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Islamic School's Pre-K Canceled by City Reopens as Private Program

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | September 4, 2014 6:11pm
 Rising Stars Islamic School was one of the nine UPK sites the city said would not open this year.
UPK Program in Jamaica Canceled by City Opens As Private Pre-K
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QUEENS — A pre-K program that was supposed to be offered for free this year was nixed at the last minute, but the principal decided to hold classes anyway, sparking several parents to sign up despite the fee.

The Department of Education said Thursday that the site — Rising Stars Islamic School on 89th Ave., near Merrick Boulevard, in Jamaica — was taken off the list of centers providing free UPK classes because it's under investigation by the Department of Investigation.

The DOI confirmed the investigation, but declined "further comment."

The school was among nine pre-K programs in private institutions that were not allowed to open this year. The reasons for each were not clear, but several were under investigation for "integrity issues," according to the DOI, which would not elaborate.

Another 36 were expected to face delayed openings because of safety concerns and other issues.

The school's principal, Fauzia Khondker, said she didn't know why the city has canceled its plans to hold free pre-K courses at the center. Instead she is offering a number of seats for a fee of $300 a month.

“We had no violations, we had fire inspections and we passed,” she said. “I have no comment at this moment until I hear from [the DOE].”

The DOE and FDNY did not respond to requests for comment about the inspections.

Khondker, who did not immediately respond to a follow-up call about the DOI investigation, said that the center has operated a paid pre-K program over the past two years.

But this year it was approved by the DOE to run a free program for 18 students, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's expanded pre-K program, which aims to offer 53,000 full-day seats this fall.

Parents said they were told about the change by school officials during an orientation meeting held on Wednesday afternoon, one day before the program was scheduled to launch.

“It was supposed to be a free pre-K program,” said one of the mothers who asked her name not to be used. She said she was disappointed, but willing to pay the $300 monthly fee "for now."

“I hope it will get resolved soon for the sake of the children,” she noted.

She said she researched the school and chose it, even though it's located more than 10 long blocks from her house.

"It's quite a walk," she said, as she came to the center with her daughter, Maryam. “But I like the school. It provides a great environment and it also has a security guard."

Parents also said they like the school's program which includes many field trips, including to the Queens Library, located around the corner.

Shazia Naz, who works at a souvenir store in Manhattan, said the center was very close to her house, allowing her to get to work easily after dropping her daughter, Laiba, there. "It’s very convenient for me,” she said.

Two other pre-K sites in Queens also did not opened as scheduled on Thursday — Alpha Academy in Queens Village, which was slated to provide 72 full-day seats, and Queens Early Childhood Center in Springfield Gardens, which was scheduled to offer 54 full-day spots.

Accommodations were made for 125 out of the 256 kids who were affected as of Thursday morning, according to the DOE.