QUEENS — Forest Hills High School topped the list of New York City’s public schools with the most overcrowding, even as the number of oversized classes in the city continues to decline, according to a new report released by the United Federation of Teachers earlier this week.
Overall, New York City’s public schools had 5,485 overcrowded classes at the beginning of this school year, compared to 6,447 last year, according to the report which is based on school registers as of Sept. 18. The drop means that this year about 33,000 fewer students than last year will study in oversized classrooms.
For the first time since 2009, the number of oversized classes fell below 6,000 at the start of school, according to UFT.
In general, Queens high schools saw the greatest improvement in reducing the number of overcrowded schools, with 1,924 oversized classes this year compared to 2,329 last year. But despite that decrease, Queens schools still dominate the list of overcrowded schools.
For example, the number of over-the-limit classes at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows declined from 254 last year to 135 this year. Yet, the school is still among the top five most overcrowded schools in the city.
Forest Hills High School, with 264 oversized classes, topped the list.
Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, with 261 over-the-limit classes, Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, with 250, with and Long Island City High School with 140, were also included in the top five.
“Thousands of students today are in classes smaller than they would have been thanks to the administration’s efforts,” UFT president, Michael Mulgrew, said in a statement. “But much more remains to be done.”
The UFT contract establishes limits for class size which vary, depending on type of school and children's age. In pre-k there should be 18 students per class with a teacher and a paraprofessional. In high schools the limit increases to 34 students per class (50 in physical education/gym).
Under the contract, school principals have 10 school days to lower class sizes to contractual limits.
“We share the goal of reducing class sizes and will continue to work with school communities to ensure we provide the best learning environments possible for all students," Jason Fink, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said in an email. "This is a step forward, and we will continue to make progress."
But Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit organization that advocates for class reduction in public schools, pointed out that more than "5,000 classes over contractual limit" is still a lot, and that "the contractual limits are themselves much too high."
Average class sizes are still much larger in New York City than in the rest of the state, according to the report.
"The DOE has to be serious about reducing class size and so far they are not," Haimson said. "We believe that they are breaking the law every single day."
Among elementary and middle schools, Queens also reported the highest number of oversized classes with a total of 734. Brooklyn had 566, the Bronx 314, Manhattan 227 and Staten Island 185.
P.S. 196 and P.S 144 in Forest Hills were among elementary schools that have struggled with overcrowding and did not initially have enough room for all the zoned kindergartners earlier this year. After a number of protests, the DOE installed a trailer at P.S. 144 over the summer to accommodate all the students. The trailer will be replaced by a 330-seat extension by 2019, according to the DOE.
A new elementary and middle school, which will add more than 1,000 new school seats, are also slated to open in District 28 by 2019.