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Officials Table Plan for Harlem School Co-Location Amid Pushback

 The panel tabled its vote on the co-location proposal.
The panel tabled its vote on the co-location proposal.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — City education officials tabled a vote on a plan to co-locate two Harlem schools after parents from both sides urged them to not be a “rubber stamp” for the city’s Department of Education.

For the next three years, the DOE is planning to house overflow students from the Teachers College Community School, whose space at 168 Morningside Ave. is currently more than 200 percent over capacity, inside the nearby P.S. 36 at 123 Morningside Drive.

But several parents and representatives from both schools criticized the plan during the the public comment section at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting held at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn Tuesday.

The panel is made up of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, as well as members appointed by the mayor and the city's borough presidents.

The plan has left parents from both schools feeling as if it were a last-ditch effort by the DOE to correct an issue it has had years to solve, especially as TCCS has been adding grades each year under a plan to grow into a middle school.

TCCS parents expressed concerns about siblings being separated, the potential strain on staff, administrators planning a curriculum for the new middle school and that a permanent fix may not be found.

“This need for space for TCCS has been known by a number of institutions within our community for the past 10 years,” Laurie Kindred, co-president of the parent association at TCCS, told the panel.

Kindred said the initial agreement between Teachers College and the DOE laid out a blueprint for the school to grow to 500 students, which its current building cannot hold — a fact that was known to the department.

“Here we are, 10 years later, with all of these stakeholders not fulfilling their obligations. And even worse, a proposal at this 11th hour for temporary co-location of TCCS at P.S. 36.”

TCCS opened in 2010, under a partnership between the DOE and Teachers College, with a plan to grow up to eighth grade. Each year since, it has added a grade, starting with just kindergarten and pre-K students.

It now serves students up to the fifth grade and is slated to add a sixth-grade class this fall.

TCCS’ building currently has a capacity of 131 with an enrollment of 273, putting it at 208 percent over capacity, according to the DOE. The co-location plan would move students from TCCS into a satellite location inside P.S. 36's building, which city officials say is under capacity.

However, Brian D’Agostino, an education policy researcher who has served as a consultant to the parent association at P.S. 36, said the building is not underutilized, according to the school’s data. He said the plan could “cause massive dislocation and disruption of instruction.”

The co-location plan would start with pre-K through first-grade students from TCCS moving into the P.S. 36 building during the 2017-18 school year, before moving second-grade students there during the 2018-19 school year.

“We don’t want this,” said Laura Blake, the parent of a second-grader at TCCS. “And know we will not stop until you get that.”

Sanayi Beckles-Canton — president of the District 5 Community Education Council, which both schools belong to — called the department “distrustful” for developing the proposal.

She said P.S. 36 has been requesting financial assistance for the school for a number of years, but that those pleas fell on deaf ears.

“If District 5 were a human being, it would be on life support,” she told the panel.  

“Show us you’re not a rubber stamp for the Department of Education."

Deputy Chancellor of the the DOE's Division of Operations Elizabeth Rose told parents at a previous meeting on the co-location that the department clearly “failed” at finding a permanent space for TCCS.

Officials have said the department will search for a permanent building during the co-location, but parents have offered their own solution.

Kindred said TCCS parents, teachers and administrators want to stop enrolling students in its sixth grade during the upcoming school year, stay in its current building and give the DOE a year to find permanent space.

DOE spokesman Michael Aciman said the department is committed to working with the community to develop a plan.

“The PEP passed a motion last night to postpone their vote on this co-location in order to have additional time to review the proposal,” he said. “The vote is being rescheduled and the DOE will continue to work with and listen to the District 5 community to ensure the needs of both schools are met.”