LOWER EAST SIDE — Parents and students at a Lower East Side high school are protesting a plan to move another school into the building in 2014 — a proposal they say would overwhelm the already cramped building and endanger recent hard-won academic progress.
The Department of Education's plan to put an additional high school in University Neighborhood High School's building at Monroe and Gouverneur streets could force the school to double its capacity from about 300 students last year to about 600, according to parents who have spoken with the DOE about the plan.
The current building is already stretched for space and has just one science lab, four bathrooms and a cafeteria that also serves as a gym and a lobby, parents said.
"We are a strong community. We are a family. We deserve a good education," said Milagros Arcia, the vice president of University Neighborhood's PTA, at a press conference Tuesday alongside City Councilwoman Margaret Chin. "With overcrowding in schools, it will damage our kids' education."
The new school will be one of the city's recently announced Early College and Career Technical Education High Schools, according to an email the DOE sent to Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council. The city recently announced three new CTE schools, but not their locations, and said students would spend six years to earn both their high school diploma and an associate's degree.
The Aug. 15 email from DOE staff member Jennifer Peng told Donlan that the University Neighborhood High School building was being eyed for a co-location, and Donlan received additional confirmation this week that the yet-to-be-named school would work with the American Association of Adverting Agencies to provide classes focused on marketing and design starting in September 2014.
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposal, which has not yet been formally announced.
The DOE listed University Neighborhood High School as "under-utilized by at least 300 seats" in a 2012 report, noting that it had capacity for 694 students.
However, the century-old Lower East Side school building was originally constructed as an elementary school, which means the classrooms are about half the size of ordinary high school classrooms, according to PTA president Haydee Rodriguez, who has one child at the school.
"There needs to be room to take kids out when there are problems or they are in trouble," Rodriguez said, arguing that the school needs all the space it currently has.
Parents also worried that an additional high school in the building would negatively affect University Neighborhood's recent academic progress. On the DOE's report card ranking, which measures student progress and the school's environment, the school has risen from a D four years ago to just a few points shy of an A last year, according to parents and DOE records.
Nearly a quarter of University Neighborhood's students had disabilities in the 2011-2012 school year, according to DOE statistics, and many of the students need time and space for one-on-one tutoring, according to parents and Chin.
"Where is that going to happen?" Chin said.