ASTORIA — A group of parents in School District 30 are waging an all-out battle against the Department of Education, fighting the city's plans for Astoria's P.S. 122, which include expanding its general education classes through eighth grade and cutting its model gifted and talented program.
The coalition — including many parents from District 30 schools other than P.S. 122 — is stepping up efforts this week, saying it plans to rally outside of DOE offices. The group has hired a lawyer and is considering legal action.
The DOE wants to extend the school's general education classes — which end after fifth grade — through the eighth grade, and plan to cut its high-ranking gifted and talented middle school program, called the Academy. The changes would begin with next year's incoming kindergarten class and go into effect in 2019.
Parents have slammed the proposal, saying the additional middle school classes will overwhelm the already-crowded popular neighborhood school and dismantle the prestigious Academy.
The parents are working with lawyers from Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm that recently represented parents from Brooklyn's Brownsville Academy High School who were fighting the city's plans to co-locate a charter school in their building. The DOE reversed its decision on that plan last month.
"This is not just a 122 problem," said Advocates for Justice lawyer Laura Barbieri. "This is one of the best programs in the state. The district is very proud of that, and it does affect the community.
"People come into this location because of the school. Property values may be affected."
Barbieri said parents can either file a petition with the State Department of Education to stop the changes, or they can seek an injunction in federal court to halt the DOE's plans.
The DOE has said the change is to comply with a city regulation that requires that all K-8 schools allow every student the opportunity to remain enrolled there through middle school.
But parents argue that P.S. 122 is not a normal K-8, but a K-5 school with a separate middle school at the Academy.
"We believe that regulation does not apply to our school," said Deborah Alexander, who has a son in kindergarten at Sunnyside's P.S. 150, where he will automatically transfer to the Academy in sixth grade.
She said the group of parents are planning a rally at DOE headquarters later this week, and are also going to attend a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in Brooklyn Monday night to make their case.
Alexander said a lawsuit is their "last resort," and that the group is hoping Chancellor Dennis Walcott — who has met previously with parents from District 30 — will respond to their appeal.
"He was really responsive and receptive to us," she said of their earlier meetings with the chancellor. "I can't believe that he would knowingly let this happen."