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City Didn't Fight 'Dangerous' Label for PS 191 But Will Now Expand Its Zone

By Emily Frost | September 30, 2015 6:08pm
 P.S. 191 will now serve a larger population of students after its zoning lines are redrawn.
P.S. 191 will now serve a larger population of students after its zoning lines are redrawn.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education is planning to more than double the size of a local elementary school, despite the state designating it "persistently dangerous" this past summer — a ruling that roiled local education leaders over the city's failure to fight it. 

Under the DOE's new zoning plan, which it announced this week, the school zone for P.S. 191 would increase from 55 students to a 120-130-students. Students who had lived in the P.S. 199 zone would be zoned to attend P.S. 191 in September 2016, according to the plan.

Just this summer, the state Education Department categorized P.S. 191 as "persistently dangerous" for the coming school year, based on incident reports from the previous two years.

The designation means parents legally have the right to request a transfer from the DOE. But with the proposed increase in P.S. 191's zone size, next year that could mean more than double the amount of transfer requests.

"We are committed to providing strong supports and targeted interventions to help schools improve their climates and ensure student safety," a DOE spokesman said in a statement. "The DOE will work with families to offer school seats that best meet each child’s needs." 

Community Education Council 3 President Joe Fiordaliso argued that because of the explosion of residential development in the southern end of the district, without the addition of any new school seats, "the only viable solution now is to shrink the size of P.S. 199’s zone to alleviate this unsafe and unsustainable overcrowding situation," he said.

"I wholly reject the [persistently dangerous] designation for P.S. 191 which relies on faulty incident reports prepared by an incompetent Assistant Principal and DOE officials who — at best — were ignorant to a disaster brewing right under their noses," Fiordaliso added. 

Meanwhile, P.S. 191's PTA learned that the DOE missed a chance to fight the designation this past June, PTA Vice President Kim Watkins said.

Principal Lauren Keville was initially counseled by the DOE not to file an appeal in March, according to Superintendent Ilene Altschul.

The DOE was given another opportunity to challenge the designation this summer but did not even respond, according to an Aug. 26 letter obtained by DNAinfo from state Assistant Commissioner Renee Rider to the PTA.

The school was notified in June that it might receive the "persistently dangerous" designation and had until July 7 to supply evidence to the contrary, Rider's letter explains.

A state regulation exists allowing schools to "present evidence to the Commissioner that demonstrates the conditions in the school do not unreasonably threaten the safety of students and that officials have taken appropriate actions to improve safety," the letter states.

"No such evidence was provided to NYSED," Rider concludes.

Watkins described it as "a shock" to see that the school had another opportunity to appeal and passed it up. The PTA has asked the DOE for an explanation of why it did not respond to the state but has not yet received an answer, she said.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said the DOE will challenge the designation. 

"There is no opportunity to appeal prior to the designation," a DOE spokesman said.

The ruling baffled leaders in the neighborhood who said they've watched the school for years and believed it was on the upswing in terms of resources and achievement. 

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal has submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the DOE for incident reports dating back to the 2007-'08 school year at P.S. 191, but said the DOE is dragging its feet unnecessarily. They told her they couldn't provide that information until Oct. 22 at the earliest. 

"We have to understand how this situation got here,  especially if wer’e going to 'fix' the school... what’s the root problem?" she said. 

"We have received the request you mentioned and have responded that the request is being reviewed," a DOE spokesman said.

While Rosenthal said she'll try to bolster the school, the designation marks a real blow, she added.

"Once you’re on a list, your reputation is shot," she said.

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