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Queens Parents Fight to Guarantee Spots at Gifted & Talented Middle Schools

 P.S. 122 at 21-21 Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria is home to a prestigious gifted and talented program.
P.S. 122 at 21-21 Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria is home to a prestigious gifted and talented program.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

ASTORIA — Parents in Queens District 30 are fighting a potential change to how students are admitted to the area's gifted and talented middle school programs — after officials said they plan to do away with automatically granting spots to those already enrolled in a district G&T elementary school, as has been the practice for the last several years.

The Department of Education says it's exploring alternatives to the current policy, in which students at the three district G&T elementary programs are guaranteed admission to a local gifted middle school — P.S. 166 kids to I.S. 126 and P.S. 122 and 150 students to The Academy at 122.

The DOE planned to end this automatic matriculation policy starting in 2020, meaning current G&T first graders would need to be apply for a G&T middle school in fifth grade, with admission based on their fourth grade report cards, test scores and other factors.

"We have made the determination that all of our students deserve equal access to middle school G&T seats," District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto wrote in a letter to parents earlier this month explaining the controversial decision. 

Demand for gifted seats in the district has long been competitive: last year, the city received 667 applications for just 120 seats at the G&T middle school at P.S. 122, and 359 applications for 52 seats for the program at I.S. 126, according to DOE figures.

After pushback to Composto's letter, the DOE said Monday said that it's still exploring changes to the policy, and plans to discuss options with the community after the holiday break.

In the meantime, parents and local elected officials say they will fight to keep the current admissions process in place, saying elementary school G&T students should be allowed to remain in the gifted program into middle school.

"What we want is just for all of the kids to get that K-8 program," said Anthony Liberatoscioli, whose first grader is in G&T at P.S. 166, the first class that would need to reapply for G&T in fifth grade if automatic matriculation is phased out in 2020.

"The potential policy impact of turning the fourth and fifth grade into this hyper-competitive battleground — it really does not seem like a good idea on any level," he said.

"These kids were identified early on as having a different learning rate," Liberatoscioli continued. "To change course midstream doesn't seem like a very wise idea."

Nancy Torres, whose daughter is also a G&T first grader at P.S. 166, said she might be okay with everyone having to apply in fifth grade but thinks the admissions process should take into account if a student is coming from a gifted elementary school program.

"Even in kindergarten, the homework workload is just over the top," she said.

"The kids who are there by fifth grade belong in the G&T program," she added. "These kids work so hard."

The DOE said it plans to continue discussions about the policy in the New Year, a spokesman said.