DOWNTOWN — Dozens of Queens parents and community leaders trekked to Department of Education headquarters in lower Manhattan Thursday morning to protest the city's plan to extend general education classes at Astoria's P.S. 122 and to cut the school's model gifted and talented program.
The group rallied on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse on Chambers Street, and delivered more than 350 letters and a petition with thousands of signatures to DOE offices. The group is also considering a lawsuit to halt the plans.
"Clearly, the Department of Education has not done its homework," said Claudia McKenna, head of the parents association. "We do not want this change made to P.S. 122."
The DOE plans to extend the school's general education classes — which currently end after fifth grade — to eighth grade, and to cut P.S. 122's gifted Academy down to one class per grade. The changes would begin with next year's incoming kindergarten class and go into effect in 2019.
Parents say there's no room in the already-crowded school for the general education students to stay on after fifth grade, saying the general education classes greatly outnumber those of The Academy, even with the cuts to its gifted classes.
They also argue that shrinking The Academy will destroy the high-ranking program — one of the best in the state — which they hail as a beacon for the neighborhood and for the whole of Queens school district 30.
"We have a little treasure at this school, in this neighborhood," said Naima Garvin, who grew up in Astoria and has a daughter, Angela, in first grade at P.S. 122.
She says she's devastated that her two younger children, both toddlers, won't get the same experience as her first grader.
"It breaks my heart to think that my oldest child will have the opportunity to go to this school as it is now — a high-quality school, an A-rated school, a school where the teachers love teaching — but my two little ones can look forward to a bleak beginning in classrooms where overcrowding will limit learning," she said.
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 P.S. 122 parents argue theirs is not a normal K-8 — that The Academy is a separate institution — and shouldn't be subject to the regulation.
"We keep hearing that P.S. 122 is a K-8 school," said parent Clare Oza. "When did this occur, and how is it that no one knew about it?"
Parents also worry about what the change will mean for popular middle school I.S. 141, where P.S. 122 general education students matriculate to after fifth grade. They worry the DOE is moving students from I.S. 141 to make way for a co-located charter school there.
"141 is not underutilized, but it will be when you retain people at 122," said Wayne De La Roche, whose daughter Claire is in a fourth-grade gifted class at P.S. 122. "Suddenly it's like, low and behold, look, 141 is underutilized, and then Eva Moskowitz comes in with her charter school."
Former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz is looking to open two of her controversial Success Academy charter schools in District 30, but DOE officials have said there is no connection between that and the changes at P.S. 122, and that they have no plans for I.S. 141.
But parents say they're not convinced.
"122 is a sacrificial lamb," De La Roche said.