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Parents Outraged by Overcrowded Classrooms in DOE Headquarters

 Parents of Peck Slip School are outraged by the split-classroom situation at Tweed Courthouse, where their school is being incubated.
Classroom Sharing at Tweed Courthouse
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LOWER MANHATTAN — Kids at the Peck Slip School are being crammed into shared, temporary classrooms at Tweed Courthouse, leading to an "outrageous" situation right beneath Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s office, parents say.

The Department of Education has placed up to 50 students into some of the rooms — where parents worry there is too much noise and too many distractions for kids to learn — while officials have refused to let the school use adjacent DOE conference rooms that often sit empty during the school day, parents said.

“Our kids' education is being disrupted right under the nose of Chancellor Fariña,” said Peck Slip School parent Amanda Byron Zink. “Shame on her for not giving us space, space that we can see is empty nearly every day.”

The Peck Slip School launched in the fall of 2012 with kindergarten classes at Tweed Courthouse, where Fariña and the DOE have their offices. The school has continued using the temporary space while its permanent home in the South Street Seaport is under construction.

This year, the school’s two classes of first-graders are being forced to share one room, as are the school’s oldest students, its two classes of second-graders. Each expansive, high-ceilinged classroom is partitioned by thin, 6-foot-tall cubicle dividers — not nearly enough of a barrier to keep the goings-on of each class, with about 25 students apiece, separate, parents say.

“We were horrified when we saw the space,” said Peck Slip PTA member Paul Feldsher, whose twins, both second-graders, sit on opposite sides of the partition each day. “You hear everything that’s happening on the other side. It’s totally distracting, for the teachers and the kids.”

Feldsher said his kids sometimes come home talking about what they heard the other class doing.

"It's just confusing and distracting for them, and unnecessary," he said.

The PTA has sent two letters to Fariña and the DOE, “imploring” the department to allow the students to use two conference rooms on the first floor of the building, where the school has its classrooms.

“This may be an inconvenience to the Department of Education (though we are aware that there is at least one enormous conference room on the second floor of Tweed)," the PTA wrote in its most recent letter to the DOE, dated Sept. 29. “But on the other hand, it’s an embarrassing and cruel irony that the department whose mandate it is to provide the best possible education for our children would not immediately agree to this obvious solution.”

Since the school will be moving to its new 712-student space in the fall of 2015, parents argue that even if there is some inconvenience to the DOE, it would only be for another eight months.

“It's inconvenient for all of us to be in this space,” said PTA co-president Kerry McAleer. “We can’t wait to get into our school, and have a playground, have a gymnasium — but why can’t we all agree to do what’s best for our kids right now, for just a couple more months.”

Parents said they have not gotten a response from the DOE yet, though they’ve been told informally that a deputy schools chancellor has agreed to take a look at the Peck Slip classrooms.

“We don’t understand why Chancellor Fariña, who is literally right above the classrooms, wouldn’t just come down and see what’s going on,” said Feldsher. “People always complain about the DOE’s mismanagement of space, while many, many of our schools are suffering from overcrowding — and here’s mismanagement of space happening right where the DOE lives.”

The DOE told DNAinfo New York that the school's classrooms were partitioned to accommodate an extra kindergarten class, something the community had requested. There is no additional space for students left in the building, officials said.

"Students thrive when they are able to learn in a safe and exciting learning environment, and the DOE works to ensure we provide this environment for all our students," said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield in an emailed statement. "Next September, students at Peck Slip will move into a new, state-of-the art building in Lower Manhattan, in the meantime the school will continue in DOE space.”