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DOE to Bus 200 P.S. 11 Kids to Astoria During Construction, Sparking Anger

 Woodside's P.S. 11 is getting a permanent addition to replace its longtime trailer classrooms.
Woodside's P.S. 11 is getting a permanent addition to replace its longtime trailer classrooms.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

WOODSIDE — The Department of Education approved a plan to relocate some students from P.S. 11 to another school in Astoria for a year while a new addition is built at the overcrowded Woodside building.

The Panel for Educational Policy voted Wednesday night in favor of the plan, which had been criticized by some elected officials for being too far from the school. Parents also worried about overcrowding in P.S. 11's existing classrooms during the project.

Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, the DOE plans to bus more than 200 P.S. 11 students — kindergarten and possibly first grade — to P.S. 171 in Astoria, located about three miles away. For the two years after that, the students would be sent to P.S. 339, a new school that's being built less than half a mile from P.S. 11.

The permanent addition at P.S. 11 — which will be able to seat 856 students, replacing its current mini-building and temporary classroom trailers — is expected to be finished by September of 2017, according to the DOE's plan.

Though local leaders lauded the decision to expand capacity at P.S. 11, which has suffered from severe overcrowding in recent years, several criticized the move to ship students to P.S. 171 during the first year of construction, saying the trek is too far for the young students.

"It is unconscionable that in the face of vehement objections from many parents and community members, the Department of Education is moving forward with a plan to bus kindergartners from Woodside to a school almost three miles away in Astoria," Congressman Joseph Crowley said in a statement Thursday.

Officials also cited concerns about P.S. 171's proximity to the nearest subway station — about seven blocks — which they say poses a burden to parents who need to travel to the school in the case of an emergency.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said her office has received "numerous complaints" from parents about the move, saying she had hoped the DOE would work out an alternative plan.

"I am deeply disappointed that the new administration could not respond more effectively to the legitimate concerns of parents," she said in a statement.

Parents had also expressed concerns that the construction project will negatively affect students who remain at the main building at P.S. 11, where some classes could be forced to fit as many as 46 kids, DNAinfo reported in February.

Education officials toured alternate sites suggested by the community but found they did not meet the needs of the school, according to the DOE. The current proposal was the subject of two community meetings in recent months.

"After extensive outreach to the community, we decided to move forward on delivering a state-of-the-art addition to P.S. 11 that will enrich students' academic experience and reduce overcrowding," DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement.