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P.S. 51 Students May Be Sent to Other Schools During Construction

By Meredith Hoffman | June 20, 2011 12:05pm | Updated on June 20, 2011 12:04pm

By Meredith Hoffman

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HELL'S KITCHEN — After months fighting for their school's relocation, P.S. 51 parents may finally see their children move this fall — but into two different schools.

The Department of Education is considering a plan to split West 45th Street's P.S. 51 and relocate students into the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, on West 33rd Street, and P.S. 11, on West 21st Street, this coming fall, DNAinfo has learned.

Many P.S. 51 parents are unhappy with the proposal, but at the same time they fear their current school building puts kids' health at stake because it's in a massive construction zone.

They received an email this week with a proposal to move the school's kindergarten through second grades to a space in the Clinton School, and move grades three to five to a section of P.S. 11, sources told DNAinfo.

"The plan's under consideration," confirmed Josh Anderson, Principal of the Clinton School, who said he received a call this week from Department of Education officials telling him that his building might be called upon to house some students from P.S. 51.

For the Clinton School, a middle school whose faculty and parents have been protesting its lack of a playground, the elementary school's move might give it a better chance of getting that, Anderson said.

"On the other hand, we'd be sharing our space," he added. His 300-student school does have extra space, but he's not sure it would be enough.

"This building held 600 students when St. Michael's [Catholic school] had it, but since then there've been numerous renovations that could affect the capacity of the building," he said.

P.S. 51 parents said splitting the school would cause new problems.

"We want to maintain our community," said Tosh Anderson, a parent representative who claimed he'd spoken with over 30 parents so far. "We haven't talked to a single parent who wants this split."

Most parents agree that they want their children taken out of the current P.S. 51 building due to health and education concerns.

In the past few months Principal Nancy Sing-Bock wrote a request to the city council for relocation, prompting Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other elected officials to write a relocation request to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Principal Sing-Bock said her primary worry is the noise.

"It is interfering with the educational processes of our students and the ability for the staff to teach," she wrote in an email to DNAinfo.

She’d spoken with three families who plan to transfer out of the school as a result of the construction, she said.

"Teachers are yelling over the noise levels, and this is only the first of ten buildings being built," said P.S. 51 parent Tamara Flannagan, who plans to pull her son, Callan, from the school in the fall due to the noise and potential toxins in the air.

"The school construction authority has told us we'd see dust settle on the kids' heads. What do they think is in that dust?"

Parent Beatriz Fadel also decided to take her seven-year-old, Layla, out of the school next year, citing the obtrusive racket.

"Layla says there's a lot of noise and she always hears it in class," said Fadel. "She can’t concentrate."

Fadel's two children have recently both been sick, one with strep throat and the other throwing up, and she fears it is linked to the construction.

Another parent, Marilat Hernandez, said her kindergartener, Mariana, had suffered from a throat infection and headaches for the past month. Hernandez said her doctor told her that lead appeared to be the culprit.

"I live in an apartment that was just built in Queens, so there's no lead there," said Hernandez. "She told me to report it to the school, but the school nurse said there was nothing she could do."

Environmental lawyer Joel Kupferman, who has been working on a pro-bono case on behalf of the parents, said studies have shown that the building has high levels of lead, mercury, and tetracycline, which have a detrimental health effect.

Principal Sing-Bock said that her school has not recorded an upsurge of student health issues.

Tosh Anderson predicted that issues would become evident over time, and said he and the other advocates have been "speaking with parents whose kids have nosebleeds, skin problems, headaches, and we're documenting it all," he said.

Still, the parents don't see splitting up the school as the answer.

"I'd still transfer my son," said Flannagan. "Then you're dealing with a transitional space, where the kids aren’t welcome."

Anderson said that he and other parents have contacted the DOE regarding an alternative space, a vacant 50,000-square foot building at 450 West 56th St. that was the former home of the Interboro Institute.

He said that the broker Thursday confirmed that the Education Department could lease the space, which would fit all of the students.

The Department of Education declined to comment.

The move into the two schools would require a formal DOE proposal, public hearings and then a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy,  Clinton School's principal Josh Anderson said.