Village parents who say they're being discriminated against because they're too affluent.

The society, which has operated the early childhood center at 219 Sullivan Street for more than 100 years, said its services are more needed in low-income neighborhoods like the South Bronx than in Greenwich Village.

"Every choice to serve children in one neighborhood is a choice not to serve those in another," said Richard Buery, the society's CEO and president, in a statement Thursday.

"And our mission requires us to make those choices in favor of children and communitites with more limited resources," Buery said.

But, Luke McGrath, a lawyer representing a parent of a student at the school, said the society's decision discriminates against more affluent Village residents.

"The Children's Aid Society says it will not discriminate based on socio-economic status and it violated that promise today," McGrath said at a Community Board 2 meeting Thursday.

"If this school closes it's going to change the community," he said.

McGrath said that his client, Viviana Bromberg, would continue to fight the closure and asked other parents of pre-schoolers to join in a class-action against the Children's Aid Society.

"While the demographics of downtown Manhattan have changed— history is history— and this school is really important to us," said Peggy Nicholson, a parent with Save a Village Education, an advocacy group formed shortly after the society announced it was considering the sale.

The group requested that the pre-school and other programs at the center remain open through June 2012 and that the buildings' new owner reserve the three buildings for educational use.

"We know we cannot save CAS [Children's Aid Society], but we can save this resource," said Braden Rhetts, a parent, of the center's indoor playground, theatre and classrooms.

In a statement following its decision, the Children's Aid Society agreed to keep the nursery school open until the requested deadline for students who are already enrolled and their siblings, with the caveat that the programs will be offered either at the current center or at "another reasonable location".

As for the the educational intentions of a new owner, the society said it could not guarantee that a new operator would maintain services.

"While we cannot commit to selling the property only to buyers who will continue educational and community services," said Mark Edmiston, chair of the society's board of trustees in a statement.

"We will certainly look favorably on competitive offers from entities that are interested in continuing those programs," he said.