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DOE Places Brooklyn Mom's 3 Sons in Schools in 3 Different Neighborhoods

By Amy Zimmer | June 23, 2014 7:05am
 Sunset Park mom Jovita Sosa, with her sons James (who will be entering fifth grade in September), Justin (who will be in kindergarten) and Jason (who is going into pre-K). All three were placed in different schools.
Sunset Park mom Jovita Sosa, with her sons James (who will be entering fifth grade in September), Justin (who will be in kindergarten) and Jason (who is going into pre-K). All three were placed in different schools.
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Jovita Sosa

BROOKLYN — Sunset Park mom Jovita Sosa has no idea how she will juggle taking her three sons to school come September.

The boys, set to be a fifth-grader, kindergartner and pre-K student, have been placed in three different elementary schools spanning Bay Ridge, Borough Park and Sunset Park. To manage the multiple drop offs and pickups, Sosa fears she’ll have to quit her part-time job in Manhattan as a house cleaner.

Sosa has pleaded to everyone for help: principals, Department of Education staffers, elected officials, civic groups and District 20’s Community Education Council, a parent leadership committee that dealt for several years with school overcrowding in the area.

But Sosa remains in limbo.

“This has been one of the most difficult and stressful experiences we have faced as a family,” she said. “How could I possibly drop off and pick up three children under the age of 10 at three different locations... especially in rough weather, and retain the part-time cleaning job I work while my children attend school?”

Brooklyn’s District 20 — which includes parts of Sunset Park, Borough Park, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge — is one of the city’s most crowded. As new seats have been added in recent years, the school-age population has continued to rise, especially as immigrants flock to the area.

The district had more schools with waitlists for zoned kindergarten students this year than almost every other district in the city. The district also had far more pre-K applications than seats — with 1,187 students left without a spot this year as several schools canceled their pre-K programs to make room for older children, parents said.

While new schools have been built in recent years, they weren't big enough and already have waitlists, according to parents and DOE records.

Sosa was one of the lucky few to get her youngest son, Jason, 3, into one of the 18 public school pre-K seats for this fall at Sunset Park’s P.S. 971, their zoned school at Fourth Avenue and 62nd Street, across the street from their home.

But her kindergartner, Justin, 5, was waitlisted at that school, though her family listed it as their first choice on his application.

There were 120 applicants for 50 slots, Sosa said. As of Friday, Justin was No. 24 on the school’s waitlist.

Justin was also waitlisted at his second choice school, P.S. 310, which is six blocks away at 62nd Street and Forth Hamilton Parkway in Borough Park, where his older brother, James, 9, will be entering fifth grade.

Instead, Justin was placed at Bay Ridge’s P.S. 30, at 70th Street and Fourth Avenue, 10 blocks in the opposite direction.

Sosa has no idea how she'll get Justin to P.S. 30 by its 8 a.m. start, Jason to P.S. 971 for its 8:10 a.m. start and James to P.S. 310 for its 8:20 a.m. start. She'll have to scramble again to pick up Justin and Jason when both their schools let out at 2:20 p.m., and then rush to get James by his 2:40 p.m. dismissal time.

Sosa’s husband works 12-hour days in construction and is unable to help shuttling the kids to and from schools. Hiring a babysitter was prohibitively expensive, at $500 a week, which is why Sosa left her job as an executive assistant to be a stay-at-home mom.

She returned to work part-time as a house cleaner near Columbus Circle two years ago by enrolling her two younger sons in a Catholic school program, but that became too expensive, so she decided to put them in public school, she said. 

“I was told over and over again that the enrollment system changed this year, that registration was completely centralized [and] computerized, and that principals no longer had persuasion in these matters,” Sosa recounted. “It was baffling to hear that the leader of a school had no power in special circumstances. How could a computer understand a situation like mine?”

The principals at P.S. 310 and P.S. 971 did not respond to requests for comment.

The principal of P.S. 310 told Sosa in an email that the school saw 476 students apply for 50 seats and that her son was “third priority” for the waitlist because her family is not in the school's zone.

But the principal at P.S. 971 appealed to the DOE’s enrollment office on Sosa's behalf, asking in an email for Justin to be added to her school’s incoming kindergarten class, so he could be in the same school as his younger brother.

A DOE official told the principal the family could submit a “placement exception request” at an enrollment office, but “seeing as how you have a very large waitlist, I would manage the parent’s expectations that this may not be a guarantee,” a copy of the email exchange obtained by DNAinfo shows.

The DOE did not respond to a request for comment.

Laurie Windsor, the president of District 20’s CEC, said many families in the district are facing the disappointment of waitlists for this fall.

“We’ve been dealing with overcrowding and waitlists for years,” Windsor said. “P.S. 310 and 971 were built to relieve the overcrowding and now they have waitlists. They’re Band-Aids because they’re so small.”