UPPER WEST SIDE — Groups of parents waving signs and with their children in tow gave Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña an earful about construction threats and waitlists at a town hall meeting Wednesday night.
Parents from P.S. 163 holding signs that read "P.S. 163, Save Our School" at the meeting hosted by Community Education Council District 3 blasted the chancellor for not responding to concerns about an impending 20-story nursing home development to be erected next to the school.
The parents demanded answers regarding the administration's plans for when construction begins on the Jewish Home Lifecare development just feet from the West 97th Street school this fall.
"Is there a plan to move our kids when nosebleeds and headaches start?" P.S. 163 father Josh Kross asked.
But Fariña cautioned parents not to spook the children assembled.
"This is not a dangerous situation," she said. "We don’t want to heighten the anxiety for kids in particular."
Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm stepped in to argue that the DOE has had multiple meetings with the P.S. 163 task force, which is committed to halting JHL's plans, and has listened to parents' concerns.
"We will continue our conversations with you," Grimm said, "but we cannot stop this construction project."
However, parents from the task force were not satisfied by the response. They said that among other shortcomings by the DOE, a May 19 letter from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer calling for review of the project and a proactive response went unanswered.
Another group called P.S. 199 Local, which is made up of several dozen parents with children on a long kindergarten waitlist, said Fariña has ignored their calls for a meeting in letters sent in April and May.
"Our kids really really want to go to their neighborhood community school," said waitlisted parent Abigail Schlaff.
Kindergarten Connect, the new kindergarten admissions process rolled out for the first time this year, has contributed to principals having to sort through more addresses to determine which students are zoned for the school and could be the cause of longer waitlists, Fariña explained.
She committed to looking into the issue at P.S. 199 — whose waitlist swelled to two-and-a-half times last year's number — and to talking to the principal about the address verification process.
"At another school we almost eliminated 30 children overnight just on address verification," Fariña told the crowd.
In addition to agreeing to review the situations at both P.S. 199 and P.S. 163, Fariña said she'd examine the charter co-location battle at Frederick Douglass Academy II, which risks losing an art room and administrative space to Harlem Success Academy this fall.
Throughout the evening, Fariña made multiple references to highlighting overlooked middle schools and investing time in ensuring seventh grade is a strong year for students, because of the role it plays in their development.
"I am committed to middle schools," she said, adding that she'd already visited close to 60 middle schools in her five months on the job.
Among other topics discussed, Fariña said the leader of the new 6-12 school in the Beacon High School building would not be picked until this fall, but that the DOE was taking care with its selection.
The CEC committed to retrieving answers from Fariña's office for every question submitted online or in person at the meeting.