LOWER MANHATTAN — As Karen Behrens opened the letter that would determine her young daughter's educational future, her hands were shaking.
Behrens, 43, a Gateway Plaza resident, was hoping that her daughter Victoria would win a kindergarten spot in P.S. 276, one of the newest and greenest elementary schools in the city.
But even though all children living near the school are supposed to be guaranteed a kindergarten seat, the letter told a devastated Behrens last Friday that there was no room for Victoria in P.S. 276.
"There it was, underlined in bold: Waitlisted, 23 of 26," Behrens recalled on Tuesday. "I find it incredibly outrageous."
Behrens is not alone. Last week, 99 Downtown families opened letters saying their 4-year-old children were waitlisted for kindergarten at their zoned school.
TriBeCa's popular P.S. 234 waitlisted the most children — 38 — but P.S. 89 in northern Battery Park City and P.S. 276 in southern Battery Park City also filled up quickly, with unusually large waitlists of 26 children apiece, staff at the schools said.
Even the brand-new Peck Slip School, which is opening its first kindergarten class this fall, has a waitlist of nine zoned students, the principal said. The Spruce Street School does not have a waitlist, but all its incoming kindergarten sections are full, the parent coordinator said.
Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and school overcrowding advocate, was shocked to hear how many Lower Manhattan children are stuck on waitlists.
"The fact that Peck Slip has a waitlist in its first year is incredible," Greenleaf said. "This is just more evidence that the Department of Education has to build more schools — and soon."
The kindergarten enrollment numbers are still in flux, and some of the waitlisted children will likely win spots as other pre-registered families choose private school or gifted and talented programs instead.
But the waitlists are still unsettling for Downtown's parents, especially after they already weathered the stressful rezoning battles last fall, which were supposed to prevent waitlists at most of the neighborhood's schools.
"We were in complete shock when we got the letter," said Totti Shikova, whose 4-year-old son Mikko was waitlisted at P.S. 276 even though they live across the street from the school.
"I pay taxes, I live in the neighborhood, my kid has the same right as any other kid to attend his zoned school," Shikova continued. "The whole process is really disturbing."
Mikko currently attends pre-K at P.S. 276 and has already started talking about how he and his friends will graduate to kindergarten this fall, Shikova said. Over the past few days, Mikko has asked his mother if he's still going to be with his friends in kindergarten.
"I don't know what to tell him at this point," Shikova said.
The city won't tell waitlisted families for at least another month or two where their children will go to kindergarten. In previous years, alternate offers for waitlisted Downtown families included seats at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village and P.S. 130 in Chinatown, and the DOE has also recently mentioned available space at P.S. 1 in Chinatown.
"It's maddening," said Patrick Kennell, a John Street resident whose son Gabriel is eighth on Peck Slip's waitlist. "We pay our taxes. The city is not providing the services it's supposed to. When is the city going to start listening?"
A Department of Education spokesman noted that the waitlist numbers are not final and more seats are expected to open up, but he declined to comment further.
After several frustrated parents spoke at a Community Board 1 meeting Tuesday night, CB1 Chairwoman Julie Menin and representatives of elected officials pledged to help them.
"Rest assured," Menin said, "we're going to fight very hard to ensure all the kids have a place."