HARLEM—Angry parents and administrators chanting "Fight, fight, fight" gathered outside a Harlem school building for special needs children Wednesday to protest the Department of Education plan to give three of the school's classrooms to charter school Success Academy.
The DOE plans to open three new state-of-the-art sites for specials needs children Downtown and move kids who don't live in the neighborhoods around P.S. 811, which is located at 118th Street and Lenox Avenue, there. That will open up space for the highly-regarded, top-ranked and in-demand Success Academy Harlem 1 which has a waiting list.
"This is about creating more local options for all students, including those in (District 75) programs," said Devon Puglia, a spokesperson for the DOE.
But parents say losing that space starting in the fall of 2014 will hurt efforts to educate some of the most vulnerable kids in the city's school system and may require some kids to travel further to get to school.
Two new schools, M281 at 425 East 35th St. and M338 at 525 West 44th St., will open in the 2013-2014 school year. The third space M340 at 590 Sixth Ave. at 17th Street, will open in the 2014-2015 school year.
School officials say approximately 90 percent of the 360 kids at P.S. 811 live in districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 which are in Harlem and Washington Heights.
P.S. 811 is part of the DOE's District 75 system that educates kids with autism, mental retardation and emotional disorders. Most of the kids are bused to school where in addition to classroom instruction they receive services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy.
"Every child, no matter how they are born, has a right to an education. Not in a closet, not in a staircase and not having to take a cab to their classrooms," said Sonya Hampton, former Parent Teacher Association president at P.S. 149, one of four schools that share space in the building.
"This is a political matter," said State Sen. Bill Perkins.
Noah Gotbaum, a member of Community Education Council 3, called the change shameful.
"Why does P.S. 811 have to educate kids with special needs in hallways," said Gotbaum. "These kids have the highest needs yet they are being pushed out."
This would be Success Academy's third expansion at the school. Protesters said they didn't buy the idea that the change would benefit special needs children by making sure they attend school closer to home in newer facilities.
"The buildings may be better but it may not be what's best for the kids," said Joe Williams, president of the District 75 President's Council.
Williams said many of the students have doctor-issued restrictions on how far they are allowed to travel.
Approximately 36 students could be moved because of the changes but over 100 kids could be affected by services that would be diminished or cut as a result of the loss of space, Williams added,
Success Academy officials declined comment.
P.S. 811 Parent Mamdou Bah came to the rally with his son Amadou, 10, because he likes the services his 6-year-old son, who has a personality development disorder, receives at the school.
"They should let the kids stay here because it is helping them and it is helping parents like me," he said with his son serving as translator.
"And my brother always wants to come back to school," added Amadou.