By Suzanne Ma
LOWER EAST SIDE — It was standing room only in P.S. 20’s auditorium Wednesday night, as several hundred rowdy parents came out to protest the expansion of a neighborhood Charter School.
They stood, sat and squatted in the aisles, and spilled out into the school’s main foyer, wearing matching t-shirts, holding colorful signs and placards, chanting and cheering to protect their schools, while loudly booing Department of Education officials, who had trouble controlling the crowd.
Girls Prep Charter School, which currently shares a building with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94, has requested more space from the DOE in order to expand its middle school program. The expansion, which would enroll 300 more students, may force some district schools on the Lower East Side and Chinatown to share their classrooms and facilities.
Parents, children, teachers and principals from those schools say they’re already at capacity, and they packed into the stuffy auditorium Wednesday night to tell the DOE to find another solution.
"You see how crowded and hot it is in here? That’s how our children are going to feel," said Marilyn Roberts, whose children attend P.S. 20. "It is a short term solution and a long term disaster."
In between boos and jeers from the crowd, Superintendent Daniella Phillips presented three proposals outlining how the DOE could accommodate the new middle school:
1) P.S. 94, a school serving disabled students that currently shares a building on East Houston Street with Girls Prep, would move out of the district, allowing Girls Prep to expand. To make up for the loss of P.S. 94, a new program for disabled students would open at P.S. 184, the Shuang Wen School in Chinatown.
2) The Girls Prep middle school program would open in a building currently shared by three high schools: Marta Valle Secondary School, the School of Global Leaders, and the Lower East Side Preparatory High School. The School for Global Leaders would then move into P.S. 20. This plan would allow P.S. 94 to expand in the building it currently shares with P.S. 188 and the Girls Prep elementary school.
3) The Girls Prep middle school program would share a building with P.S. 20.
District 2 City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez spoke at the meeting, rallying the crowd and pointing her finger at the DOE.
"Don’t make us fight against each other," Mendez said. "The problem here has started with the Department of Education."
Outgoing District 1 City Councilman Alan Gerson echoed her statements.
"This is no way to run a school system," he said. "We are not going to pit school against school, child against child."
Gerson demanded that the DOE come up with an alternative, but not "at the expense of any existing schools."
There were also a handful of parents from Girls Prep who spoke up at the meeting, explaining what the Charter School experience was like and asking the district school parents not to blame the DOE.
"It’s not about the DOE," said Mona Davis, who sits on the board of the New York City Charter Parents Association. "This is about all of us wanting to provide quality education for our kids."
Fourth-grader Andrea Gaines said she has been a student at Girls Prep since kindergarten.
"I like Girls Prep because there are no boys to annoy you. My brother bothers me at home and it’s nice not to have any boys like that at school," she said, adding that she enjoyed her art and yoga classes because it helped her to "release negative energy."
The DOE is asking the community for feedback on the proposals until December 10.
"There is a growing need in District 1 for classroom space to serve the district’s highest needs students," DOE spokesman William Havemann told DNAinfo. "We will seek feedback… before issuing a final proposal."